ARCHIVE: Summing Up Mr. Darrow

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Actor and trial attorney Henry Miller (left) visits Red Bank in ALL TOO HUMAN, the one-man show that he wrote and stars in as famed lawyer Clarence Darrow (right).

By TOM CHESEK

Originally published on Red Bank Green April 8, 2010

Even laymen can cite his most famous cases by name: “Leopold and Loeb” for one; the “Scopes Monkey Trial” for another. Like Tommy Jamesreminding us that he did “Crimson and Clover” and “Mony Mony,” there’s no doubt that Clarence Darrow was the kind of lawyer who had “greatest hits.”

Dead for more than 70 years, America’s greatest legal eagle of the early 20th century would hardly seem to be in condition to tour the oldies circuit these days. But fortunately for the legacy of this impassioned advocate for the Little Guy and the Big Idea, he’s got an eloquent champion to argue his case.

A published author, partner in a White Plains, NY law firm and card-carrying member of Actors Equity, Henry G. Miller might appear to have enough on his docket these days. But, as the actor-attorney points out, there’s nothing he likes better than to step into the suspenders of the legendary Mr. Darrow for an hour or two — and it’s an experience he’ll be sharing with audiences at the Two River Theater this weekend.

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Practicing attorney and professional actor Henry G. Miller is pictured with ON TRIAL, his memoir of a career spent in the courtroom.

Scripted and performed by Miller himself from a selection of Darrow’s writings and oral arguments, All Too Human: An Evening with Clarence Darrow comes to Two River’s Marion Huber “black box” space for three performances only, as the last in this season’s series of one-person shows.

As the playwright explains, it’s an intimate piece that he’s performed at schools and even Off Broadway (“the Times gave us a decent review”), and one that had its origin in Miller’s being asked to recite some of Darrow’s most famous summations at an event for the New York Bar Association.

“A number of people told me they saw a one-man show in what I was doing,” recalls Miller. “I gave in, and next thing you know I’m doing it at Harvard, Columbia, and the 45th Street Theatre.”

Rest assured, those “greatest hits” will be present and accounted for — but as Miller explains, his aim with All Too Human is to illuminate the man and eliminate the myths — particularly as regards Inherit the Wind, the classic drama inspired by the 1925 Scopes trial (a battle royal that pitted Darrow against his formidable contemporary William Jennings Bryan on the frontlines of Evolution versus Creationism).

Miller, who studied with the legendary acting coach Stella Adler, points to the ending of the well-regarded 1960 film version, where Spencer Tracy (as the fictionalized Darrow surrogate “Henry Drummond”) makes sure to bring both the Bible and Darwin’s “Origin of Species” home with him as he exits the courtroom.

“The real Clarence would never have done that,” Miller maintains. “He was an agnostic; not an atheist, an agnostic.”

As Miller suggests, he’s also not averse to taking a warts-and-all approach to this public figure who spent much of his career “fighting for the working man” as a labor lawyer — a man who “defended the rights of sinners but was never a saint himself.”

Pointing out that Darrow was twice brought to trial in California on charges of bribing a jury in the infamous Los Angeles Times bombingcase — an incident that resulted in the deaths of 21 people — Miller addresses evidence indicating that Darrow did, in fact, tamper with the trial. It’s something that’s caused the playwright to struggle with the man’s being “diminished in our eyes.”

Not only that, but Miller also concedes that Darrow “had a bit of a wandering eye when it came to the ladies.”

It’s all part of a well-researched portrait that’s left the actor feeling “a little closer to the real Darrow,” Miller says. “He’s defined by his titanic battles, but obviously there was much more to him than that.

“I hope that comes across in my acting and my writing. Whenever I watch actors at work, I want to believe I’m watching a longshoreman instead of Brando — in other words, don’t let me catch you acting,” Miller sums up.

“And so it is with trial lawyers as well.”

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