Robert E. Lee was born not far from Jerome Lawrence, in a distant suburb of Cleveland called Elyria. His mother, Elvira, was a teacher, and his father, Claire, was an engineer. In 1934, Lee left home for Northwestern University in Chicago, where he studied for one year. In 1935, he resumed studies closer to home, at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, and also took a job as a technician at a local observatory; but, after just two years, Lee left both behind. He took a directing job at a Cleveland radio station but was drawn once again to higher education, and spent a year at Cleveland's Western Reserve University.
He again left school for work this time for a job at an ad agency in New York City. In 1942, Lee enlisted in the air force; while there, he gave one last attempt at college and studied for a year at Drake University. But earning a higher degree was never meant to be; while in service, Lee cofounded the Armed Forces Radio Service with Jerome Lawrence.
Though their first play, Laugh, God! was published in 1939, Lee and Lawrence did not form an official partnership until 1942, at the beginning of their tours of duty. By the time both men were released in 1945, they had already published their second collaboration -- Inside a Kid's Head. The pair wrote and produced two more plays over the next decade, but their careers as playwrights really took off in 1955 with Inherit the Wind, the story of one of the first teachers who dared to teach Darwin's Theory of Evolution. The play was wildly successful and, the same year as its release, the pair formed Lawrence and Lee, Inc.
From there Lawrence and Lee went on to write over thirty different plays, one-act operas, and musicals. Two of their works included the popular Auntie Mame, about the adventures of a fascinating woman who lived life to its fullest, and The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, about "Thoreau's imprisonment for tax evasion based on moral reasons."
Lawrence and Lee collaborated on four different screenplays, numerous television and radio shows, and even books; they have won countless awards, including two lifetime achievement awards, two Peabody Awards, and two Tonys between them.
They continued writing, directing, and producing plays through the 1990s, as evidenced by Lee's comment: "We are lovers of the living theatre and intend to continue working and living in it." Both men also found time to teach and lecture at schools and universities the world over, cofound the American Playwrights Theater in Columbus, Ohio, and cofound the Margo Jones Award.
Lawrence never married, had no children and lived at home in Malibu, California; Lee married actress Janet Waldo in 1948 and together, they had two children. He served for twenty years as an "adjunct professor of playwriting at UCLA and served on the Executive Writers Committee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences." He died of cancer July 8, 1994, the same year that his and Lawrence's final play, Whisper in the Mind, received its professional premiere. Lawrence died in 2004.