March 3, 2007
Last fall I was in a telephone conversation with local author Sonny Brewer, and he told me there was a project in the works to have a talk by someone celebrating the 75th anniversary of Clarence Darrow in Fairhope. He suggested I call Phil Norris, head of the University of South Alabama's Fairhope branch, whose idea it was.
Norris was once the chairman of the board of my theatre, the Equity professional Jubilee Fish Theatre, which, in fact, had given impetus to the remodeling of the little Episcopal church building the University had just bought. It was to become the center of operations for our theatre when our friend John Irvin who had provided space for us at Grand Hotel was transferred to another location and the hotel suggested we move our stuff out. Under Phil's guidance, some work was done to make the building a workable theatre. It was a short-lived project, as support for Jubilee Fish waned when we moved from Point Clear to Fairhope. I decided to close the theatre after one or two full seasons and a few productions of A Christmas Carol, ending ten years ago.
In the meantime I had become a buff of Fairhope history and mythology, and wrote a book called Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree, and another one called When We Had the Sky. The former book is touted on my website and can be bought from amazon.com; the latter, which has a chapter about Clarence Darrow in Fairhope, has been rewritten and is available under the title of The Fair Hope of Heaven. There is an excerpt from the Darrow chapter in the Winter 2006 edition of Alabama Heritage Magazine, and another in the July 2006 posts on this blog.
Anyway, I called Phil Norris to tell him what I knew about Clarence Darrow in Fairhope, and delivered a copy of the Darrow chapter to his office, which seemed to arouse his interest.
Clarence Darrow, an avowed atheist and lifelong political maverick, spent a few months in Fairhope in 1927. He had many friends and acquaintances among the Chicago Single Taxers, and these people often chose Fairhope for retreats, vacations, and escapes of all kinds. Darrow was impressed with radical educator Marietta Johnson, and she put him up in the school dormitory for a night or two. He made several speeches in town, and gave the proceeds to the school.
Sonny and I thought getting a Darrow impersonator would be an ideal event to add to celebrations of the Centennial year of the school. The talk could be used to raise funds for the School of Organic Education just as Darrow himself had done. I talked with Dr. Norris about doing this, and he was positive about it, saying that, since it was going to be University sponsored, no admission could be charged, but we could ask for donations for the school. He suggested I meet with the actor beforehand and brief him about the Darrow-Fairhope connection.
I found several actors who did Darrow impersonations via the Internet. Interestingly, two of them were Unitarian ministers, so I suggested that we work the Unitarians into the program. One of these Unitarian-Darrows was hired, and I asked the Unitarians if they would like me to speak to them the week before the Darrow-minister's talk -- about Darrow's connection to Fairhope. They told me all the preceding weeks were already booked.
Months went by, and I was never contacted by anybody about the project. I knew the date of the event, March 3, and noted in the paper last week that it was on. Yesterday I was talking to my sister and said that even though I hadn't been contacted maybe I should find this guy and meet with him to tell him about the Fairhope connection, so that maybe I could give him some local anecdotes to work into his comments. I could also be in the Unitarian congregation and ask some questions or be available to answer some questions about Darrow in Fairhope.
Last night I went to the local film series offerering, which is held in the University of South Alabama theatre space, actually "my" old theatre. There were Darrow flyers there so I picked one up, thinking I should go to support it since there probably wasn't going to be much of a crowd.
This was on the flyer: "Admission is free and donations will be accepted for the Fairhope Public Library."
So much for Fairhope history. So much for me being involved in the Clarence Darrow project.