• U.S.

Education: Mr. Darrow Presents

3 minute read

“It will be another Scopes Trial.”

Thus, hopefully, last week spoke President Samuel Cummins of Classic Productions, impresarios of educational cinemas, concerning what promised to be a hot legal battle over a film he had billed in the following manner:

Carl Laemmle presents


as vividly interpreted by


He had forgotten that for another Scopes trial, another William Jennings Bryan must arise.

About a year ago Mr. Cummins compiled bits from an old UFA scientific film, from the dinosauric Conan Doyle piece,

The Lost World (TIME, Feb. 16, 1925), and from other life-explaining sources, went to Mr. Darrow and said: “I understand that ever since the Scopes trial you’ve wanted to put forward a motion picture to educate the people to your contentions about Evolution.” An arrangement was made whereby Mr. Laemmle’s Universal Pictures would supplement Mr. Cummins’ bits with connectives and shots of Mr. Darrow. No scientist, and very, very serious about the proposed picture, Lawyer Darrow called in Smith College’s goateed Professor Howard Madison Parshley and they spent three hardworking months preparing explanatory dialog. Last week the finished film was ready for review by Dr. James Wingate’s New York State Board of Censors before its world debut at Manhattan’s Cameo.

From Dr. Wingate’s predominantly feminine Board Mr. Cummins soon received detailed instructions. Excerpts:

“Eliminate all views of snails on actual cross fertilization. . . . Eliminate . . . ‘Here are two single celled animals in conjugation. Notice that the protoplasm, the living substance, is flowing from one to another.’ . . . Eliminate all views of embryo . . . actual copulation of female mantis . . . views of spiders actually mating . . . views of child at mother’s breast and view of bare breast . . . view of children where sex is exposed. . . . Reason: INDECENT.”

Immediately Messrs. Cummins and Darrow protested violently. Mr. Darrow wrote: “Absurd and the censors know it. . . . Pictures of the Holy Mother nursing her infant abound all over the world. . . . The story of the praying mantis is published everywhere. . . . The human embryo is in any number of textbooks. . . . Can’t you argue with them? If not, my personal inclinations would be for a fight.”

Engaged for the fight was Liberal Lawyer Arthur Garfield Hays, who exclaimed : “This is the first time anyone has suggested that [Clarence Darrow] has been guilty of promoting anything in any way indecent!”

Meanwhile the censored cinema had its debut as scheduled. It showed frequent snatches of beetle-browed, rough-voiced Lawyer Darrow and little, bald-headed Professor Parshley conversing in a well-stocked library. Their explanatory dialog seemed a trifle sketchy for any biological beginner and far too elementary for even an elementary student. The pictorial parts sought to demonstrate Evolution by illustrating Darwin’s theory of natural selection, and by an examination of embryology, most of which the censors cut. Silliest shot: a prediction of the end of the world, with the heavens raining fire & brimstone. Yet the whole is well photographed and entertaining, especially in the dramatic presentations of prehistoric man. Observers wondered how the Manhattan censors had happened to permit the showing of bare-bosomed prehistoric woman.

That Lawyer Darrow and Producer Cummins intended to make as big a splash as possible with their picture, for mixed motives of education and cash, was indicated when they announced that the second showing of The Mystery of Life would be at historic Dayton, Tenn.

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