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Saturday, April 10, 2010

Department of Book Reports: The Paranoid Style in American Politics: Inherit the Wind

Inherit the Wind, the famous dramatization of the Scopes "Monkey" Trial of 1925, was first produced on the American stage in 1955 and starred Paul Muni as the Clarence Darrow figure, Ed Begley Sr. as the William Jennings Bryan character and Tony Randall as a newspaperman modeled on H.L. Mencken. The play is a dramitization of the events from Dayton, Tennessee, where a young schoolteacher, John Scopes, was put on trial for violating the Butler Act which forbade the teaching of Darwinism, or any other story of mankind's creation other the one found in Genesis. The trial, as most you know, culminated in the famous cross-examination of Bryan, three time Democratic Presidential candidate, by the equally famous trail lawyer, Clarence Darrow.

The play's authors, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee (no, not the General), did change some of the background for dramatic purposes. The trial itself was a test case, brought about by the ACLU, and much of the town's characters were exaggerated for effect. In fact, after Scopes was found guilty and ordered to pay a $100 fine, it was Bryan who paid his fine.

Nevertheless, the play is an impassioned plea for allowing people to use their minds without fear. Lawrence and Lee wrote the play as indictment of Senator Joe McCarthy and McCarthyism. And considering that the play was first produced in 1955, at a time when McCarthy still held some sway, it was quite a courageous thing to do. It hadn't been so long before when Broadway artists like Clifford Odets, Jerome Robbins and Lee J. Cobb had named names to the House Committee on Un-American Activities had tried to cleanse the arts of any taint of heresy.

The play was produced as a film directed by Stanley Kramer and starred Spency Tracy as Henry Drummond (Darrow), Frederic March as Matthew Brady (Bryan) and Gene Kelly as H.H. Hornbeck (Mencken). Kramer was a noble-hearted man of liberality, and by no means a great film innovator. In this film, which is very good, Kramer made the wise decision to let the actor's act and not get in their way.

The play is still available in a Ballantine paperback at $9.95 and we still have one used copy at $1.50. Also recommended, if you can find a copy, is Eric Bentley's Thirty Years of Treason, which compiles a lot of the testimony by people in the Arts in front of HUAC. We do have one used copy available at $12.00. If you'd like a new copy, drop a line to info@jacksonst-books.comAs always, books ordered here will have a freebie Publisher's Advance Reader copy of something really cool included.


  1. I like that Darrow was only fined one hundred dollars. Ah, the sliding scale of condemned science.


  2. Damn those godless liberal lawyers! Oh, wait …

  3. I liked the 1988 remake better - Kirk Douglas is more subtle as Brady than March.

    LA Theatre Works recently put on a production about the real Scopes trial, it can still be caught here.


We'll try dumping haloscan and see how it works.