Authors: Robert E. Lee

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American playwright

Author Works

Drama:

Inside a Kid’s Head, pb. 1945 (radio play; with Jerome Lawrence)

Look, Ma, I’m Dancin’, pr. 1948 (with Lawrence, music by Hugh Martin, conceived by Jerome Robbins)

The Crocodile Smile, pr. 1952 (with Lawrence; as The Laugh Maker), revised pr. 1961 (as Turn on the Night), revised pr. 1970 (with Lawrence)

Inherit the Wind, pr., pb. 1955 (with Lawrence)

Shangri-La, pr., pb. 1956 (with Lawrence and James Hilton; music by Harry Warren; adaptation of Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon)

Auntie Mame, pr. 1956 (with Lawrence; adaptation of Patrick Dennis’s novel), revised pr. 1966 (as Mame; music and lyrics by Jerry Herman)

The Gang’s All Here, pr. 1959 (with Lawrence)

Only in America, pr. 1959 (with Lawrence; adaptation of Harry Golden’s work)

A Call on Kuprin, pr. 1961 (with Lawrence; adaptation of Maurice Edelman’s novel)

Sparks Fly Upward, pr. 1965 (with Lawrence; as Diamond Orchid), revised pr. 1967

Live Spelled Backwards, pr. 1966

Dear World, pr. 1969 (with Lawrence; music and lyrics by Jerry Herman; adaptation of Jean Giraudoux’s play The Madwoman of Chaillot)

The Incomparable Max, pr. 1969 (with Lawrence)

The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, pr., pb. 1970 (with Lawrence)

Jabberwock: Improbabilities Lived and Imagined by James Thurber in the Fictional City of Columbus, Ohio, pr. 1972 (with Lawrence)

Ten Days That Shook the World, pr. 1973 (adaptation of John Reed’s book)

First Monday in October, pr. 1975 (with Lawrence)

Sounding Brass, pr. 1975

Whisper in the Mind, pr. 1990 (with Lawrence and Norman Cousins)

Screenplays:

My Love Affair with the Human Race, 1962 (with Jerome Lawrence)

The New Yorkers, 1963 (with Lawrence)

Joyous Season, 1964 (with Lawrence)

The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, 1972 (with Lawrence; adaptation of their play)

First Monday in October, 1982 (with Lawrence; adaptation of their play)

Teleplays:

The Unexpected, 1951 (series; with Jerome Lawrence)

Favorite Story, 1952-1953 (with Lawrence)

Song of Norway, 1957 (with Lawrence)

West Point, 1958 (with Lawrence)

Actor, 1978 (with Lawrence; music by Billy Goldenburg)

Radio Plays:

Columbia Workshop, 1941-1942 (series; with Jerome Lawrence)

Armed Forces Radio Service Programs, 1942-1945 (with Lawrence)

The World We’re Fighting For, 1943 (series; with Lawrence)

Request Performance, 1945-1946 (series; with Lawrence)

Screen Guild Theatre, 1946 (series; with Lawrence)

Favorite Story, 1946-1949 (series; with Lawrence)

Frank Sinatra Show, 1947 (with Lawrence)

Dinah Shore Program, 1948 (with Lawrence)

The Railroad Hour, 1948-1954 (with Lawrence)

Young Love, 1949-1950 (series; with Lawrence)

United Nations Broadcasts, 1949-1950 (with Lawrence)

Halls of Ivy, 1950-1951 (series; with Lawrence)

Hallmark Playhouse, 1950-1951 (series; with Lawrence)

Charles Boyer Show, 1951 (with Lawrence)

Nonfiction:

Television: The Revolution, 1944

Biography

Robert Edwin Lee began his lifetime of education and writing in his hometown, Elyria, Ohio, and then proceeded to Northwestern (1934) and Ohio Wesleyan (1935-1937) Universities. His father, Claire Melvin Lee, was an engineer, and Lee may have inherited his interest in writing from his mother, Elvira Lee Taft, a teacher. After graduating from college, Lee worked from 1938 to 1942 as an executive at the advertising firm of Young and Rubicam in New York City. He was appointed expert consultant to the secretary of war in 1942, and he also served in the U.S. Air Force from 1943 to 1944, during which time he and his collaborator Jerome Lawrence cofounded Armed Forces Radio, producing the official Army-Navy radio programs for D day, V-E Day, and V-J Day. His position as an important American dramatist is guaranteed by his voluminous output of works, including the controversial classic Inherit the Wind, the well-known The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, Auntie Mame, and thirty more major theater productions. His and Lawrence’s plays have been adapted as films and have been translated into thirty-two languages.{$I[A]Lee, Robert E.}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Lee, Robert E.}{$I[tim]1918;Lee, Robert E.}

Lee and Lawrence’s best-known work, Inherit the Wind, represents a response to McCarthyism and the suppression of freedom of thought and expression, important issues for Lee, as a dramatist and writer and a believer in constitutional rights. This play, among others, pinpoints the paradox of individual freedom in a society that appears to condone it, yet insists on conformity to the majority. In the play, the events of the 1925 Scopes trial (Tennessee v. John Scopes, a high school biology teacher charged with illegally teaching the theory of evolution) is dramatized and modified to suit the theater and the political and social concerns the play conveys. It seems clear that the play’s major theme is that independent and critical thinking are the responsibilities of every citizen and that the truth must be discovered and brought forth, regardless of the pain, humiliation, and change it may create. The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, written and produced fifteen years later, further explores these ideas at a time when the United States was once again in the midst of social and political upheaval. The play questions how such a society can maintain itself as a whole in the face of multiple, fixed beliefs.

Much of the controversy surrounding Inherit the Wind has been over “truth” versus “invention,” but, in the tradition of William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw, the play is designed not as history but as theater. Both Lee and Lawrence were clear in stating that Inherit the Wind was not journalism but a fictionalized story. Whether the play puts art in the service of morality or vice-versa is a good question; what is clear is that the play has had, and continues to have, a significant effect on not only the American consciousness but also that of the world at large. It is a work that transcends its time. If Lee had been involved in no other writings, his fame and literary reputation would likely have been assured by his participation in this one work.

Lee, with his partner, Lawrence, is the winner of many of the most important and prestigious awards in the theater, including the Donaldson Award, the Moss Hart Award for Plays of a Free World, a U.S. State Department medal, an Ohio State Centennial Medal, a Pegasus Award, the Ohio Governor’s Award, a Cleveland Playhouse Plaque, the Ohioana Award, two Peabody Awards for Distinguished Achievement in broadcasting, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Theater Association. His and Lawrence’s plays have been adapted as films and have been translated into several languages. Lee received an honorary doctorate in literature from Ohio Wesleyan University and a doctor of humanities degree from Ohio State University. He served for twenty years as an adjunct professor of playwrighting at the University of California, Los Angeles and was devoted to producing new plays and assisting promising new playwrights. On July 8, 1994, he died in Los Angeles. He is survived by his wife, actress Janet Waldo Lee, and his daughter and son, Lucy and Jonathan Lee.

BibliographyCornelius, R. M. William Jennings Bryan and the Scopes Trial, and “Inherit the Wind.” Dayton, Tenn.: William Jennings Bryan College, 1995. This volume presents background on the fundamentalist argument, William Jennings Bryan, and John Scopes and the criticism of Jerome Lawrence and Lee’s interpretation of events in their play.Matlaw, Myron. “Lee, Robert E(dwin).” In Modern World Drama. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1972. A good biographical account of Lee.Winchester, Mark D. “Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee: A Classified Bibliography.” Studies in American Drama, 1945-Present 7 (1992): 88-160. An exhaustive bibliography of both authors.Woods, Alan. Selected Plays of Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1995. Includes a foreword by Norman Cousins and a bibliography.
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