Ups and downs, flexibility and perseverance have been Carol Lawrence’s trademarks in a performing career that dates back to her Broadway debut in 1952.
She left Chicago as a teenager after one year studying theater at Northwestern University. Her break came in 1957, when she earned the female lead as Maria in “West Side Story” after a grueling round of 13 auditions. Cast opposite Chita Rivera as Anita, Lawrence was nominated for a Tony Award as featured actress, losing to Barbara Cook of “The Music Man.” When the 1961 film of “West Side Story” rolled around, Natalie Wood played Maria, even though her singing had to be dubbed by ghost-singer Marni Nixon.
Lawrence soldiered on with other Broadway roles during the 1960s, reprising Maria in a 1960 revival of “West Side Story” and appearing in “I Do, I Do” late in the decade – her last Broadway part was 1992-93, when she filled in for Rivera in the title role of “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”
Her movie career never developed beyond her turn as the ingenue in "Vu du Pont," Sidney Lumet’s 1962 film of Arthur Miller’s play “A View from the Bridge.” But she found a regular home on television, especially as a guest star on variety shows and as a pitch-woman in coffee commercials. She also became a headliner in Las Vegas.
Lawrence married Robert Goulet in 1963. They toured together in “Camelot,” paired up in a 1968 televised production of “Kiss Me, Kate” and produced two sons. But what had appeared to be a storybook show-biz romance soured; they separated in 1976 and were later divorced. In her 1990 memoir, “Carol Lawrence: The Backstage Story,” she wrote that Goulet had been overtaken by alcoholism – something he denied. Into her 70s, Lawrence remained active as a concert and club performer and a stage actress, including a dramatic turn as a British theater icon in David Hare’s “Amy’s View,” and a turn opposite fellow Broadway star Donna McKechnie in “Girl’s Room.”
“I keep a very wide-open door as to whatever presents itself. I love to keep working at whatever is available,” Lawrence told The Times in 1991 as she embarked on a role in the soap opera, “General Hospital.”