Biography

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 652

Jerome Lawrence Schwartz, with his partner, Robert E. Lee, was instrumental in the commercial, intellectual, and public development of American theater in the mid-twentieth century. His father, Samuel Schwartz, owned a printing company, and his mother, Sarah (Rogen) Schwartz, was a poet. Propelled by the family’s literary affiliations, Lawrence’s interest in drama bloomed in his high school and college days, when he acted in and directed school and summer theater productions. As a teenager, he studied writing with Eugene C. Davis and later, at Ohio State University, with Harlan Hatcher, Herman Miller, and Robert Newdick.{$S[A]Schwartz, Jerome Lawrence;Lawrence, Jerome}

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Lawrence began writing prizewinning plays at Ohio State (from which he graduated cum laude), but it was his writing experience during World War II that shaped his creative abilities and social outlook. Staff Sergeant Lawrence served as a consultant to the secretary of war and later as Army correspondent in North Africa and Italy. In addition to serving in the military, Lawrence worked as a journalist, reporter, and telegraph editor of small Ohio daily newspapers and as a continuity editor at radio station KMPC in Beverly Hills. While writing for CBS radio, he met fellow Ohioan Robert E. Lee in Manhattan in January, 1942. Over lunch the next week, they began their first collaboration, Inside a Kid’s Head, a radio play. The two men established an office in Los Angeles within a few months, joined the military that summer, and produced programs for the Armed Forces Radio Service.

Lawrence and Lee’s best-known collaborations are Inherit the Wind and The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail. These plays reflect Lawrence’s lifelong concern with progress and the right to intellectual freedoms. The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, first produced by the American Playwrights Theater on April 21, 1970, links Henry David Thoreau’s refusal on moral principles to pay his poll tax with contemporary issues such as the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War. The play makes it clear, as does Inherit the Wind, that the true power and integrity of a society is not to be found in commonly held truisms and absolute faith in government but in the minds of a wise minority, willing to face prison or even death, rather than give in to the herd mentality of the crowd, where truth rarely exists. As Thoreau’s “Essay on Civil Disobedience” will be a document of social relevance for the ages, so will The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail speak to generations to come. For his independent thinking and prolific and compelling writing, Lawrence is highly regarded, and critics have called his Actor: The Life and Times of Paul Muni, one of the best theater biographies of the twentieth century.

Lawrence, with his partner, Lee, won 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 University 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 Lee’s plays have been adapted as films and have been translated into thirty-two languages. Lawrence received honorary doctorates from Villanova University, the College of Wooster, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and Ohio State University. Lawrence served on the boards of directors of the American Conservatory Theater, the National Repertory Theater, the Dramatists’ Guild, and the Writers Guild of America. He was a visiting professor at Ohio State and a master playwright at New York University, Baylor University, and the Salzburg Seminar in American Studies and an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California. In 1990 he was inducted into the National Theater Hall of Fame, and he continued to work from his home in Malibu, California, into the twenty-first century.

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