A century ago, if you had a hopeless legal case, Clarence Darrow was the attorney you wanted. From his humble beginnings in rural Ohio, Darrow became America’s advocate for poor workers, as well as social and political outcasts. His marathon closing arguments won over juries and freed men doomed to hang. His 1925 defense of John Skopes in the so-called “Monkey Trial” cemented his role as America’s greatest defense lawyer. But the champion of the underdog fought his own demons: depression, philandering, and bribery. Diane and biographer John Farrell talk about the conflicted legacy of Clarence Darrow.


  • John Farrell Journalist and author

Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from “Clarence Darrow” by John A. Farrell. Copyright 2011 by John A. Farrell. Reprinted with permission by Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved:


  • 11:06:55

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow once said history repeats itself and that's one of the things wrong with history. Today unions face new threats, creationism is repackaged as intelligent design and the crusade for sexual freedom continues.

  • 11:07:24

    MS. DIANE REHMClarence Darrow faced these very same issues in and out of the courtroom a century ago. A new biography explores how the legacy of the brilliant but eccentric lawyer resonates even today. The book is titled "Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned." Author John Farrell joins me in the studio and throughout the hour we'll be taking your calls, questions, comments 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org John, it's good to meet you.

  • 11:08:14

    MR. JOHN A. FARRELLOh, I'm delighted and honored to be here.

  • 11:08:17

    REHMThank you, I've always had Clarence Darrow sort of on a pedestal. In one sense, I was sorry to learn all these things about him. On the other hand, we see this kind of behavior about which you write in the book reflected even today with the announcement that the Congressman Jonathan Weiner (sic) will resign.

  • 11:08:52

    FARRELLThere was a great arc to Darrow's life. He started off as a labor lawyer and became moderately wealthy and moderately famous and won a very big case in Idaho representing big Bill Haywood and the Western Federation of Miners.

  • 11:09:10

    FARRELLAnd then, he was lured to California to represent the McNamara brothers who had been charged with blowing up the Los Angeles Times. And in that case he ran into trouble, couldn't get them off the hook, saw that they were guilty, succumbed, I contend in the book to participating in a conspiracy to bribe the jurors, was indicted, went on trial and got himself acquitted at the first trial, was tried a second time on a second count and got off because of a hung jury.

  • 11:09:48

    FARRELLAnd so his career was in ruins. It was at the point now where John Edwards or Anthony Weiner's career is and what's amazing about Darrow is that he managed to come back from that at the age of 60 and build a career that any other American lawyer would be proud of.

  • 11:10:04

    REHMAnd that's really what you wanted to point out wasn't it, the arc that his life went through?

  • 11:10:13

    FARRELLYeah, this is a book about redemption.

  • 11:10:14


  • 11:10:14

    FARRELLAnd he was a great man...

  • 11:10:16


  • 11:10:16

    FARRELL...very fascinating man. There's a reason why he's a folk hero like Daniel Boone or Johnny Appleseed. It's because there's something in his life that appealed to people and I believe that it was the fact that he always defended the underdog against these big forces of modernism whether it was the industrial state or the state itself.

  • 11:10:34

    REHMAnd of course, I mistakenly called Congressman Weiner Jonathan when it is Anthony and thank you for correcting me. Has this book brought you, working on this book, given you a new sense of not only how he did become an American folk hero, but really the kind of difficulties that he experienced?

  • 11:11:06

    FARRELLYes, absolutely there was, the reason I did it. This is an interesting story was that there's a letter collector out in Minnesota named Randy Tietjen and he was searching for Darrow's letters. He went down the basement of one of Darrow's surviving granddaughters just before she passed away and they found a box there that said Christmas ornaments. And they opened it up and there were 1,000 letters to and from Clarence Darrow that nobody had seen, nobody had used in a biography.

  • 11:11:36

    FARRELLHe helped arrange them so that they ended up at the University of Minnesota Law Library and last summer the university opened them up to scholars. And so that's the meat of the new stuff in the book. Along the way, I found other little caches of surprises here and there because over time people die, they leave their letters and their papers and scholars can add to the story that we thought we knew.

  • 11:12:00

    REHMAnd was there within those letters evidence to indicate that Clarence Darrow had not only involved himself in some shady behavior, but had actually paid off a jurist?

  • 11:12:20

    FARRELLYes, there's a -- it's a tough flow to follow, but he was indicted and charged and tried with bribing a juror and that's sort of always going to be up in the air, the final resolution as to whether or not he did it. I believe that he did. But in his papers, there's an interesting letter, 20 years after the trial he tells his son to send a $4,000 payment which would be like $50,000 in today's money to one of the jurors from his own trial, which was either a very stunning act of gratitude or the culmination of a deal that had been struck long ago.

  • 11:13:01

    REHMThat is stunning. Were you stunned...

  • 11:13:05

    FARRELLWell, it's a big...

  • 11:13:06

    REHM...when you saw that?

  • 11:13:08

    FARRELLYou know, as we talked, it's a risk when you go into the life of somebody you admire as much as I admire Clarence Darrow. He's one of my childhood heroes. I have a dog-eared paperback copy of "Clarence Darrow for the Defense: A Biography," Irving Stone's biography.

  • 11:13:21

    REHMExactly, exactly.

  • 11:13:22

    FARRELLAnd I know how old I was because it was such an important book to me that I printed my name in it and the date that I got it. So he was a great inspiration to me. Happily, I can say that after weighing all the evidence, what I call loving revisionism, I still admire him tremendously and still think he was a really great man maybe even more so.

  • 11:13:40

    REHMDescribe him for us.

  • 11:13:41

    FARRELLHe was tall for his time. Before he put on weight, he had a look of a young Lincoln which certainly was no handicap in Illinois and Chicago where he practiced. He was, he had what one woman admirer called the beauty of the devil, which is a French term meaning that he wasn't classically handsome. He had leathery skin and such, but he had an overwhelming charisma. He had big shoulders that if you go back through all the historical records you find that they're always talking about him, tossing his shoulders back and forth. They were so big that his wife had to order hats especially made to sort of counter balance the bulk of the upper body.

  • 11:14:27

    FARRELLAnd he was -- the feats of rhetoric were astounding. In the Leopold and Loeb case, he talked for three days. Three long sessions without notes, these were just amazing feats of concentration and at that time he was 68 years old.

  • 11:14:43

    REHMI want to hear more about Leopold and Loeb because that was such a horrendous event. But tell me first about his childhood. What kind of background did he come from?

  • 11:14:59

    FARRELLHe came from a small Ohio town probably one of 10,000 in the Midwest. He was born right before the Civil War and he died in 1938 so he had one of the last big things that he did in his life was try to warn America about the Nazis. So it's an amazing life and how it stretches from Abraham Lincoln to Franklin Roosevelt.

  • 11:15:20

    FARRELLBut his parents, his father was an abolitionist and a radical and delighted in being the village infidel. And he always taught his children and Clarence came away with the lesson I guess the most of all of them, not to go with the crowd.

  • 11:15:38


  • 11:15:38

    FARRELLAnd upon becoming a lawyer later on, Clarence discovered that some of the same preachers and the good people as he liked to call them were the ones coming to him because they had gotten caught watering their milk. So he had a very early glimpse of human nature in this little town.

  • 11:15:55

    REHMHow many kids in the family?

  • 11:15:57

    FARRELLOh, there were five or six he had, and he was a middle child. Interestingly enough ,his mother died when he was 15 and in all his writings, he describes himself as a little child when my mother died, even though if you look at the letters of the other siblings, they say, well, Clarence is almost a man now, he's working in the furniture shop building furniture.

  • 11:16:19

    FARRELLBut he was so struck by this loss and I think that -- I sort of theorized, did a little bit of psychoanalysis in the book that this absence in his life, this loss caused him, first of all, to be very afraid of death to the point that defending people who had the death penalty became a major preoccupation of his. And this also led to some of his troubles with women in that he was always reaching out for a hand or a waist to hold.

  • 11:16:48

    REHMDid he marry just once?

  • 11:16:51

    FARRELLHe married twice. He married a small-town girl. They got together, had one son and they got as far as Chicago. And then, the big city, the opportunities in the big city sort of intoxicated Clarence and all Jessie wanted to do was sort of stay home and keep a small farm-like house, maybe have visitors on Sunday. And he just started more and more to be absent from the house.

  • 11:17:18

    FARRELLHe was involved in politics. He was involved in many causes. He was involved in. Victorian America loved its clubs and he must have joined a gazillion of them to help, not just build the law practice but also because of his wide and varied interests. And then he fell in love with someone else and they drifted apart. And he swore he would never marry again. He was a leader of the free love movement in Chicago. So he was sort of philosophically consistent with his...

  • 11:17:46

    REHMOf course, we don't know how his wife felt about his being part of that free love movement.

  • 11:17:52

    FARRELLAh, she commented once to Irving Stone and said that her heart was broken, that she tried not to show it at the time, but of course, it was awful.

  • 11:17:59

    REHMWas she at that same age as he?

  • 11:18:02

    FARRELLYes. And basically they were two Midwestern kids and if they had stayed in Ohio or in Kinsman, Ohio where he was born, or Ashtabula where they practiced, they probably would have -- may have stayed together, you know, an entire lifetime, but Chicago was the intervening factor.

  • 11:18:18

    REHMJohn Farrell, his new book is titled "Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned." Do join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to drshow@wamu.org. Join us on Facebook or send us a tweet.

  • 11:20:04

    REHMWelcome back. If you just joined us, John Farrell is with me. He is the author of a brand new book. It's titled, "Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned." Quite a portrait of Clarence Darrow. What moved him, John Farrell, to become defense attorney for underdogs?

  • 11:20:30

    FARRELLHe had his contemporary say -- one of the most pronounced qualities of compassion of anyone that they knew. So as much as he wanted to earn money, as much as he liked fame, as much as he probably would've, in some cases, been a very happy man living in a mansion on Michigan Avenue, he couldn't do it. It just was beyond his personality to say no to anybody who came to him with a hard luck story.

  • 11:21:01

    FARRELLAnd at the time, you have to remember, this is the gilded age coming out of the Civil War when the forces of industry were tremendously potent. And really, labor -- African-Americans, women, I mean, there was just a whole class of people who needed an advocate. And he sort of gravitated to that spot and filled it. And that's how he became the attorney for the damned.

  • 11:21:25

    REHMBut didn't he go through a period where he made tons of money, where he was so successful he was virtually worshiped until he started doing some other things?

  • 11:21:41

    FARRELLYes, everybody from his time period says he could have been, you know, a millionaire lawyer. He could've been the corporate lawyer in the United States of America. His talents were such -- he was working at the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad when he decided that he just couldn't do it any longer. He was defending the railroad from the injured people who would be slaughtered at the railroad crossings. And he couldn't look at himself in the mirror.

  • 11:22:09

    FARRELLAnd one day, as I tell in the introduction in the book, his patron at the railroad suffered a massive heart attack. And that was really the accident of history that gave us Clarence Darrow because he no longer had a boss, he no longer had a patron at the railroad and he wandered out and within a year he was representing Eugene Debs and the striking railroad workers and a guy named Patrick Prendergast, who had assassinated the mayor of Chicago. And that started the Clarence Darrow that we knew on his way.

  • 11:22:38

    REHMBut before he got there, didn't he go through a period of alcoholism, depression? He had been involved with lots of women. So he, sort of, sank down before he got up again?

  • 11:22:56

    FARRELLYeah, like I said, there's definitely an arch to his story. Cynicism is the word that you see over and over again at about the turn of the century. Which is that, he had started out believing in all these causes, he saw mankind refusing to actually reform and change. And he became what his friends say was very cynical, very attracted to money. I don't know about alcoholism but he certainly would probably qualify as a sex-a-holic, today.

  • 11:23:24

    FARRELLHe was somebody who reached out for sex, as he said, because it was the one feeling that could make you forget. And it was -- in these dire straits, when he ran into the trouble in Los Angeles, got arrested and had to make his big comeback.

  • 11:23:41

    REHMWhy was he actually arrested?

  • 11:23:46

    FARRELLIt's a fascinating scene. One day, the trial was just about to begin, he's in his office, the phone rings, he goes out on the streets of Los Angeles and right then and there, one of his investigators is being arrested in the act of bribing a juror. Now, there's two reasons that he could've been -- three reasons he could've been there. It could've been a coincidence. He could've been there because somebody had tipped him off and he was trying to warn the guys and -- that the jig was up.

  • 11:24:19

    FARRELLOr he could've been there, actually, supervising the payoff as the prosecution said. I'm more inclined to believe that he was a knowing participant in a conspiracy rather than the choreographer. And that probable -- he might -- my best bet is, he was there perhaps with the idea of saying, you know, "Hey, the district attorney knows, this is being staked out, don't do it." But it's going to be one of those great mysteries in history, exactly why he was on the scene when it went down.

  • 11:24:48

    REHMTell us about the Leopold and Loeb case.

  • 11:24:52

    FARRELLLeopold and Loeb case is probably something, maybe, like, the O. J. Simpson murder is the analogy that I would use. It was a huge -- he participated -- Darrow participated in four crimes of the century. As the years went on, they kept adding crimes of the century to his record. But the Leopold and Loeb was definitely -- these were two young men in the years right after World War I, when all the absolutes in life seemed shaken.

  • 11:25:17

    FARRELLAnd they decided that they would commit the perfect crime. They were rich, they were brilliant and they kidnapped a young boy, killed him and, of course, it wasn't perfect at all. The body was discovered within 24 hours and they were arrested and Chicago and the rest of the country was just determined that they hang. And they...

  • 11:25:36

    REHMThey were both from fairly wealthy families, were they not?

  • 11:25:40

    FARRELLExtraordinarily wealthy...

  • 11:25:42


  • 11:25:42

    FARRELL...families. And one of the funny things that Darrell -- tactics that he tried, was to try to convince the press that they -- that was actually a liability for them because, you know, if they'd just been two poor boys who got into a scrap like this, the district attorney would've cut a deal and sent them away to prison. But it was because they were rich that they were being picked on. And...

  • 11:26:01

    REHMAnd the prosecution wanted the death penalty for both of them.

  • 11:26:08

    FARRELLAbsolutely. And -- even in Darrow's letters, he writes his son and says, I see no hope. I don't really see how I can pull this off. But he had had previous cases where he had young teenage defendants or young men and had pled them guilty and sort of thrown them on the mercy of the court. And he read the judge very well, the judge was an Irish-Catholic that Darrow knew from the clubhouses -- the political clubhouses in Chicago.

  • 11:26:33

    FARRELLAnd he believed that he might be able to persuade this judge that this would be the first time that a teenager pleading guilty had been hanged in Chicago and that he shouldn't do it. So Darrow had precedent on his side. The speech, sort of, wanders to a modern era. But for three days he would always return to that. But he also spoke to a different audience which was to the country at large.

  • 11:26:58

    FARRELLBecause so much attention was being paid to this case about the death penalty itself. And it's one of the great anti-death penalty speeches in American history.

  • 11:27:07

    REHMHomosexuality was involved there as well.

  • 11:27:11

    FARRELLYeah, the two killers, Nathan and Dickie, were gay lovers and they both came from longstanding Jewish families in Chicago. So, I mean, they just about had every reason for, you know, proper middle America to hate them. And it was quite miraculous that he managed to get them off. And one of them actually lived a long life in prison, came out of parole and did a lot of medical research as a volunteer in prison, Leopold.

  • 11:27:44

    FARRELLAnd so, actually, did contribute something to society at the end. The other one was killed in a jailhouse murder.

  • 11:27:52

    REHMIn prison?

  • 11:27:53

    FARRELLIn prison, yeah.

  • 11:27:54

    REHMIn prison.

  • 11:27:55


  • 11:27:55

    REHMThe trial that continues to resonate today is that of John Scopes.

  • 11:28:05

    FARRELLThe great monkey trial. And, again, I search for analogies and the only thing I can think of is the O. J. trial that -- the Scopes trial was the first trial broadcast. It had hundreds of reporters went there and lead by H. L. Mencken. It was a huge deal at the time. William Jennings Bryan, was a three time democratic candidate for President. He was the lead prosecutor. And it was -- in many ways it was a staged circus.

  • 11:28:33

    FARRELLBecause the ACLU had looked for a defendant that they could use to have as a stage trial and the folks in Dayton were wondering about what they were going to do to brighten up their summer and...

  • 11:28:44

    REHMAnd just make sure to outline, for us, the issue at the base of this.

  • 11:28:52

    FARRELLI get carried away with this.

  • 11:28:53


  • 11:28:53

    FARRELLIt's been such a great story.

  • 11:28:53


  • 11:28:54

    FARRELLYeah, the tendency of legislature had passed a law banning the teaching of evolution in the public schools. And the American Civil Liberties Union then issued a call for somebody in Tennessee who would act as a defendant in a test case that they could take to the Supreme Court. And the ACLU, actually, did not anticipate what they were getting when Clarence Darrow came into the case because he turned it into this great national confrontation of him versus Bryan.

  • 11:29:21

    FARRELLAnd it culminated in probably the single most famous courtroom scene in American history with Darrow calling Bryan to the stand and cross examining him on a hot Tennessee afternoon about the bible and where did Cain get his wife and, do you believe that the snake was sentenced to crawl on its belly? How did he get around before that?

  • 11:29:43

    FARRELLAnd, did he walk on his tail? And the laughter that greeted Bryan as he tried to defend the literal interpretation of the bible, not just there in Dayton but also around the country, really sort of setback fundamentalism and it certainly was not a compelling victory because, as you've said, you know, years later creationism is still sneaking back into the classroom.

  • 11:30:09

    FARRELLI read, the other day, just in a small town in Illinois near Darrow's hometown of Chicago, there's a battle over this. So it'll be with us for a while but it was -- any chance that it was -- that these kind of laws were going to be added to the constitution or sweep the country were stopped there in Dayton.

  • 11:30:27

    REHMJohn Farrell, the book is, pardon me, "Clarence Darrow." There's a case of Thalia Massie, which apparently is one that most interests you, why?

  • 11:30:50

    FARRELLIt was -- it's going to make me sound like I'm picking on Darrow, but it was a case that showed his weaknesses. It was -- he had lost all of his money in the great depression and the stock market crash. He needed money and here in Hawaii, there was this young, last name, Thalia Massie, who claimed that she had been raped by a group of native Hawaiians.

  • 11:31:16

    FARRELLAnd her husband, who was a Navy Lieutenant, and a small gang of accomplices kidnapped one of the defendants who had been charged in the case and murdered him. So Darrow had made a career working for the NAACP, fighting lynch mobs. And here he was now going all the way to Hawaii to defend one. And they asked him why and he said, well, I need the money and I've always wanted to see Hawaii. And that's not exactly one most idealistic...

  • 11:31:45

    REHMWow, yeah.

  • 11:31:46

    FARRELL...things to say. He also said that, well, I think that because of my stature, I can convince people to ease off a little bit on the racial division. So that was his, sort of, excuse. And there was a tremendous amount of white versus native Hawaiian antagonism at that time. He probably -- it probably did ease a little bit because of what he was able to say.

  • 11:32:14

    FARRELLBut one of the things I found in my research was letters from both Massie's, both Thalia and her husband, in which she accuses her husband of brutality and he accuses her of dishonesty, which would indicate to me that the story was fabricated.

  • 11:32:31


  • 11:32:32


  • 11:32:32

    REHMWhoa, how did that case turn out?

  • 11:32:38

    FARRELLDarrow lost in trial, but he convinced the governor that the best thing for Hawaii and for the governor who was receiving a lot of pressure from the mainland, the United States, would be to pardon the killers. And so they -- he didn't pardon them. He refused to pardon them, but he agreed to commute their sentence to one hour. And so they served one hour.

  • 11:33:00

    REHMOne hour?

  • 11:33:02

    FARRELLOne hour in the waiting room of the governor's office. And then they, very quickly, hopped on a steamer and left Hawaii. And the original rape case was dropped and the other defendants went free. But too late for the one that had been murdered.

  • 11:33:19

    REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm show. Sorry, I'm having a little trouble this morning. Let's go to the phones to Collinsville, Ala. Good morning, Steven.

  • 11:33:36

    STEVENYes, looking forward to read the book. I saw the Jill Lapore article on Clarence Darrow in the May 23 New Yorker Magazine, and about the McNamara case. She says that Darrow always maintained his innocence or more shiftily, his blamelessness in quoting Darrow, he was -- according to her, she said at the time, my conscious refuses to approach me. A couple other comments and then I'll just listen to your response.

  • 11:34:04

    STEVENI live about an hour and a half below Dayton, Tenn. And on the bright side, there's a young woman, conservative Christian, Rachel Held Evans, has written a book, "Evolving in Monkey Town." She lives in Dayton and she kind of comes around to evolution. So I find that fascinating. One other quick thing. It's interesting, I just thought about it as you were talking about the independent mind streak of Darrow's father.

  • 11:34:30

    STEVENThat also seems to be the case of Hugo Black's father, wrote a biography of blacks early years in Alabama. And his father was voted out of his local Baptist church down in Clay County and refused to -- and -- but did work out where he held his funeral in the church. So I just found that kind of interesting, kind of a parallel independent mind streak in the judiciary, over time. And thank you and thanks a lot.

  • 11:34:57

    REHMThanks for calling, Steven.

  • 11:34:59

    FARRELLYou know, I have that biography of Hugo Black on my bookshelf and I haven't gotten to it yet. And now you've made me want to pick it up. I'll probably dive into it this weekend. One thing that Darrow said about the McNamara case and himself, but also about the people that he defended, was that a crime was a crime because of motive, not because you committed an offense.

  • 11:35:22

    FARRELLAnd that -- if your heart was in the right place and you did something that the rest of society said was bad, you were not a criminal. And he actually made this argument in the McNamara case. And he used it in describing what happened in his own trial to his friends and family. He always said, "My conscious is clear." He never really said -- well, he plead not guilty but in his letters, in his conversations, he doesn’t try to convince them that it didn't happen. What he says is, I didn't do anything wrong.

  • 11:35:49

    REHMRight to Rochester, N.Y. Good morning, Roy.

  • 11:35:55

    ROYGood morning. Yeah, it's been some time since I had read the early Darrow books. But -- well, here he was, a young railroad attorney, it's the 1890s. He walks out of a dominant industrial concern to defend, like, Eugene Debs, would get in trouble again and again and again. But he's walking against the dominant economic and constitutional interests of the 1890s. I mean, 1890s, you know, Darrow with unions, Plessy versus Ferguson. A whole number of things he spent the rest of his life fighting against.

  • 11:36:38

    FARRELLI think so. He was quite a rebel and quite a -- he described himself all the time as a radical or an anarchist. And the forces of the gilded age are remarkable if you look back at them now. Although, as you said, Diane, right now, I think the membership in private unions is down to single digits in America. So it's not like the working man has a terribly much easier these days.

  • 11:37:05

    FARRELLBut Darrow was always willing to take on the big cases. He did in part because he enjoyed it, but to a large part, because his heart told him to.

  • 11:37:12

    REHMBut he did leave that secure job with the railroads to defend the strikers.

  • 11:37:19

    FARRELLYeah, and here's another story. I love this story because this, more than anything, convinced me to like the guy. Is that, after the evolution trial, he could've picked any trial in America. He took a small case for the NAACP defending a small group of African-Americans who were on trial for their lives.

  • 11:37:35

    REHM"Clarence Darrow," is the name of the book, "Attorney for the Damned." John Farrell is the author. Short break, right back.

  • 11:40:03

    REHMAnd we'll go right back to the phones to Coldwater, Mich., good morning, Connie.

  • 11:40:11

    CONNIEGood morning. Recently this winter I finished a book. The title was "Arc of Justice" by Kevin Boyle. It was about a black doctor in Detroit in the '20s who dared to move to a neighborhood that was white. And this man -- it looked like this doctor was really going to be in serious trouble. The NAACP came in and then they were able to convince Clarence Darrow to come and save the day, which he did. And it was a serious turning point in racial justice in the whole country. Do you know anything about this book or about this story and Clarence Darrow's involvement with it?

  • 11:40:55

    FARRELLThat was the tale I was eluding to right before we went into the break. I think, really, this says more about Darrow than almost any other case that he fought. It was right after the Scopes trial. The Scopes trial was that summer and this happened in the fall. And he could have cashed in. He could have made a gazillion dollars working for Wall Street or writing, you know, wills, representing divorces...

  • 11:41:17

    REHMBecause I gather he made very little money from the Scopes trial.

  • 11:41:22

    FARRELLOh, he did the Scopes trial, actually, for free, but his fame was such that he could, you know, pocketed huge fees...

  • 11:41:28


  • 11:41:29

    FARRELL...lived very comfortably. He was in his late 60s at the time and, instead, he chose to go -- and it was nine months. He had a bad heart on top of all that. And the NAACP called and said we need you. And he had been a founding attorney for the NAACP and parenthetically, also, the ACLU. And so he went to Detroit and the first trial was a hung jury. They had to go back and try it again. He won the second trial and suffered a heart attack the following summer. So it was a tremendous cost to him, both financially and in his health, but it was something that he was determined to do and committed to doing and he won.

  • 11:42:06

    REHMBut, again, outline the case for us.

  • 11:42:10

    FARRELLYes, there was a African American physician moving with his family into an all-white neighborhood. The white people didn't like it. Have you ever seen a picture of the Klan marching down Pennsylvania Avenue in their hoods? That was that summer that the Klan was at the peak of its power in the 1920's and they were -- they had a serious candidate for governor of Detroit -- I mean for mayor of Detroit. So it was very powerful in Michigan, as well.

  • 11:42:38

    FARRELLAnd a mob surrounded the house, stones were thrown, windows were broken and the black folks inside fired back and killed a man. And so the question -- the real question was not only do you have a right to defend your home, but the real question was does a black man have the right to defend his home. And "Arc of Justice" is a wonderful book and it talks about the case. It talks about the defendants to a greater depth than I could in my book, which concentrates more on Darrow.

  • 11:43:09

    FARRELLBut in the end he -- in the first trial he managed to get a hung jury. They went back and had a second trial that spring and the NAACP did not believe the case could be won. That's how much a long shot it was. And yet with a great plea for racial justice he managed to pull it out.

  • 11:43:27

    REHMConnie, thanks for calling. Here's a message from Facebook. Nathan says, "What was the public response to Darrow's career like? Was he ever threatened?"

  • 11:43:40

    FARRELLHe was threatened in the South once -- threatened with a lynch mob. Nobody knows entirely how serious it was because he was very outspoken. And he would go down -- he would always speak before African American groups and say, look, you have to fight harder. And, of course, in the South that did not go down well. But interestingly enough, he was sort of forgiven. Americans sort of looked around and said, you know, it's good that there is this one guy who's willing to stand up to all the different forces that are tossing us around and they gave him a break. Even though he was also one of the most pronounced agnostics in the country.

  • 11:44:19

    REHMAnd Heather says, "I'd like to hear about Clarence Darrow's role in the Idaho mining labor wars and related governor assassination trial."

  • 11:44:34

    FARRELLYes, Darrow got a call from friends in the union movement and was asked to go to Idaho to defend three union leaders from the Western Federation of Miners who had been charged with the assassination of a former governor of Idaho. And the reason that everybody assumed the union had done it is that he had once been an ally of labor and then had changed and switched -- gone over to become an ally of the mine unioners.

  • 11:45:01

    FARRELLAnd he was killed one night in -- I think it was December 30 so it was a snowy night in a small town north of Boise. A bomb went off at his gate and killed him. And Anthony Lucas tells a great story about this in a book called, "Big Trouble," if you want to know more about it. And Darrow was called upon by the forces of union to go out and defend these guys. And he was out there for most of three years, did -- let's see one, two -- did four different trials and got them all off.

  • 11:45:36

    FARRELLAnd that was pretty amazing considering that he had the mine unioners, the state, the prosecutors and even Theodore Roosevelt, the President of the United States aligned against him in that case and somehow managed to pull it up.

  • 11:45:48

    REHMTo Bristol, Tenn., good morning, Randy.

  • 11:45:53

    RANDYYes, ma'am, thank you. What was the verdict and what became of the defendant in the Monkey trial?

  • 11:46:00

    FARRELLThe verdict was he was found guilty and he was fined a hundred dollars. Darrow appealed. There was a great argument before the Tennessee Supreme Court and, discretion being the better part of valor, they ruled in Scopes favor but told the prosecutors not to bring the charges again because it was a silly waste of time. Scopes went on and became a geologist. He went all over the Southwest and South America; had a very successful life as a scientist, in part, because he had this experience in the Monkey trial.

  • 11:46:34

    RANDYInteresting. Do I recall that Bryan died right after that trial or during it?

  • 11:46:39

    FARRELLYes, if you've ever seen "Inherit the Wind," they dramatize this by having him, I think, die in the courtroom or immediately after the confrontation, but it wasn't too much longer. Darrow and Bryan stayed in Tennessee and it was only two or three days later Bryan died in his sleep. And, of course, that added to the...

  • 11:46:54

    REHMWell (clears throat) ...

  • 11:46:55

    FARRELL...The mythic qualities of this trial.

  • 11:46:56

    REHMAnd then there's a message from Debbie who says, "Did Spencer Tracy do Darrow justice in that movie, "Inherit the Wind?"

  • 11:47:09

    FARRELLI think that Spencer Tracy's performance is amazing in that movie.

  • 11:47:12


  • 11:47:12

    FARRELLAnd that -- the play and movie has an amazing life. At some point in the United States right now a community theater or a high school drama group is doing that play or reading...

  • 11:47:21

    REHMAnd I'm going to get it from Netflix this very weekend.

  • 11:47:24

    FARRELLThere you go.

  • 11:47:25


  • 11:47:26

    FARRELLBut if you're a movie fan, the best Darrow, I think, was Orson Wells in "Compulsion," which was a movie about Leopold and Loeb. And Darrow was -- when Darrow spoke in the Leopold and Loeb, he spoke sorrowfully, he spoke slowly. I mean there were moments of high passion, but Spencer Tracy goes a little bit over the top in "Inherit the Wind" and, I think, that Orson Wells is probably closer to the real Darrow.

  • 11:47:47

    REHMInteresting. All right, to Grand Rapids, Mich., good morning, Brian.

  • 11:47:54

    BRIANGood morning, Diane, I can't wait to read this book about Mr. Darrow. We could use more free-thinking minds today. My call is last night in Holland, Michigan there was a contentious meeting that went on until the late hours trying to reform the city charter including civil rights for gays and lesbians that was voted down five to four. And I'm wondering what the author would think Darrow would have done in that case.

  • 11:48:22

    FARRELLWell, I will -- I don't know because in all the research I did, I did not come across any comments from Darrow on homosexuality. I know that he defended Leopold and Loeb and treated them as almost kindly as his sons. I know that he was a great defender of the free love movement. He was a great defender of reform of divorce and marriage laws. He was one of the first lawyers in Chicago to bring women into his office and, of course, he defended underdogs all his life.

  • 11:48:52

    FARRELLSo I -- I sort of assume that Darrow would have been on the -- on the side of gay rights, but it's -- but I have to extrapolate to do that because there wasn't really a gay rights movement at the time.

  • 11:49:02

    REHMDo you think there's anybody -- any attorney in this country today with the stature of a Clarence Darrow?

  • 11:49:12

    FARRELLI think that various attorneys, Roy Black, Allen Dershowitz, have had -- two that come to mind -- have had trials that equaled some of the trials that Darrow had, but I -- I -- the kind of career he had to string all those trials together. And aside from that, he was also a politician. He wrote two novels -- amazing complex life. He was one of the first populists. You talk about the populist movement; he was one of the first urban populists in American history, as well. So he had a long and varied career and to string that all together I just don't -- I don't see anybody like that.

  • 11:49:48

    REHMLet's go to Hollywood, Fla., good morning, John.

  • 11:49:54

    JOHNYes, hi. I'm an attorney in south Florida and I have a very good friend of mine -- he's a prominent criminal defense attorney in Chicago. And he swears that it's well known in Chicago that a million dollars was paid by, I don't know if it was Leopold or Loeb's parents, that went to the jury in that case, although, apparently, Darrow always complained he only got $50,000. Have you ever heard of any rumors to that effect?

  • 11:50:27

    FARRELLYes, but it was -- there was not a jury.

  • 11:50:31

    REHMRight, it was the judge.

  • 11:50:31

    FARRELLIt was just a -- it was just an appeal to a judge and when he made this ruling I think that the prosecutor spread the rumor that the only reason they -- that it was lost was that somebody must have gotten to the judge. Darrow had expected, like you said, a much bigger payoff than what he finally got from Leopold and Loeb, but most of the research that I've seen does not indicate that even those two wealthy families had a million dollars and it disappeared from their bank accounts at that time or that the judge lived a million-dollar lifestyle afterwards.

  • 11:51:04

    FARRELLSo, you know, something doesn't add up there. I wouldn't rule out it entirely because the judge was a creature of Chicago politics. Not to malign Chicago politics, but he ran with some interesting fellows, as I point out in the book.

  • 11:51:22

    JOHNI have just one other...

  • 11:51:23


  • 11:51:23

    JOHN...other observation. Abraham Lincoln, who was also one of our great trial lawyers, also worked for the railroads.

  • 11:51:31

    FARRELLYeah, well, the railroads were amazing. Working for the railroads would be like working for a combination of Microsoft and General Motors. I mean, they were -- they were everything at that time. So if you were a railroad lawyer, you really had your -- your life made for you and there must have been an awful lot of young lawyers in Chicago who thought he was insane to do what he did.

  • 11:51:53

    REHMJohn, let me ask you about John Edwards because you've recently written a piece for POLITICO about how John Edwards could look to Clarence Darrow and, perhaps, take some lessons.

  • 11:52:10

    FARRELLYeah, when Darrow went back to Chicago after the bribery trials his career was in shambles. And the only work that he could get was he would go around the Midwest to almost like a carnival guy making speeches and doing debates and -- and he had to rebuild his entire career. And he did it, basically, by doing underdogs. He did communists during the red scare. He did African-Americans who were charged for, you know, heinous crimes involving white defendants. All the cases that nobody else wanted to take Darrow took.

  • 11:52:45

    FARRELLAnd John Edwards, as I said in POLITICO, if John Edwards wants a model for a comeback, he should take his great skills and put them to work in the courtroom for the people that -- that, as a presidential candidate, he always said mattered to him anyway. And that is the poor and the defenseless and the people who need a good advocate.

  • 11:53:03

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Ranson, W.Va., good morning, Melissa.

  • 11:53:14

    MELISSAGood morning. Hi, I purchased for 50 cents at a thrift store a book by Clarence Darrow called, "The Persian Pearl," that was written -- published in 1899 and it's autographed by him and it's in decent shape. In the front, it says M. Lincoln. So that kind of got me doing some research and I ended up having a Lincoln historian verify that that's Mary Harlan Lincoln's handwriting. So the book must have been given to her by Darrow or, you know, gotten to her.

  • 11:53:43

    MELISSASo I was wondering if you could just make a comment about Darrow's relationship with the Lincolns. I know that he and Robert Lincoln were on the opposite side of litigation in the Pullman trial, for example.

  • 11:53:54

    REHMI would also think that that book is worth a lot more than what she paid for it, John.

  • 11:54:01

    FARRELLIf that's a first edition -- a signed first edition of "The Persian Pearl..."

  • 11:54:04


  • 11:54:05

    FARRELL...you probably could retire to Hawaii yourself right now. Go ahead.

  • 11:54:10

    MELISSAI've got an appraisal, but I'm hoping the historical value is worth more than what I heard.

  • 11:54:14


  • 11:54:14

    FARRELLOkay, well, I think his autograph, just on a piece of paper, are worth at least $1,000 so if you paid 50 cents you did really well. I --you know, I got to say that I don't know -- I know as much as you said about Robert Lincoln and the Pullman case. I do know that Robert Lincoln was a -- a figure about town when Darrow was and they probably did have some run-ins or, perhaps, even a friendship, but I just don't know.

  • 11:54:39

    REHMAll right, and finally, to Ann Arbor, Mich., good morning, Allen.

  • 11:54:47


  • 11:54:49

    REHMGo right ahead, sir.

  • 11:54:52

    ALLENClarence Darrow was an inspiration in many ways. At the -- in the early part of the last century, he traveled with Jack London and Upton Sinclair talking at college campuses deriding the passionless pursuit of passionless knowledge, which was the academic ideal of the time. And out of that came the formation of a group -- the Intercollegiate Socialist Society -- that subsequently became the League for Industrial Democracy. And out of these student groups became the Student League for Industrial Democracy, which became the Students for Democratic Society in the 1960s.

  • 11:55:37

    ALLENAnd he was always an inspiration to the SDS people as one of the voices for the needy and oppressed. So I thought I would add that and whether the writer knows anything about his relationship in this speaking tour for the campuses with Jack London and Upton Sinclair.

  • 11:55:59

    REHMI'm glad you called, sir.

  • 11:56:00

    FARRELLThat's an amazing tale. I knew that he had participated in the founding of the Intercollegiate Socialistic Society or whatever it was. I did not know that that lead down through the years to the SDS or that they were great fans of Darrow, but I can -- I certainly know that in the old left, particularly because Darrow had defended the anarchists and communists after World War I during the red scare, there was great respect for him and that when people were afraid to take on radical causes because of the way that society would look at you, Darrow was one of the few brave ones who was willing to do it.

  • 11:56:41

    FARRELLAnd that led him, also, to a couple of very interesting cases where he defended folks who had been charged with murdering fascists and at the end of his life he joined in an organization that went around the country or held hearings warning Americans about the danger of fascism and Nazism.

  • 11:57:00

    REHMJohn Farrell his new book is titled, "Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned." Thank you so much.

  • 11:57:10

    FARRELLGreat questions.

  • 11:57:10

    REHMThank you...

  • 11:57:11

    FARRELLMy pleasure.

  • 11:57:12

    REHM...always, always, especially from our listeners. Thanks for listening everyone. I'm Diane Rehm.

  • 11:57:20

    ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture, Monique Nazareth and Sarah Ashworth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Katie June-Friesen answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.

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