Lee, Robert Edwin

Born: October 15, 1918
Died: July 8, 1994

Ohio connection: Birth


Robert Edwin Lee, son of Claire Melvin and Elvira (Taft) Lee, was born in 1918 in Elyria, Ohio. He was educated at Northwestern University (1934), Ohio Wesleyan University (1935-37), Western Reserve University (1938), and Drake University (1943-44). He also served in the U.S. Army Air Force, 1942-45, and was co-founder of the Armed Forces Radio Service. He was married to an actress, Janet Waldo, in 1948. The couple had two children, Jonathan and Lucy. Lee worked as an observer and technician for Perkins Observatory in Delaware, Ohio, 1936-37, and then as a director for radio stations WHK and WCLE in Cleveland, 1937-38. He moved to New York City in 1938, where he worked for an advertising firm, Young & Rubicam, until 1942, when he began collaborating with Jerome Lawrence as a playwright and director. This partnership lasted for more than fifty years, until Lee’s death in 1994. Their most famous plays were Inherit the WindAuntie Mame, later entitled Mame; and First Monday in October.Some other Lawrence & Lee plays were Look Ma, I’m Dancin’!; the musical Shangri-LaThe Gang`s All HereDear WorldThe Night Thoreau Spent in Jail; and Jabberwock. Altogether, Lee and Lawrence worked together on thirty-nine plays, fourteen of which played on Broadway. Jerome Lawrence described the plays he wrote and directed with Lee as follows: “Almost if not all of our plays share the theme of the dignity of every individual mind, and that mind`s life-long battle against limitation and censorship.” Lee and Lawrence also collaborated on three one-act operas, four screenplays, and one book: Television: The Revolution. Lee produced one play, Sounding Brass, on his own. Another play, Whisper in the Mind, was produced with Lawrence and Norman Cousins in 1990. Lee was also the writer, director and producer for many television and radio programs. He was an educator as well, serving as an adjunct professor at the University of California, where he taught aspiring actors, playwrights, and screenwriters. After a long and distinguished career, Robert E. Lee died July 8, 1994, in Los Angeles.

New York Press Club award, 1942; Peabody Award, 1948, for UN radio series; Radio-TV Life award, 1948, 1952; Radio-TV Mirror award, 1952, 1953; Donaldson Award, Outer Circle Award, and Variety New York Drama Critics Poll, all 1955, and Critics Award for best foreign play (London) and British Drama Critics award for best foreign play, both 1960, all for Inherit the Wind; “Tony” Award, 1955 and 1966; D. Litt., Ohio Wesleyan University, 1962; M.A. in theatre, Pasadena College of Theatre Arts, 1963; Antoinette Perry Award Nomination for book of a musical, 1966, for Mame; Moss Hart Memorial Award, 1967; Best Comedy/Drama Special award from the National Television Academy, 1988, for the television adaptation of Inherit the Wind; Lifetime Achievement Award from the William Inge Festival, 1988; named to the American Theatre Hall of Fame, 1990.