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Inherit The Wind
Inherit the Wind is a play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee, which opened on Broadway in January 1955, and a 1960 Hollywood film based on the play. It is currently being brought back onto Broadway in a revival. The play's title comes from Proverbs 11:29, which in the King James Bible reads: He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart .
Inherit the Wind is a fictionalized account of the 1925 Scopes Trial (the Monkey Trial), which resulted in Scopes' conviction for teaching Charles Darwin's theory of evolution to a high school science class, contrary to a Tennessee state law that mandated the teaching of a form of creationism. The fictional characters of Matthew Harrison Brady, Henry Drummond, Bertram Cates and E. K. Hornbeck correspond to the historical figures of William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow, John Scopes, and H.L. Mencken, respectively.
Despite numerous similarities between the play and history, the play was not intended as a documentary-drama about the Scopes trial, but as a warning about the evils of McCarthyism, which some see as one of the darkest moments in American history. The play has been hailed as one of the great American plays of the 20th century, and its themes of religious belief, religious tolerance, and freedom of thought resonate down to the present day.
Although Inherit the Wind cites its Broadway opening in 1955, the play was rejected by several producers in New York until after a critically successful world premiere in Dallas, Texas, staged by Margo Jones. It opened at the National Theatre on Broadway in 1955 with Paul Muni as Drummond, Ed Begley as Brady, and Tony Randall as Hornbeck, earning three Tony Awards.
A 1996 Broadway revival produced by Tony Randall's National Actors Theatre starred George C. Scott as Drummond and Charles Durning as Brady. It was produced in a limited Broadway engagement beginning March 2007 starring Christopher Plummer as Drummond and Brian Dennehy as Brady.
Inherit the Wind and history
Although the play quotes extensively from the trial transcript, the play and film script indulge in much poetic license, in that they did not try to present the Scopes trial as it actually happened, but instead used it as the historical launching point for a fictional story, embellishing events for dramatic effect. In this respect, Inherit the Wind resembles Arthur Miller's play The Crucible. They both employ historical events as a way of commenting on controversies at the time and place they were written.
The play was intended to criticize the anti-Communist investigations of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and Senator Joseph McCarthy, with the Brady character representing McCarthy and his assistant Roy Cohn. The authors used the historical Scopes trial as the background for a drama that comments on and explores the threats to intellectual freedom presented by the anti-communist hysteria. Brady's final fit of ranting and raving in the courtroom has no counterpart in the 1925 trial, but does echo McCarthy's behavior on June 17, 1954, when the Army-McCarthy Hearings came to an abrupt end.
The play includes a note reminding the reader Inherit the Wind is not history. The characters have different names from the historical figures on whom they are based, and the play does not pretend to be journalism. The characters do not set the play in 1925 but instead say that It might have been yesterday. It could be tomorrow. This timelessness of the setting can be seen as a warning about repeating the wrongs of the past, which can recur unless we are cautious. During the play's original Broadway run, it was widely understood as a critique of McCarthyism, but subsequent interpretations have been more literal, given the resurgence of the creation-evolution controversy after the play and film appeared.
Despite the authors' warnings, nowadays the play is typically seen as a largely true account of the Scopes Trial and thus is taken as a documentary-drama. In reality, the Encyclopedia Britannica had no entry for the Scopes trial until 1957; the entry mentioned the successful Broadway run of Inherit the Wind, giving the impression that the play was historically accurate. American high school and college texts did not mention the Scopes trial until the 1960s, usually as an example of the conflict between science and evangelical Christianity, and often in sections discussing the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan.
Inherit the Wind portrays the Cates/Scopes character as unfairly persecuted. In reality, although the ACLU was looking for a test case with a teacher as defendant, it was a group of Dayton businessmen who persuaded Scopes to be a defendant, hoping that the publicity surrounding the trial would help put the town back on the map and revive its ailing economy. Scopes was never in the slightest danger of being jailed.
Inherit the Wind has been criticized for unfairly stereotyping Christians as hostile, hate-filled bigots. For example, the character of Reverend Jeremiah Brown whips his congregation into emotion and calls down hellfire on his own daughter for being engaged to Cates. In fact, no such event took place, simply because Scopes had no girlfriend. The 1960 film depicts a prayer meeting during which some express hostility about Drummond and Cates, but Brady intervenes to calm the situation. Later, his wife calms him.