The Right Coast

March 19, 2004
 
Inherit The Wind
By Maimon Schwarzschild

Very interesting Gregg Easterbrook obit of Jerome Lawrence, the playwright who wrote "Inherit The Wind". Lawrence died last month at 89, after a long and successful career as writer and director on Broadway and in Hollywood. "Inherit The Wind", especially the movie version with Spencer Tracy, is often taken as virtually a documentary on the Scopes trial. The film is shown to schoolchildren to teach them about the evolution case, and so on. In fairness, it is a very good movie. But Easterbrook points out a variety of ways in which the film (and the play) are fiction: and Lawrence never pretended that he was writing history. In real life William Jennings Bryan was significantly less of a yahoo, and above all Dayton, Tenn., was very significantly less a fever swamp of fanaticism than the film represents. It is a striking example of how a polemical fiction can come to be taken as sober fact.