Born Carolina Maria Laraia in Melrose Park, Illinois, her parents were of Italian ancestry. Her father was born in Trivigno, in the province of Potenza, and her maternal family came from the same town. She spent one year at Northwestern University and then left to pursue her career.
Lawrence made her Broadway debut in 1952, in Leonard Sillman's New Faces of 1952. She achieved success in the role of Maria in the original Broadway production of West Side Story in 1957, and received a nomination for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for this role. She played the role for two years, and after an appearance in the short-lived show Saratoga in 1959 she returned to West Side Story for its 1960 season. Among her other Broadway successes were I Do! I Do! (replacement "She/Agnes", 1967) and Kiss of the Spider Woman (1992-93, replacement Spider Woman/Aurora).
She played several roles at The Muny in St. Louis, the largest outdoor theater in the U.S., including Fanny Brice in Funny Girl (1975), Charity in Sweet Charity (1977), and Lucille Early in No, No, Nanette (1990). Among her other musical theatre parts are the title role in Mame (2000 at the Helen Hayes Center for Performing Arts in Nyack, New York) Guenevere in Camelot (opposite husband Robert Goulet), Do I Hear a Waltz at the Pasadena Playhouse (2001) and Follies at the Wadsworth Theatre in Los Angeles in 2002.
Her television performances include guest roles in Breaking Point (as Evelyn Denner in the 1963 episode entitled "There Are the Hip, and There Are the Square"), Rawhide, Combat!, Wagon Train, The Fugitive, Hawaii 5-0, Marcus Welby, M.D., Medical Center, Kung Fu, Mannix, Murder She Wrote, Saved by the Bell, and Sex and the City.
In 1992-93, she played the role of matriarch Angela Eckart on General Hospital. She 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.
In 1999, she appeared in the television movie remake of Jason Miller's That Championship Season in a cameo role as "Claire's mother" (Vincent D'Onofrio's mother-in-law), a role written into the film specifically for her. In 2013, she appeared Off-Broadway at the Westside Theatre Downstairs in Jason Odell Williams's play, Handle with Care.
Lawrence has written her autobiography, with Phyllis Hobe, in a book entitled Carol Lawrence: the backstage story, published in 1990.The Theatre World Award "Most Promising Newcomer" West Side Story 1958
Lawrence was awarded the Harvard Hasty Pudding Woman of the Year Award in 1960.
She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Lawrence has been married three times:Cosmo Allegretti (January 13, 1956-January 30, 1959; annulled)
Robert Goulet (1963–1981); together they had two sons, Christopher (b. 1964) and Michael Goulet (b. 1966).
Greg Guydus (March 7, 1982 - December 12, 1984)
Lawrence is a registered Democrat and appeared, along with Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman John Bailey, Lena Horne, Richard Adler, Sidney Salomon, Vice-Chairwoman of the DNC Margaret B. Price, and Secretary of the DNC Dorothy Vredenburgh Bush, to visit President John F. Kennedy at The White House on November 20, 1963, two days before his assassination.