A West Side Girl Comes Home: Carol Lawrence Returns to the New York Stage

By Harry Haun
27 Dec 2013

Charlotte Cohn and Carol Lawrence in Handle With Care.
Photo by Doug Denoff

Cecil Beaton whomped up some scrumptious, Tony-winning duds for Lawrence to languish around in all 80 performances of Saratoga, the musical version of Edna Ferber's "Saratoga Trunk," which, in film form, starred Gary Cooper and a miscast Ingrid Bergman. "They were exquisitely beautiful costumes, and, every time the curtain rose on another of his sets, the audience gasped because it was a painting. It truly was, and he was meticulous. The dress that I wore into the gambling casino was a red gown—the first time a woman had ever been in a gambling casino—and he had lead balls covered in silk faille. My dresser counted the balls and told him there were more than 3,000. He said, 'How dare you count my balls?' We all laughed."

Between her first and third divorces, Lawrence fell in love with the boy not next door but across the Broadway street—Robert Goulet, when he was Lancelot in Camelot at the Majestic when she was in Subways at the St. James. "We married shortly after that and were those dolls on the wedding cake for a long time."

Theirs was a Broadway storybook romance and lasted 18 highly photogenic years during which they toured in Camelot (she as Guenevere, he upgraded to Arthur) and did Kiss Me, Kate on TV where they were convincing as warring theatrical marrieds.

Lawrence has done tons of television—including an 18-month stint in the '60s as Italian matriarch Angela Eckert on "General Hospital"—and exactly one feature film: "Vu Du Pont," a 1962 English-speaking French production of A View From the Bridge. She played the part that would win Scarlett Johansson a Tony Award 48 years later—the niece and latent-lust object of a tragically unaware Red Hook longshoreman. "One movie—isn't that a horrible admission!" she sighs. "I only got that because of Sidney Lumet. I had done a couple of TV 'Plays of the Week' he directed—'The Dybbuk' and 'Rashomon.' My favorite performance on television, perhaps, is in 'The Dybbuk,' so when he said, 'You'll now come and do A View From the Bridge,' I went.

"It wasn't by choice that I made just one movie. I think it was timing more than anything else. I went on the road with Bobby. I stayed home and raised our sons. A career has to be such a thrust. You have to truly get on that bandwagon and never step off at the station. You cannot miss that next stop. You have to stay on board."

For careers, her two sons went medical instead of musical. Michael Goulet, brags Mom, "is a psych nurse. He determines whether people who have just been arrested are psychiatric or jail-worthy. His brother, Christopher, is studying to also be a nurse.

"Christopher has a four-year-old daughter, Kaelyan, and she knows how to skype. She woke me up this morning. There's really no difference between the Italian grandmother I do in life and the Jewish grandmother I do in the play. Both full of dominance, a kind of hands-on caring, the kind of deliberate 'I will help you be happy'-'I will feed you'-'I will cajole you'-'I will hold you'—it's all exactly the same."

Lawrence hasn't just come back to New York to do a play. She's taken up residence here—and where else, of course, but the Upper West Side? It totally figures, right?