While making Bryan seem a monstrously unpleasant simpleton, "Inherit the Wind" presents Clarence Darrow as a humble, aw-shucks figure. The actual Darrow was a harsh-tongued elitist who was respected but widely disliked, in part because he never missed a chance to praise his own intellect. (For insistence, at the real Scopes trial, Darrow snapped to Bryan, "I am examining you on your fool ideas that no intelligent Christian on earth believes.") By making the Bryan character seem insufferable and the Darrow character homespun and genuine, "Inherit the Wind" flip-flopped the history of the event, in order to stack the deck against religious views.

Interpretations of characters are, of course, authors' prerogatives. That leaves the most substantive complaint against "Inherit the Wind," that it altered the bedrock facts of the trial, to present as "history" things that never happened. What was said at the trial is not a matter for generalized speculation; there is a transcript. The "Inherit the Wind" authors cited a few lines from the transcript, in order to lend their work the sheen of scrupulousness, and then went on to alter central facts of the case.

For example, the point in "Inherit the Wind" at which faith looks most stupid is when William Jennings Bryan obstinately insists the world must have been formed in precisely 4,004 B.C.E. But at the trial, Bryan specifically rejected this view.

Here is the exchange from "Inherit the Wind." Bryan, not Darrow, has raised the question of the 4,004 B.C.E. theory, which originated with the 17th-century Irish Bishop James Ussher:


William Jennings Bryan ("Mathew Harrison Brady"): A fine Biblical scholar, Bishop Ussher, has determined for us the exact date and hour of the creation. It occurred in the year 4,004 B.C.

Clarence Darrow ("Henry Drummond"): That is Bishop Ussher's opinion.

Bryan: It is not an opinion. It is a literal fact, which the good bishop arrived at through careful computation of the ages of the prophets as set down in the Old Testament. In fact he determined that the Lord began the creation on the 23rd of October in the year 4,004 B.C. at--uh, at 9 a.m.!

Darrow: That Eastern Standard Time?

(Laughter in the court.)

Here is the actual exchange from the trial transcript, in which Darrow is the one who raises the subject. At this point, they have been discussing the 4,004 date, and Darrow stumbles by suggesting that a 4,004 creation would make the Earth "4,000" years old:

Darrow: Would you say that the earth was only 4,000 years old?

Bryan: Oh, no; I think it is much older than that.

Darrow: How much?

Bryan: I couldn't say.

At the actual trial, Clarence Darrow made several attempts to get Bryan to endorse the 4,004 B.C.E. creation date, and each time Bryan refused. In the play, it is Bryan who brings up the subject and dives in, while Darrow gets to play fair-minded, suggesting that 4,004 dating is merely someone's "opinion."

At another point in "Inherit the Wind," Darrow asks Bryan if he's read the book he is objecting to, "On the Origin of Species":

Darrow ("Drummond"): I don't suppose you've memorized many passages from the "Origin of Species"?

Bryan ("Brady"): I am not in the least interested in the pagan hypothesis of that book.

Darrow: Never read it?

Bryan: And I never will.

Darrow: Then how in perdition do you have the gall to whoop up this holy war against something you don't know anything about?

In fact, Bryan had read "On the Origin of Species" some 20 years before the Scopes trial and had engaged in a running debate about the book with Henry Fairfield Osborn, then president of the American Museum of Natural History and roughly the Carl Sagan of his day. By pretending that Bryan was attacking something he refused to read, "Inherit the Wind" makes it seem that anyone who disagrees with Darwin must be willfully uninformed.

Alteration of history in "Inherit the Wind" reaches the point of outright duplicity in Bryan's two final scenes, in which he is portrayed as transformed into a demented maniac.

The first such scene comes at the end of the Darrow-Bryan courtroom confrontation. At the actual trial, the judge, sensing the bantering between the two was going nowhere, simply adjourned court till the following day, and everyone rose and left. In "Inherit the Wind," this happens:

Stage directions: Brady [Bryan] is almost in a frenzy.

Bryan: All of you know what I stand for! What I believe! I believe, I believe in the truth of the Book of Genesis!

(Beginning to chant.)

Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Kings, First Samuel, Second Samuel, First Kings, Second Kings--

Darrow: Your Honor, this completes the testimony. The witness is excused.