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Jack Lemmon in "Inherit the Wind"

Pals revisit Scopes in 'Inherit the Wind'

Web posted on: Friday, May 28, 1999 5:36:10 PM EDT

From Sherri Sylvester
CNN Entertainment News Correspondent

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Jack Lemmon and George C. Scott are as comfortable on a soundstage as they would be in their own living rooms -- and why not? Each has been acting for some 50 years. And the work they're focusing on now has been around almost that long, too.

Their latest project is "Inherit the Wind." It's a serious script, another retelling of the Scopes "monkey trial" of 1925 -- what many would say is the true "trial of the century" in the United States. The story first was dramatized by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee in 1955, and given its first film treatment in 1960, with Gene Kelly and Spencer Tracy.

But despite the work's church-state separation gravity, on the set of the new remake, it's a Tootsie Pop, family pets and cheering for the caterer to get into the cast picture.

"We're doing very serious stuff," Lemmon says of the film. The new adaptation debuts on Showtime this weekend. "But some of the stuff we pull with each other in between is not serious at all, and also not repeatable."

George C. Scott taking the stand

Infamous case

In the onscreen story, two bombastic attorneys debate Charles Darwin's theory of evolution as a public schoolteacher, John Scopes, is put on trial for teaching the subject in his classroom. The July 1925 trial in Dayton, Tennessee, pitted defense attorney Clarence Darrow against prosecutor William Jennings Bryan -- both, at the time, legal superstars.

In this modern-day retelling, Lemmon plays the defense attorney, challenging the Bible-thumping beliefs of Scott's staunch conservative prosecutor.

"How do you know that God didn't speak to Charles Darwin?" demands Lemmon in the film.

"Because God tells me to oppose the evil teachings of that man," responds Scott.

Lemmon's response: "God speaks to you?"

Famous friends

The off-screen story is one of a friendship dating back several years. Even before the pair starred together in the 1997 HBO remake of another courtroom drama, "12 Angry Men," they used to play golf together, recalls Scott. "There's a wonderful shot of Jack holding me from falling off a cliff, he's got me by the trousers as I'm about to go over the edge, a 300-foot drop."

For his part, Lemmon says he's proud to work with Scott, and hopes to do it again. "Any actor that ever works with George C. Scott is going to say, 'I'd be very happy working with Mr. Scott for the rest of my life,'" maintains Lemmon. "And I feel that way, I really do."

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