1955 April 21

“Inherit the Wind” Opens on Broadway


The play, Inherit the Wind, based on the 1925 Scopes Monkey trial (which began on July 10, 1925), opened at the National Theater on Broadway on this day. The Scopes case involved the prosecution of John T. Scopes for teaching evolution in violation of a Tennessee law prohibiting it. The case raised fundamental issues of science v. religion, academic freedom, and the place of religion in American life which remain controversies to this day.

The movie version of Inherit the Wind was released in 1960. Many parts of the script of both the play and the film are taken directly from the trial transcript, but other parts are pure invention and overly melodramatic. The cross-examination scene in the film version, with Spencer Tracy playing the part based on the famed attorney Clarence Darrow, is taken from the actual trial transcript and is something to warm the hearts of all civil libertarians.

The issues in the Scopes case never died. Religious conservatives have over the years tried many strategies for getting religion into the public schools. See “moment of silence” laws (June 4, 1985); the “balanced treatment” of evolution and creation science (June 19, 1987); and the teaching of “intelligent design” (December 20, 2005). All have been unsuccessful.

Read the Play: Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee, Inherit the Wind (1955)

Watch a scene from the movie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_DQUAuNUvw

Learn more: Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods:The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion (1997)

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