American musical theatre dancer, singer, and actress Carol Lawrence (b. Melrose Park, IL, September 5, 1932) is perhaps best known for creating the role of Maria in Bernstein’s West Side Story in 1957, and for her many subsequent appearances on Broadway and on national tours; in later years the focus of her acting and singing career has shifted to television. She received a Tony Award® nomination in 1958 for Best Featured Actress in a Musical.
Born Carolina Maria Laraia, Lawrence was at first trained primarily as a dancer, but soon established her presence as a “triple crown” (or, to her rivals, a “triple threat”), singing and acting as well. After an apprenticeship in chorus lines, she made her Broadway debut in Leonard Sillman’s New Faces of 1952, followed by a stint as a replacement dancer in Plain and Fancy (1955) and the featured role of Liat in a City Center revival of South Pacific (1955). She had a part in a Broadway flop called Shangri-La in 1956, and danced in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1957 with Beatrice Lillie before landing her greatest role later that year in West Side Story. She stayed in the show for two years before taking a break to star in a short-lived musical, Saratoga, then returned to West Side Story in 1960.
Carol Lawrence did three more star turns in Broadway musicals in the ’60s (Subways Are For Sleeping 1961, Night Life 1962), the most successful of which was as a replacement for Mary Martin in I Do, I Do in 1967. She did not appear on Broadway again until 1993, when she replaced Chita Rivera (her co-star from West Side Story days) as the Spider Woman in Kiss Of The Spider Woman, for by the late 1960s, Lawrence was well into her new television and national touring career.
Cities across the United States cheered Lawrence in Funny Girl (1967, 1975), The Sound Of Music (1971), Sweet Charity (1977), Sugar Babies (1983), No, No, Nanette (1990), The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and Woman Of The Year. In Los Angeles she was acclaimed for her performances in Do I Hear A Waltz?, Camelot, Follies, Mame, and Amy’s View, for which she received The Los Angeles Drama Critics Award. Although she has almost never appeared in a film that was not made for television (the silver screen role of Maria went to Natalie Wood), the film industry honored her with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the first ever in the category of Live Theatre.
Over the last five decades, Carol Lawrence has made dozens of appearances as a guest on series television: the 1960s saw her in Breaking Point, Wagon Train, Rawhide, and The Fugitive; during the 1970s she appeared on Hawaii 5-0, Marcus Welby, M.D., Medical Center, Kung Fu, Mannix, and as Bathsheba in Greatest Heroes of the Bible. In the ’80s she had leading roles in Love Boat, Matt Houston, Simon & Simon, and Hotel, as well as several episodes of Murder, She Wrote. In 1991 she played Angela Eckart regularly on General Hospital, and in 1994 played Bernice Stein in sixty-five episodes of Valley of the Dolls. Continuing as a guest, Lawrence was seen in Murder One, Lois and Clark, The Commish, Touched by an Angel, That Championship Season, and Sex and The City. She also continued to entertain on countless musical variety shows.
Lawrence hosted five shows of Chef du Jour for the Food Network, cooking from her own cookbook, I Remember Pasta, and setting a record for cookbook sales on the Home Shopping Network. With an avid interest in fitness and nutrition, she has produced an aerobic/dancercise video, Broadway Body Workout. Her autobiography, Carol Lawrence, The Backstage Story, was published in 1990.
Lawrence was married and divorced three times. Her longest-lasting relationship (1963–1981) was with her second husband, Robert Goulet, with whom she appeared in many popular concerts and summer-stock musicals, and with whom she had two children. Lawrence has been named the Harvard Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year (1960), and has earned a Spirit of Life Award from the City of Hope. She continues to appear around the country in a multimedia concert act with a twelve-piece orchestra.