b. 14 July 1915, Cleveland, Ohio, USA, d. 29 February 2004, Malibu, California, USA. With Lawence’s mother a poet and his father a printer, a literary career was unsurprising. After studying locally, privately and at Ohio State University, he graduated in 1937. He worked briefly in Ohio on newspapers, then moved to Beverly Hills to work behind the scenes in radio. He resumed studying, this time at UCLA before joining CBS as a staff writer.
In 1942 Lawrence was working in New York and met Robert E. Lee (b. Robert Edwin Lee, 15 October 1918, Elyris, Ohio, USA, d. 8 July 1994, Los Angeles, California, USA) who was working in advertising. Lee’s studies included spells at Chicago’s Northwestern University and Ohio Wesleyan. His first work was at a local radio station before he spent more time studying, now at Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Apart from having been born and raised in close proximity, Lawrence and Lee discovered many common literary interests and influences. They served in the military together and were among the original people behind the Armed Forces Radio Service.
After the war, Lawrence and Lee wrote several plays for radio and for the stage, among them some successful musicals. These works include the book for Look Ma, I’m Dancin’ (1948), The Unexpected (1951) and Inherit The Wind (1955), winner of the Donaldson Award, the Variety New York Critics Poll Award, the same organization’s Best Foreign Play award in London, the Outer Critics Circle Award, and it was also nominated for a Tony Award. In the course of the following half century Inherit The Wind was translated into some 30 languages and was filmed on several occasions.
The pair also wrote Shangri-La, Auntie Mame (based on the novel by Patrick Dennis), and Diamond Orchid (all 1956, the latter retitled Sparks Fly Upward when restaged in 1967), The Gang’s All Here (1959), Only In America (1959), A Call On Cuprin (1961), the book for Mame (1966), which was based on their Auntie Mame, Dear World (1969), The Night Thoreau Spent In Jail (1970, which with in excess of 2, 500 performances worldwide is one of contemporary theatre’s most produced plays), Jabberwock (1972), Lincoln The Unwilling Warrior (1974), First Monday In October (1977) and Whisper In The Mind (1990).
Lawrence and Lee were twice recipients of the George Foster Peabody Award for Distinguished Achievement in Broadcasting (1949 and 1952), and they also won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Theatre Association (1979), the Writers Guild of America Valentine Davies Award (1984), and in 1990 they were inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame and named Fellows of American Theatre at Washington DC’s Kennedy Center. Lawrence and Lee were co-founders of the Margo Jones Award and of American Playwrights Theatre. Many of Lawrence and Lee’s works contain elements that vividly display the pair’s interest in and care for freedom and their respect for those who struggle against tyranny, whether on a small or grand scale.
Lawrence additionally was awarded with several honorary university doctorates. Active also in education, he was Adjunct Professor in the Graduate School at the University of Southern California. He was also author of the biography, Actor: The Life And Times Of Paul Muni. Lee was active in education and was Professor Adjunct of Playwriting at UCLA and he also served on the Executive Writers Committee of the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences.