The Scopes Monkey Trial

On this page:

Lists of all lawyers, jurors,witnesses, etc. involved in the Scopes Trial

Dayton and Hillsboro

Where was the ACLU?

The Three Cates


The Town Meeting

The Drug Store Conspiracy

The Star-Crossed Lovers

Hornbeck, the Jolly Journalist



16:   The Play, The Movie and The Trial

This section is "under construction".  More material will be added when time allows.

This page contains details of the differences between the real life Scopes Trial the play script and film (1960 version) of Inherit the Wind.  This is because the film and play not only differ from the events in Dayton in 1925 - they also vary from each other.

Note:   Throughout this page, names of characters in the play and/or film Inherit the Wind are shown in italics.  The names of real life people involved in the Scopes Trial are shown in normal font.
Thus Henry Drummond is a fictional character who appears in both the play and the film,  William Jenning Bryan was a real person who acted as an assistant prosecutor at the trial.

Dayton and Hillsboro - Small Town America

As you can see from the two photos below - Dayton on the left, "Hillsboro" on the right - Hollywood's version of Dayton in 1925 was considerably nearer to a sanitized, "chocolate box" version of small town America than it was to the reality of Dayton, where only the main road through town was completely paved, and many of the side roads were reduced to mud tracks whenever it rained.  (This "cleaning up" process may have been a deliberate move to make "Hillsboro" seem more like a typical small town in American in the 1940s and early 1950s when the McCarthy "witch hunt" was going on.)

Note:   There really is at least one "Hillsboro" in the US, but neither it, nor any other real life Hillsboro (if there are any) have anything to do with the events depicted in the play/film/TV movies.

Photographs in Preparation

In the original script the authors described a stylised stage set in which the scenery depicting the town can be seen at all times, even during courtroom section of the play.

Did You Know:
Although only one clergyman - the Reverend Brown - appears in the play and film, the population of Dayton in 1925 included a sufficient number of active Christians, of various denominations, to support some 13 churches.

Where was the ACLU?

Before going any further, for the benefit of visitors to this site who haven't already read Part 2 Inherit the Wind, it is important to remember that the play was not intended as an accurate depiction of what happened at the Scopes Trial - it was written as a commentary on the McCarthy anti-communist "witch hunt" that started soon after World War 2 and continued for several years until lawyers for the US Army brought the whole shameful episode to a grinding and permanent halt.
When the play is understood in this light it becomes clear why strict historical accuracy was unnecessary, even irrelevant.

The first major difference between the Scopes Trial and the film and play accounts is the total absence of the ACLU, even though in real life it was the ACLU who gave the "push" that actually got the band wagon rolling (see Part 4: How it Began for information about how the ACLU were involved inthe real life trial).

Dayton (1925) Movie (1960) Play (2000, revised ed.)
George Rappelyea reads the ACLU appeal for a test case defendent in a Chattanooga paper and persuades the "Drug Store Conspirators" (see Part 4) to back a plan to put Dayton on the world map. The ACLU and the "drug store conspiracy" are never referred to. The ACLU and the "drug store conspiracy" are never referred to.

In both the play and the film the action takes place more or less in a vacuum.  Indeed, in the film, the way the scene changes from Bert Cates' classroom to the newspaper headlines and the businessmen's meeting implies that the townspeople had no idea what consequences would arise from Cates' arrest.
By ignoring the actions of the ACLU, and the "drug store conspirators" the prosecution of Bertram Cates in Hillsboro is presented as an act of raw bigotry, which bears no relationship to the motivation for what actually happened in Dayton.

The Three Cates'

The differing representations of Bert Cates in the play and the film are a typical example of where none of the three versions agree with either of the other two:

Dayton (1925) Movie (1960) Play (2000, revised ed.)
There is no evidence that anyone ever visited any of Scopes' classes to see whether he was teaching evolution. In the opening sequence the Mayor, Rev. Brown, the Sheriff and a fourth man go to the High School to witness Cates teaching evolution and arrest him. When the play opens Cates is already in jail for having taught evolution.  We aren't told how it happened.
After his trial Scopes claimed, on at least two occasions, that he never did teach any students about evolution (see Part 11 for details). Despite the presence of Rev. Brown and co., Cates opens the lesson with the words: "For our science lesson today we will continue our discussion of Darwin's Theory of the Descent of Man.". When Rachel (his fiancee) asks Cates: "Why did you do it?" Cates replies: "I had the book in my hand, Hunter's Civic Biology, and I read my sophmore class Chapter 17, Darwin's Origin of Species.

Four important points arise here:

  1. Both the play and the film present Cates as a full-time biology teacher.
    But John Scopes was a sports coach who also taught algebra, chemistry and physics but not biology.  His degree was in law, not in any science subject.
  2. Both the play and the movie present Cates as someone who has knowingly and deliberately taught High School students about evolution.  And in the movie, given his phrase, "...we will continue our discussion..." it is clear that he has been teaching this material in one or more previous classes, and probably intends that it will be an ongoing element of his science class.
    Despite his brief speech at the end of the trial, there is no evidence that Scopes actually taught any students about evolution or that he attached any importance on the subject.  Indeed, in response to an invitation to go on a highly paid national lecture tour, after the trial, Scopes acknowledged that he didn't know enough about evolution to be able to teach anyone about it.
  3. Based on the previous point we seem to be dealing with three distinct characters - "movie Cates," who deliberately teaches his students about "Darwin's Theory of the Descent of Man" as a matter of principle; "play Cates," who kinda stumbled into the section on Darwin's Origin of Species in a State approved textbook; and real life John Scopes, who did neither.
  4. There is a major question here, which harks back to the assertion that Inherit the Wind is actually about McCarthyism, and the question is: Who "snitched" on Bert Cates?
    John Scopes agreed to be charged with having taught evolutionist ideas, even though he hadn't.  But how did anyone know what Bertram Cates was up to?  This element of the plot only makes sense if we assume that one of three things happened:
    • Someone overheard some students discussing the subject of evolution in a public place;
    • One or more of Cates' students went home after school one day and casually mentioned that evolution had come up in their science class;
    • Or one or more students deliberately went to an adult and reported Cates.
    Neither the film nor the play offer any kind of explanation on this point.


Dayton (1925) Movie (1960) Play (2000, revised ed.)
John Scopes was only nominally "arrested" and spent NO time in jail. After his arrest at the High School, Cates is jailed and remains in jail (when he's not in court) until the end of the trial. When the play opens Cates is already in jail and remains there (when he's not in court) until the end of the trial.

The Town Meeting

In the film version, the action cuts straight from Cates' classroom to an unidentified location where a group of businessmen are discussing Press reports of the arrest.

Dayton (1925) Movie (1960) Play (2000, revised ed.)
The "drug store conspirators" wanted the trial to take place - in their town - because of the publicity they hoped it would generate. Although there was reportedly some bickering over the planned trial amongst the citizens of Dayton, the level of doubt expressed at the meeting of local businessmen in the filnm version makes little sense given that the whole idea was cooked up by local businessmen.  It seems more likely that that this was a "plot device" designed to pave the way for the surprise news that Matthew Harrison Brady will be coming to town. There is nothing similar to this scene in the play.

The Drug Store Conspiracy

As noted above, and elsewhere on this site (see Part 4 for example), the "drug store conspiracy" was a crucial element in the events surrounding the Scopes Trial.  But of course it had nothing to do with the McCarthy "witch-hunt" which is the real basis of both the play and the film, so:

Dayton (1925) Movie (1960) Play (2000, revised ed.)
A group of citizens, including George Rappelyea, Walter White (school sperintendent) and Frank Robinson (chairman of the school board) agree to bring the ACLU's test case trial to Dayton to boost the town's failing fortunes. They take the line that any publicity is good publicity. The "drug store conspiracy" is ignored, and instead we see a group of businessmen bemoaning the fact that the trial is bringing Hillsboro adverse publicity. The "drug store conspiracy" is completely ignored.

The Star-crossed Lovers

It has been claimed that Scopes only remained in Dayton after the summer term, and his teaching contract, ended (on May 1st) because he was hoping to take a local girl to a dance.  Whether that is true or not, John Scopes didn't even have a regular girlfriend, so the Rachel Brown is a fictional character created to help the plot of the play and film.
She is there for Cates to explain things to for the benefit of the audience.  And her conflict with her father, leading to her final exit with Cates, symbolizes what is meant by the title of the piece.

Dayton (1925) Movie (1960) Play (2000, revised ed.)
John Scopes didn't even have a regular girlfriend, let alone a fiancee, at the time of the trial. The relationship between Bertram Cates and his fiancee Rachel Brown, and between Rachel and her father, the Reverend Brown, are central features of the film. The relationship between Bertram Cates and Rachel Brown and between Rachel and her father, the Reverend Brown, are central features of the first part of the play but become less important once the trial starts.

Hornbeck, the Jolly Journalist

The character called E.K. Hornbeck in the play and the film is probably the least credible member of the cast.  Hornbeck is cynical, but far less so than the real life H.L. Mencken.  In fact although Drummond criticises Hornbeck in the final scene of both the play and the film, he happily accepts the journalist as his sole ally throughout the rest of the drama.

Dayton (1925) Movie (1960) Play (2000, revised ed.)
H.L. Mencken, the real life jourmalist whose place is taken by E.K. Hornbeck, was an out-and-out racist who had nothing but contempt for most of his fellow humans - not just rural folk.  He believed that most people were too stupid to live in a democracy and that America should be run as an oligarchy by a few sufficiently intelligent people - such as himself!
Far from being wholeheartedly in support of Scopes, just a few weeks before the trial Mencken published an article which effectively endorsed the right of the State to dictate what teachers taught in publicly funded schools and criticised Scopes' failure to carry out the job he was being paid to do (see Part 14 for details).  He only changed his tune after Darrow joined the defense team, and even then seemed interested in little more than pouring scorn on fundamentalists in general and Bryan in particular.
Hornbeck does very little in the film that he doesn't do in the play.  He is cynical, but shows little of the acid wit and sheer contempt for his fellow citizens that characterised most of Mencken's work.  The idea that Mencken would have been genuinely interested in Scopes' ideas and views except as an excuse for his invective against William Jennings Bryan, is frankly ludicrous. Hornbeck seems to have been included mainly to provide an occasional commentary on the proceedings and to make Drummond look less like a religious bigot than Darrow was in real life.
Neither the play nor the film indicate the full measure of Mencken's racial and religious bigotry, or his heartfelt hatred for Bryan and all he stood for.

And the Band didn't Play On

The first "set piece" in Inherit the Wind is Matthew Harrison Brady's triumphal entry into Hillsboro, (including a motorcade in the movie), to the sound of "Give Me that Old Time Religion."

Dayton (1925) Movie (1960) Play (2000, revised ed.)
Reporters estimated that the crowd that gathered to meet Bryan as he arrived from Miami on the "Royal Palm Special" (which normally shot straight through Dayton without stopping) included at least half the local population.  Choosing to arrive in Dayton on July 7th, 3 days before the trial was due to start, Bryan assured himself maximum publicity as he stepped down from the train.  Newspaper reports of the event mention loud applause, much waving of hankerchiefs, and a band playing a medley of patriotic and religious tunes.
However there was no motorcade march through town.  Instead it seems that Bryan went of on a pedestrian tour of Dayton, stopping only to shake hands and to deliver an occasional speech denouncing evolutionist ideas.
Note:   There is also no mention of making Bryan an honourary Colonel during the real life event - though Bryan had, in fact, been a real life Colonel in the US army during the Spanish-American war of 1898.
This scene is a major element in the movie and is considerably longer than in the play.  It is interesting to note, however, that whilst the play script has Brady behaving in a very assured, even smug manner throughout, Frederic March (playing Brady in the 1960 version of the movie) makes Brady seem rather paranoid.  His eyes seem to be constantly on the lookout for some kind of threat, and he frequently moves his mouth in a way that suggests he is nervous for some unspecified reason.  In short, in the movie the words and the body language appear to be inconsistent.
(Details of Professor Albert Mehrabian's research on inconsistent language, vocal signals and body language weren't made public until around 1967.)
In the play, Brady's initial entry and his speech are kept relatively brief - just long enough to establish the character as bluff, good natured by also inclined to be smug and rather patronising.
The "speechifying" quickly gives way to the announcement of a picnic.  Another event not mentioned in real life accounts of Bryan's arrival in Dayton.

This may have been inserted as preparation for the later exchange in the courtroom where Drummond complains that he hasn't been given a similar honour; or simply a misunderstanding over the practice in Tennessee, at that time, of referring to lawyers as "colonel" as a sign of respect.

To be continued


The Scopes "Monkey" Trial Site Map

A brief description of the Scopes Trial - the original proceedings, the effective fictionalising of the event in F.L. Allen's book Only Yesterday, and the confusion surrounding the play Inherit the Wind.  Also a brief biography of the author and a short bibliography.

Part 1: Summary
A short history of the events leading up to the Scopes Trial, the trial itself, and what happened afterwards.  Includes lists of the lawyers, witnesses, jurors, etc. involved in the Scopes Trial.  Explains why it was called the "Monkey" trial.

Part 2: Inherit the Wind
Looks at the real story behind the writing of the play Inherit the Wind, and some of the key differences between the play and the actual trial.  Explains where the title came from, and what it signifies.

Part 3: A Cult of Misinformation
The Scopes Trial has been the subject of a mountain of misinformation from the time of the trial through to the present day.  The members of this "cult" include not just journalists and authors but also lawyers, university professors, the Encyclopaedia Britannica and even the Library of Congress.  This section shows why the real life events are so widely misunderstood today.

Part 4: How it Began
Discusses the Butler Act (the basis for the charge against John Scopes), the action of the ACLU, the "Drugstore Conspiracy" which led to the trial being staged in Dayton, and how the two sets of lawyers were selected - or in some cases selected themselves.  This section includes the names of all of the lawyers on both sides.

Part 5: The Experts - and Others
Details of the expert witnesses due to give evidence for the defense - and two potential witnesses, one of who did make an appearance (Piltdown Man), and one who didn't (Nebraska Man).

Part 6: The Expert Evidence
Arthur Hays claimed that the expert witnesses would deal only in "facts."  This section discusses specific items of "expert testimony" in the light of that claim and subsequent discoveries.

Part 7: Hunter's Civic Biology
Details of the true nature of the contents of Hunter's textbook A Civic Biology.

Part 8: The Trial - Part 1     In preparation
A timeline of the main events of the trial on a day-by-day basis.

Part 9: The Trial - Part 2
A detailed evaluation of the confrontation between Darrow and Bryan on the afternoon of day 7, with numerous quotes from the trial transcript and elsewhere.

Part 10: The Appeal
Many people know that the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the original result of the trial, but why?  Was John Scopes found "not guilty"?  What reasons did the Supreme Court give for their decision?
And what the heck is a nolle prosequi anyway?

Part 11: Was Scopes Guilty?
Another remarkable feature of the Scopes Trial was the number of lies involved - the biggest of which centers on the likelihood that the defense lawyers deliberately concealed the fact that Scopes was genuinely "not guilty."

Part 12: 80 Years of Evolution and Species
(Under Construction.  Additional material will be added.  Existing material may be subject to further editing.)
In Part 6 we looked at the kind of "evidence" offered by the expert witnesses.  In this section we look specifically at the meaning of terms such as "evolution" and "species" in 1925 and 2006.

Part 13: Education After the Scopes Trial
This section describes what happened to the teaching of evolutionary theory in American schools after the trial; and what Americans believe about the teaching of evolutionism and creationism today.

Part 14: Clarence Darrow for the Defense - Maybe?
Whilst the ACLU triggered the Scopes Trial, and the "drugstore conspirators" brought it to Dayton, the guiding force behind the events during the was Clarence Darrow.  This section looks behind the myths surrounding Darrow's life, and asks what motivated Darrow to essentially hi-jack the ACLU campaign and use it for his own ends.

Part 15: The Significance of the Scopes Trial
This section considers some of the many clashes in American society in the 1920s and considers whether they were genuine clashes, and if they were, what influence the Scopes Trial had an on any of them.
It also reveals what will be, for many people, surprising new information about the role of the University of Chicago in American culture at that time, discovered by Professor of the History of Science, Edward Davis.

Part 16: The Play, the Movie and the Trial
(Under Construction.  Additional material will be added.  Existing material may be subject to further editing.)
A detailed examination of the differences between the play and first (1960) film version of Inherit the Wind, and the real life Scopes Trial.

Part 20: Links and Resources
A list of websites and books related to the Scopes Trial, including the trial transcript and the script of Inherit the Wind.