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Inherit the Wind

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Screenshot from Inherit the Wind (Spencer Tracy and Fredric March).

Inherit the Wind was a stage play by Lawrence and Lee (1955) that was later adapted into film. It was loosely based on the celebrated trial of Tennessee vs. John Scopes, but made a number of errors of fact. The productions have been widely criticized for taking extensive creative licensing, which many felt made Bible-believers look ignorant and intolerant. The original film starred Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond/(Clarence Darrow), Fredric March as Matthew Harrison Brady/(William Jennings Bryan) and Gene Kelly as E. K. Hornbeck/(Mencken). In 1988, a rewrite of the Kramer movie starred Jason Robards as Drummond and Kirk Douglas as Brady.

Mis-Information of Actual Events

There were a number of substantial deviations from actual events in the movie:

  • Whereas Brady was portrayed as refusing to read Darwin, Bryan was better acquainted with Darwin's ideas than were the defense team lawyers, not to mention several of the so-called expert witnesses.
  • It has the Brady character ("Bryan") claiming that sexual intercourse was original sin, although nothing at all was said about sex in the actual trial.
  • While the play had Brady betraying Cates' girlfriend, the local preacher's daughter, the real Scopes didn't have a girlfriend at all.
  • The Hollywood version had angry Christians begin the trial against John Scopes. In reality, it was the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who began the case in an attempt to defeat the Butler Act of Tennessee. They even placed an ad in the newspaper stating: "We are looking for a Tennessee teacher who is willing to accept our services in testing this law in the courts."
  • Brady protested that the fine was too lenient; the real Bryan, as noted above, actually offered to pay the fine himself.
  • Brady dies almost as soon as the trial's outcome is decided; Bryan did not die until five days after the trial ended.
  • The play has angry Christians storm the school, looking almost like a witch hunt, and jail John Scopes. In reality, John Scopes was never jailed, and he was well-liked by the entire community (including Christians). In fact, he even wrote in his journal about how nice the Christians were to him.
  • In the play, the Butler Act forbade teaching any evolution in Tennessee public schools. In real life, the Butler Act only forbade the teaching of the evolution of man. Any other kind of evolutionary teaching (i.e. reptiles to birds, etc.) was fine.
  • In the play, Brady ("Bryan") was adamantly opposed to teaching evolution in public school. In history Bryan was not opposed to it, as long as it wasn't taught as fact.
  • The Hollywood version of the trial showed Darrow (the defense lawyer) as a nice and respectable man who was kind to everyone in the court. In the historical account, he was named as insulting the judge (Judge Raulston) many times. As such, he was even cited for contempt.
  • In the play, Scopes is portrayed as a science teacher who gladly took part in the case after he taught evolution in school. In reality, John Scopes was a football coah and math teacher. At first he did agree to help with the case after being pressured by businessman George Rappleyea, but he was later reluctant to even be involved at at. He filled in for a biology near the end of the year when they were reviewing for finals, and he didn't teach evolution in the classroom. In his autobiography, John Scopes addresses this conversation he had with Rappleyea and others while they were trying to get him to accept the ACLU's case:
'You filled in as a biology teacher, didn’t you?' Robinson states.

'Yes.' I nodded. ‘When Mr Ferguson was sick.’

‘Well, you taught biology then. Didn’t you cover evolution?’

'We reviewed for the final exams, as best I remember.’ To tell the truth, I wasn’t sure I had taught evolution.

Robinson and the others apparently weren’t concerned about this technicality. I had expressed willingness to stand trial. That was enough." [1]

Related References

See Also