JEROME LAWRENCE (b: 1915) was an American playwright and author who died on this date. After graduating from Ohio State University in 1937 and the University of California, Los Angeles in 1939, Lawrence partnered with Robert Edwin Lee to help create Armed Forces Radio. The two built a partnership over their lifetimes, and continued to collaborate on screenplays and musicals until Lee’s death in 1994.
Lawrence and Lee won acclaim for the 1955 play Inherit the Wind, based on the Scopes Trial. Lawrence described the couple’s plays as “shar[ing] the theme of the dignity of every individual mind, and that mind’s life-long battle against limitation and censorship”. The two deliberately avoided Broadway later in their careers.
Inherit the Wind remains among the most-produced plays in the American theatre. They also collaborated on the plays Auntie Mame, The Incomparable Max, and First Monday in October, among others. In 1965, they founded the American Playwrights’ Theatre, a plan to bypass the commercialism of the Broadway stage, which foreshadowed the professional regional theatre movement. Their wildly successful play, The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, was produced through the American Playwrights Theatre, and premiered at Lawrence’s alma mater, Ohio State, which also commissioned their play on the life and times of James Thurber’s, Jabberwock (1972).
In all, they collaborated on 39 works, including a 1956 musical adaptation of James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, entitled Shangri–La, with the author himself. They also adapted Auntie Mame into the hit musical Mame with composer Jerry Herman, which won a Tony Award for its star, Angela Lansbury. Less successful was the Lawrence and Lee collaboration with Herman, also starring Lansbury, Dear World, a musical adaptation of Giraudoux’s The Madwoman of Chaillot.
Lawrence and Lee’s plays draw on events from United States history to speak to contemporary issues. addressing intellectual freedom, and McCarthyism among them. Lawrence taught playwriting at the Imversity of Southern California.
Lawrence’s one Tony Award nomination was for Best Book of a Musical for Mame.
Lawrence died in Malibu on February 29, 2004, from complications of a stroke and is survived by his companion of fifteen years Will Willoughby.