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Another View at the Scopes Trial…OLT Style

SUBMITTED BY ROY VAIL –

The July 22nd issue of The Polk County Pulse carried an historical article about the Dayton, Tennessee trial of John Scopes.  The article mentions that the film “Inherit the Wind” is about the trial, but dismisses it as “theatre.”

“Inherit the Wind” is also a stage play.  Although not intended to be an historical recital of the trial, most accounts agree that question patterns in the play are very close to those in the trial.

The article fails to mention the importance of the journalist H. L. Mencken to the events, nor the fact that William Jennings Bryan died just days after the trial.

I directed “Inherit the Wind” for Ouachita Little Theatre in November of 2002.  The play required the back half of the stage set be two feet higher than the front half.  The back half was for city street scenes, the front half was the courtroom.  The cast description was: “21 men, 6 women, 2 boys, 1 girl, and a monkey.”  It was the largest cast ever for a drama at Ouachita Little Theatre.

The main historical characters were, Matthew Harrison Brady (William Jennings Bryan) played by Tom McClanahan, Henry Drummond (Clarence Darrow) played by Brad Storey, and E. K. Hornbeck (H. L. Mencken) played by Roy Vail. Other cast members included: Rebecca Tully, Aaron Fenwick, Jay Rodgers, Craig Sanders, Vanessa Sanders, Tony Habeger, Roi Best, Janelle Baldwin, Ben Finley, Dr. Dick Black, Tom Baldwin, Bruce Patterson, Valerie Sanders, Roland Sanders, Alexander Sanders, Douglas Sanders (the monkey), Michael Lamb, Bob Madden, Lou Geiger, Joe Badger, Betty Fuller, Tammy Stockton, Wende Forsythe, Carol Ann McClanahan, Arthur Johnson, and others drafted for crowd scenes.

Attendance was low.  Only one “Inherit the Wind” item was ever displayed on the walls of Ouachita Little Theatre, a 1925-style radio microphone.  It has been used in other plays and not returned to its location.  Now there is nothing.

William Jennings Bryan ran for President three times, but never won.  He is credited for being the leader of the Democratic Party for 30 years.  He spoke in Mena, at the Davis Opera House, January 4, 1908.  His said that bank deposits need to be insured, and a work day should be 8 hours.  By July of 1925 his long battle with diabetes had taken its toll. There was no air conditioning.  In the July 27, 1925 issue of the Baltimore Evening Star, H. L. Mencken wrote, “The Bryan I shall remember is the Bryan of his last weeks on earth — broken, furious, and infinitely pathetic.”

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