Saturday, 15 June 2013

The Scopes Monkey Trial

This case from Tennessee in 1925, inspired a famous play and two films about the trial of a school teacher, John Thomas Scopes, for breaking a state law that forbade any teachings about evolution.  The facts are that Scopes allegedly broke the Butler Act, the State Law that was introduced by Governor Peay, after intense pressure from a farmer, John. W. Butler.  Butler knew nothing about evolution but heard stories of how children were taught that the Bible was inaccurate.  Butler was leader of the World Christian Fundalmentalists.  The ACLU(American Civil Liberties Union) proposed to challenge this law in the courts, and so Scopes agreed to deliberately break the law.

    On April 24th, Scopes committed his heinous deed by reading from a chapter in a book about evolution, genes and science.  He was arrested and charged with violation of the Butler Act.  There were a number of changes to the teams representing both prosecution and defence.  At one point, even famous author, HG Wells was approached to join the defence team, but declined for obvious reasons;  he was not a lawyer.  Eventually, both teams were ready, and history has concentrated on the two main protagonists;  William Jennings Bryan and legendary defence lawyer, Clarence Darrow, the man who had saved young thrill killers Leopold & Lobe from the Death Penalty.

    Bryan was a three times Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party and a vocal supporter of the Butler Act, and as the trial wore on, Darrow veered from the strategy decided by the defence team, and went on the offensive over the Bible and it`s supposed historical accuracy.  He even had Bryan testify about the Bible, on the condition that he could put Darrow in the witness box.  However, this did not happen, due to rulings by the judge over issues that arose from Darrows` questions to Bryan.  The jury found him guilty and he was fined $100.  In the film "inherit The Wind" Darrow was played by Spencer Tracy, and Bryan by Fredric March.  A remake starred Jason Robards as Darrow and Kirk Douglas as Bryan.  My favourite part in the Tracy/March version, is when a reporter, played by Gene Kelly, approaches some people with a monkey who are saying "This is what we are supposed to have come from" or something similar.  He shakes the monkeys` hand and says "Hi Grandpa!"