Jerome Lawrence Schwartz was born on July 14, 1915 in Cleveland, Ohio, to Samuel Schwartz, a printer, and Sarah Rogen Schwartz, a poet. During his high school and college years, Lawrence was a prolific reader, reading every play — from Greek drama to current comedies — that he could find in the Cleveland and Ohio State University libraries. He also loved the theater. Because live theater was not commonplace throughout the United States during the 1930s, he hitchhiked to New York City to experience it.
Lawrence received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Ohio State University in 1937. He worked for a short time as a reporter and telegraph operator for the Wilmington News Journal and as an editor for the New Lexington Daily News. His work as a newspaperman supplied him with a great deal of writing material that he made use of in later years. Also in 1937, Lawrence moved to California and began work as an editor for KMPC radio station in Beverly Hills. In 1939, he accepted a position as a writer for Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) in Los Angeles and New York, and he attended the University of California, Los Angeles graduate school.
Lawrence met Lee in New York City in 1942, and their partnership, which was to prove long-lasting and successful, was formed. Lawrence joined the United States Army in the early 1940s and was co-founder of the Armed Forces Radio Service. Although the majority of Lawrence's work over the next five decades was in collaboration with Lee, he continued to write plays and books on his own, using his given name Jerome L. Schwartz, Jerome Lawrence, and other pseudonyms. Lawrence independently wrote Actor: The Life and Times of Paul Muni (1974), which has been hailed one of the best theater biographies of the twentieth century. Today, Lawrence lives in Malibu, California, and spends his time writing and teaching aspiring playwrights.
Robert Edwin Lee was born to Claire Melvin Lee, an engineer, and Elvira Taft Lee, a teacher, on October 15, 1918. He grew up in Elyria, Ohio. Lee married Janet Waldo, an actress, in 1948; together they had two children, Jonathan Barlow and Lucy Virginia. Lee died on July 8, 1994, in Los Angeles.
Intent on becoming an astronomer, Lee attended Northwestern University in 1934 and then transferred to Ohio Wesleyan University, which (with Ohio State University) operated a giant telescope at Perkins Observatory. Interested in communications, Lee also immersed himself in broadcasting. He studied at Western Reserve University and Drake University in the late 1930s. Lee worked at the Perkins Observatory at Ohio Wesleyan while attending school there; then, while attending Western Reserve University, he worked for a radio station in Ohio.
In the late 1930s, Lee moved to New York City to join an advertising firm. Lee met Lawrence in 1942 and, like Lawrence, spent time in the United States Army in the early 1940s. He was co-founder of the Armed Forces Radio Service. After being discharged from the Army, Lee continued his work with Lawrence. Although he wrote on his own, Lee's most well known work was written in collaboration with Lawrence.
Partnership and Work
Even though Lawrence and Lee had grown up only about thirty miles from each other, they did not meet until 1942 in New York City, where they formed a partnership to write and direct plays. Both men joined the army in 1942, temporarily suspending their professional collaboration. Their partnership resumed, however, after they returned home. Combining their talents, Lawrence and Lee wrote a myriad of plays and musicals, screenplays, radio plays, and scripts for radio and television programs, as well as stories and articles for various publications, biographies, and textbooks. Their partnership proved fulfilling, successful, and enduring and lasted until Lee's death in 1998.
In their work, Lawrence and Lee wanted to make people think about mankind and react to the world around them. They were relentless in their determination to fight limitations placed on the individual mind — limitations such as censorship, fear of what others would think, and bigotry.
Lawrence and Lee's passion for the freedom to think and the freedom to experience life is reflected in their work. Their protagonists, whether funny or serious, embody this philosophy. Drummond, in Inherit the Wind, shows audiences that differing perspectives must — and can — be valued with an open-mind. In Auntie Mame, Mame's curiosity enables her to live beyond the limitations that most women of that era faced. In The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, Thoreau suffered the consequences for willfully violating what he considers to be unjust laws.
Lawrence and Lee claim to have been influenced by playwrights such as Clifford Odets, Thornton Wilder, Lillian Hellman, Robert Sherwood, and others. Maxwell Anderson's work also had a significant impact on their work, particularly with Inherit the Wind. Anderson's play Winterset concerns the Sacco-Vanzetti trial in which two men are convicted of murder and sentenced to die, only to be found innocent after their executions. In Winterset, Anderson used dramatic license to add to the original case and to eliminate facts that he considered irrelevant to his play. He also made the conflict (social injustice) universal and timeless. Lawrence and Lee adapted this style when they wrote Inherit the Wind. Like Anderson, they used dramatic license to create a play based on a conflict that, at its heart, is both universal and timeless.
Honors and Awards
Together, Lawrence and Lee wrote an amazing amount of work. Many of their plays — Inherit the Wind (1955), Auntie Mame (1956) and Mame (1966) (the musical onstage version of Auntie Mame), The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail (1970), and First Monday in October, (1975) — have been hailed as contemporary classics and been translated and performed in over thirty languages. Their work has received much critical acclaim and been honored with numerous awards, including the following:
- Two George Foster Peabody awards for distinguished achievement in broadcasting (1949 and 1952)
- The Donaldson Award for best new play (1955) for Inherit the Wind
- The Variety Critics Poll award, both in New York (1955) and London (1960), for Inherit the Wind
- The Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Theatre Association (1979)
- The Writers Guild of America Valentine Davies Award (1984) for contributions to the entertainment industry that have brought honor and dignity to all writers
In 1990, Lawrence and Lee were inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame and received membership in the College of Fellows of the American Theatre.
In addition to their great plays, Lawrence and Lee made numerous other contributions to the theatre. They were co-founders of the Margo Jones Award and American Playwrights Theatre. Lawrence is a member of the Authors League of America and the Dramatists Guild, and Lee was a member of the Writers Executive Committee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Throughout the years, Lawrence and Lee shared a deep commitment to teaching, and taught and lectured extensively throughout the United States and abroad.
Look Ma, I'm Dancin'. By Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Composer Hugh Martin. Adelphi Theatre, New York. 1948. A backstage glimpse of a traveling ballet company backed by a beer heiress who insists on performing. The beer heiress becomes a comical "ballerina."
Inherit the Wind. By Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. National Theatre, New York. 1955. A fictionalized account of the Scopes' trial — a trial based on the importance of an individual's right to the freedom of thought.
Shangri-La. By Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Composer Harry Warren. Winter Garden Theatre, New York. 1956. A musical based on Lost Horizon by James Hilton, in which three men and one woman are transported to Shangri-La, a mysterious utopia hidden in the mountains of Tibet. The story is a commentary on Western ideals of the 1930s.
Auntie Mame. By Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Broadhurst Theatre, New York. 1956. The story of a woman who lives life to the fullest.
The Gang's All Here. By Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Ambassador Theatre, New York. 1959. A fictionalized account of the corruption of the presidency of Warren G. Harding.
Only in America. By Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Cort Theatre. New York. 1959. Race relations are explored in this play based in part on Harry Golden's life.
A Call on Kuprin. By Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Broadhurst Theatre, New York. 1961. Questions of patriotism and the role of the scientist in the modern world are explored using the competition between the American and Soviet space programs.
Mame. By Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Winter Garden Theatre, New York. 1966. A musical version of Auntie Mame.
Sparks Fly Upward. By Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Henry Miller's Theatre (as Diamond Orchid), New York. 1956; McFarlin Auditorium, Dallas. 1967. The effects of societal oppression of individual development are explored in this fictionalized account of the life and death of Evita Peron.
The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail. By Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. 1970; Arena Theatre, Washington, DC. 1970. Thoreau is put in jail after refusing to pay taxes to the American government, which at the time was involved in what Thoreau considered an unjust war with Mexico (the Mexican-American War, 1846-48).
First Monday in October. By Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Kennedy Center, Washington, DC. 1977; Majestic Theatre, New York. 1978. Censorship is explored in this play about the first woman on the Supreme Court.