CLARENCE DARROW TONIGHT!
by Laurence Luckinbill
(excerpt p. 1 - 4)
November, 1934. A lecture hall. The platform is plainly furnished, as for a Chautauqua speech. A lectern, a backed bench, a chair, a small table with a pitcher of water and a glass. An American flag. Perhaps a plant, or some flowers.
Darrow, 77 years old, enters from the back of the room. With the aid of a walking stick, he moves slowly toward the platform, stopping to rest occasionally.
I’m here. My train was a little late, so I had to run to get here. But I’m here. Good evening. Good evening. I'm glad to see so many of you here tonight, because I get paid by the head. Usually.
But I'm retired from the practice of the law now. After half a century of almost living inside courtrooms, I finally took down my shingle. And as hard as it was to establish a law practice, it was even harder to give it up. But it's strange, as soon as I retired, the twenty minute trip to my office downtown suddenly seemed like a hundred miles on the train. And now that I'm home every day, all day, I rarely go out at all, and I have days, before I'll risk the exciting journey from my cozy bed all the way to the kitchen table, that I have to stop and think hard about the return trip.
He turns to someone close by.
You know what I'm talking about, don't you? I thought so. You're no spring chicken.
I'm no spring chicken either. But you know, people keep telling me how young I look. I got my hair cut the other day, and a friend of mine said, "Clarence, you look ten years younger. So I got it cut again. Maybe I'll just keep on getting it cut.
Are you here for entertainment, or edification? Both? I’m not up to that. Tell you what, I'll supply the one - if you supply the other -- but I get to choose which is which. I’m just teasing you.
All right. So far, so good. This is familiar. This is comfortable.
He pulls out his pocket watch and checks the time.
Even though I'm retired, I still do quite a bit of lecturing and debating out here on the circuit. I'm told -- I see by the card out front -- that I'm supposed to make some remarks to you tonight on the subject of “Justice.” What is it? What's my conception of it? My idea of it? Well, I arrived in a town recently to speak, and found that the subject of the evening's debate was "The Existence of God." My opponents were a Catholic priest, a Protestant minister, and the local Rabbi, and I'm an agnostic. So, the best we were able to do that night was to debate each other's existence. I think it ended in a draw. I hope I'll be able to do better for you here tonight.
But, even at my advanced age -- I’m 77 -- my common sense makes it difficult for me to believe in anything I can't get any first hand experience of. Can't form a mental picture of.
For some reason, I'm reminded of the young fellow back in the recent Great War, who was being examined by his local draft board before they yanked him into the army. They wanted to determine his mental competence. I suppose to find out whether he’d really be able to enjoy the bayonets, the barbed wire, and the mustard gas -- so they asked him what he would do if he saw a train heading South, at hundred miles an hour, and another train going North, at eighty miles an hour, both of them on the same track, one mile apart! And the boy said, "Well, I'd run and get my brother." And they said, "Why on earth, at a time like that would you run and get your brother?" And he said, "Well, he ain't ever seen a train wreck before!"
He moves onto the platform. Goes to podium.
So, you see, it'd be easier for me to talk about cause and effect, motive and conduct, than about some subtle, undefinable quality, like justice, that we really know nothing of. Might as well talk about magic. By the way, I have a magic trick, want to see it? Watch closely now.
He tosses his cane at the podium. It catches on the top and “walks” down the side until it is stopped by the raised edge.
Sleight-of-hand. Very slight.
He places his briefcase on a table at the back. Takes a cigar from his jacket, considers, then places it on the podium. Takes out matches. Drops them on podium.
Justice. What is it? You know, I’ve often said I could talk on any subject, whether I knew a damn thing about it or not, as long as I could take the negative point of view.
Looks around, finds spittoon, retrieves it, places it, with his foot, in front of the podium.
So, on the negative side, justice isn't that blindfolded statue sitting up there on top of the courthouse, with a scales in her hand, ready to weigh out each person’s just deserts like a butcher weighing out a pound of beef. No.
He picks up a Bible, which rests on the podium, and carefully places it on the bench.
Sympathy and mercy, love and hate, fear, pride, position and power don't count with that blind marble goddess. She's not it. No. There's another way to get at this:
When I was very young, not over seven or eight, my father told me one story that has remained with me all these years. He told me about a murder that was committed in the small town where he grew up, in Ohio, in the Western Reserve. Now, in those days murderers were hanged outdoors, in broad daylight. And everyone in the town was invited to witness the act, and all the gruesome details that went along with it. This day, there was an eager, boisterous, and anxious assembly, each one pushing and shoving to be certain to be in at the moment of death. My father managed to get himself well out in front, where he could see better, watch the spectacle! And then he saw the rope. And he saw it adjusted around the man's neck. And he saw the black cap pulled down over the man's face, and my father turned his head away. He could stand no more. And for the rest of his life -- until the very day that he died -- he felt humiliated and ashamed that he could have taken even that much of a hand in the killing of a fellow man.
Capital punishment doesn’t prevent murders. But it does make more murderers.
See, I believe that Nature loves Life. And the greater the sanctity that the State pays to life, the greater the feeling of sanctity the individual will have for life.
Some of you may be thinking, “But, there are exceptions!” Yes, there are always exceptions: In Chicago, recently, two boys, wealthy, privileged, educated boys, committed a perfect crime, unmotivated and untraceable. They kidnapped, murdered in cold blood, and then tried to ransom, a child chosen totally at random. The newspapers called it "THE MOST ATROCIOUS CRIME IN HISTORY". It was to be "THE TRIAL OF THE CENTURY!" You remember? And the prosecutor asked for the death penalty for these “monsters.” I went in, to do what I could.
He moves to the “witness” bench, as he recalls that day in the courtroom.
Why did they kill? Not for money, not for spite, not for hate. They killed little Bobby Franks as they might have killed a spider, or a fly. For the experience. They killed him because they were made that way. Because somewhere, in the infinite processes that go to the making up of a boy or a man, something slipped! And now, these two lost souls -- Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb -- sit here tonight, hated, despised, outcasts, with an entire community shouting for their blood.
He moves forward, as if addressing the “court.”
I’ve stood here for three months as a man might stand at the edge of the ocean, trying to sweep back the tide. But, now I believe the wind is falling and the seas are subsiding, and I hope they are. But still I know the easy thing to do is to hang Little Dickie Loeb and “Babe” Leopold, and men and women who do not think, will applaud. But more and more fathers and mothers are watching here and listening and gaining an understanding and asking questions, not only about these unfortunate lads, but about their own children -- and they will join in no acclaim at the killing of my clients -- they will ask instead that the shedding of blood be stopped. But I know that what they ask may not count. When the public gets interested, and demands a punishment -- the only one they can ever think of is -- death.