Born on July 14, 1915, in Cleveland, Ohio, Jerome Lawrence began his decades-long working relationship with Robert E. Lee in the 1940s, working for radio and then writing for the stage with works like Look, Ma, I'm Dancin'! and Inherit the Wind, about the trial of John Scopes. The duo later earned a Tony Award nomination for the Angela Lansbury musical adaptation Mame. Lawrence died on February 29, 2004.
The Start of a Successful Collaboration
Playwright, author, director and educator Jerome Lawrence was born on July 14, 1915, in Cleveland, Ohio. Often writing in collaboration with Robert Edwin Lee, Jerome Lawrence was equally adept at creating such dramatic plays as Inherit the Wind and such comedic fare as Auntie Mame. Not long after graduating from Ohio State University in 1937, he moved out to California to work in radio.
In 1942, Lawrence met Robert Edwin Lee in New York City. At the time, he worked for CBS Radio while Lee was in advertising. The two soon began what would be a partnership lasting five decades with a radio play entitled Inside a Kid's Head. That same year, they both entered the U.S. Army as the country was fighting World War II. They became two of the founders of the Armed Forces Radio Service. Lawrence also worked as a correspondent in Africa and Italy.
After the war, Lawrence and Lee returned to working on their collaborative projects. Their first play produced on Broadway was the 1948 musical Look, Ma, I’m Dancin’! The two found even greater success with their 1955 dramatic work Inherit the Wind. The play tells the story of a young Tennessee teacher, John Scopes, who was brought to trial for teaching Charles Darwin’s scientific theory of evolution in 1925. The Broadway run of the show starred Paul Muni, Ed Begley and Tony Randall.
The next year, Lawrence and Lee scored another hit with the comedy Auntie Mame, adapted from the novel by Patrick Dennis. The production starred Rosalind Russell as an over-the-top, eccentric New York socialite suddenly charged with raising her nephew after her brother’s death. The play served as the basis for the 1958 film adaptation, also starring Russell. The show was transformed into the musical Mame in 1966 with Angela Lansbury in the title role. It was for this production that Lawrence received his only Tony Award nomination.
Over the years, Lawrence and Lee continued to work together, producing such works as Dear World, The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail and First Monday in October. While best known for their theatrical plays, the two also collaborated on radio and television plays and screenplays. They were nominated for an Emmy Award in 1978 for their work on Actor Hollywood Television Theatre. Their partnership lasted until Lee's death in 1994.
In addition to his work with Lee, Lawrence directed several plays and taught playwriting at several major universities, including University of Southern California and New York University. In 2002, he suffered a stroke and spent his final years in declining health. Lawrence died on February 29, 2004, from complications related to his stroke.
Inherit the Wind, perhaps his most lasting work, continues to be produced in local and regional theaters as the debate about evolution versus creationism remains relevant today. The show was even the subject of a 2007 revival on Broadway.
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