Scoping Out the Scopes Trial at 81

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On the 81st anniversary of the start of the Scopes Trial, American Heritage is running 20 questions on the trial of the century (in a century full of them). A snippet:

Q. So what you're saying is that Inherit the Wind, Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee's 1955 play based on the Scopes trial (which was made into a film in 1960), in which a defeated character based on Bryan breaks down and cries on the witness stand, is alternative history?

A. Exactly. The only difference is that if someone writes a play in which the South wins the Civil War, everyone knows it's fiction. With Inherit the Wind, all too many people seem to think it's fact.

Whole bit here.

Indeed, prior to Inherit the Wind, a middlebrow snoozefest to the gills, it was far from clear that the pro-evolution forces had won anything (and of course, Scopes hisself was found guility and fined $100). Last year, Chris Lehmann reviewed Marvin Olasky and John Perry's anti-evolution Monkey Business: The True Story of the Scopes Trial for Reason and wrote in part:

Fear of religion-based persecution spurred most school districts and textbooks to censor any mention of evolution until the 1957 launch of Sputnik jump-started public school science curricula into the 20th century. One biology textbook replaced a frontispiece portrait of Darwin with a diagram of the digestive tract, and Scopes himself was abruptly denied a University of Chicago graduate fellowship in geology. A note from the college president read: "Your name has been removed from consideration for the fellowship. As far as I'm concerned, you can take your atheistic marbles and play elsewhere."

Whole review here.

Questions for fans of the execrable movie version of Inherit the Wind: When it's Frederic March vs. Spencer Tracy in a courtroom, where exactly is the rooting interest?

And who is more highly evolved: Dick York (who played the Scopes character and was the original Derwood on Bewitched) or Dick Sargent (Dum-Dum No. 2 on Bewitched)?

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  1. “Questions for fans of the execrable movie version of Inherit the Wind: When it’s Frederic March vs. Spencer Tracy in a courtroom, where exactly is the rooting interest?”

    I’d root for H.L. Mencken.

    I don’t care if he isn’t in the movie.

  2. The guy who’s supposed to be Mencken is played by Gene Kelly, which tells you all you need to know about the movie.

  3. Mother!!

  4. “The guy who’s supposed to be Mencken is played by Gene Kelly, which tells you all you need to know about the movie.”

    Wow.

    Talk about the Golden Age of cinema.

  5. I was about eleven before I figured out that “Sergeant York” guy in my history book had nothing to do with Bewitched.

  6. Dick York was by far the better Derwood. Dick Sargent was too low-key for the role.

  7. Not to mention the fact that the whole “trial” in Dayton was a Potemkin village, planned from the beginning as a way to put Dayton on the map. Scopes, the accused, was a substitute teacher and was not even in school on the day the indictment named. He had agreed in advance to be the defendant with the town fathers, who were looking to get publicity for the town and make some money.

    I posted more info at my own site.

  8. Because I’m a geek like that, I can’t help but make the slight quibble that the character played by the Dicks was Darrin, not Derwood.

  9. Because I’m a geek like that, I can’t help but make the slight quibble that the character played by the Dicks was Darrin, not Derwood.

    Being an even bigger geek, I point out that the character’s actual name was “Darrin,” but his wife’s mother (Endora, played by Agnes Moorehead) often accidentally-on-purpose referred to him as “Derwood” (and possibly other names) as a taunt to the effect that he was such a twit, she couldn’t be bothered to remember his actual name. I presume Nick recalls this and used “Derwood” on purpose, just he used another of Endora’s terms of contempt, Dum-Dum.

  10. As someone who’s middle name is “Durward”, I object to the spelling Derwood.

    I’m not sure why though, as I usually try to hide the fact that my middle name IS Durward.

  11. “Inherit the Wind” was a university class project that was written in a 24-blitz by the authors. It’s a perfectly decent piece of fiction/drama. The play and the film are also excellent, if dated, fiction.

    The problem comes when people confuse characters based on real people with those real people. As many do with the Oliver Stone Nixon or JFK films.

    If you disassociate the named characters from the real people involved, the film is a good courthouse drama, equal to the best Perry Mason, IMO.

  12. I am grateful to the film for interesting me in Mencken. After seeing it, I used Hornbeck’s (the Mencken-manque) monologue to audition for a part in high school. (Got one, too.) The introduction to the play mentioned that he was modeled on H.L.

    On the downside, this left me with a temporary taste for the work of R. Emmett Tyrell. On the upside, The American Spectator regularly published James Bovard.

    ObGeek1upmanship: “Dum-dum #2” was frequently used by The Great Gazoo on The Flintsones, usually to refer to Barney Rubble. Fred F was, of course, DD#1.

    Kevin

  13. Did you know that both Dick York and Dick Sargent were gay?
    What that has to do with anything, I will let a bigger mind tell me, otherwise, just adding my two cents worth.

  14. Here we are talking about Inherit the Wind all over again and here I am saying: Who knew? All along it’s been Stanley Kramer’s world; we’re just livin’ in it.

    Dick York had the more simian facial features but was the more evolved Darren-though Sargent may have been hampered by never appearing in black and white episodes.

  15. Endora actually called Darrin “Darwin” on one episode.

  16. I’m curious to know why no one has brought up the (possibly debatable) point that the Snopes trial was about eugenics, not evolution. How many readers have actually seen the quotations about race in Civil Biology?

  17. Dick Sargent was gay and had a solid relationship for 20 years (until his partner’s death): he used the usual cover at the time of a marriage to a fictional woman, but came out a few years before his death and, receiving loads of public support from friends (including Elizabeth Montgomery), happily served as a “retroactive role model,” in his words.

    Dick York was married to a real female person (until his death) and Joan York gave birth to 5 natural children who all looked sufficiently like their father to suggest he was not averse to having sex with his wife. There are no reports of a male partner, as far as I know, so I believe that he was straight (not that there’s anything wrong with that). 😉

  18. I got to sit in the jury next to a very funny fellow for a two-week run of ITW and I must say the play is a helluva lot more interesting from that side of the lights, especially when you’re about to bust a gut trying not to ruin the climactic scene by giggling like a stoned schoolgirl.

  19. In the interest of history, here’s a link to H.L. Mencken’s columns about the trial.

    Now, I ask you:

    Gene Kelly?!

  20. Darrin MacGavin would have made a good Uber-Derwood.

  21. It’s about time that the overrated snoozefest that is Inherit the Wind is trashed. And that people realize that Scopes trial was a sham. The whole point was for Scopes to be found guilty and to put the town on the map!

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