Jack Lawrence was born Jacob Louis Schwartz in Brooklyn, New York to an Orthodox Jewish family of modest means as the third of four sons. His parents Barney (Beryl) Schwartz and Fanny (Fruma) Goldman Schwartz were first cousins who had run away from their home in Belaya Tserkov (Bila Tserkva, Ukraine) to come to America in 1904.
Lawrence wrote songs while still a child, but because of parental pressure after he graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School, he enrolled in the First Institute of Podiatry where he received a doctoral degree in 1932. The same year, his first song was published and he immediately decided to make a career of songwriting rather than podiatry. That song, "Play, Fiddle, Play", won international fame and he became a member of ASCAP that year at age 20.
In the early 1940s, Lawrence and several fellow hit makers formed a sensational review called "Songwriters on Parade", performing all across the Eastern seaboard on the Loew's and Keith circuits.
Lawrence joined the United States Maritime Service during World War II and wrote the official song of the Maritime Service and Merchant Marine, "Heave Ho! My Lads, Heave Ho!" as a lieutenant in 1943, while bandleader at Sheepshead Bay Maritime Service Training Station in New York.
One of Jack Lawrence's first major songs after leaving the service was "Yes, My Darling Daughter", introduced by Dinah Shore on Eddie Cantor's radio program. The song was Shore's first record. His song, "If I Didn't Care", introduced the world to The Ink Spots. And, although Frank Sinatra was already a well-known big band singer, Lawrence's "All or Nothing at All" was Sinatra's first solo hit.
In 1946, Lawrence published a song he had written during his tour of duty in World War II. It was released in February 1947 and eventually spent 2 weeks at #1. He wrote it for the then-five-year-old daughter of his attorney, Lee Eastman: Linda Eastman, future first wife of Beatle Paul McCartney. The name of the song was "Linda".
Lawrence also wrote the lyrics for "Tenderly", Rosemary Clooney's trademark song (in collaboration with composer Walter Gross), as well as the English language lyric to "Beyond the Sea" (based on Charles Trenet's French language song "La Mer"), the trademark song for Bobby Darin. Another French song for which Lawrence wrote an English lyric was "La Goualante de Pauvre Jean", becoming "The Poor People of Paris".
Together with Richard Myers he wrote "Hold My Hand", which was featured in the film Susan Slept Here and nominated for the 1954 Academy Award for Best Song. He also wrote the song Never Smile at a Crocodile.Follow Thru (1929) — musical; actor for the role of "Country Club Boy"Courtin' Time (1951) — musical; co-composer and co-lyricist with Don WalkerZiegfeld Follies of 1957 (1957) — revue; featured lyricist for "Bring on the Girls" and "Music for Madame"Maybe Tuesday (1958) — play; co-producerI Had a Ball (1964) — musical; co-composer and co-lyricistLena Horne: "The Lady and Her Music" (1981) — concert; co-producerCome Back to the 5 & Dime Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (1982) — play; co-producerThe Golden Age (1984) — play; owner of the Jack Lawrence Theatre (formerly the Playhouse Theatre)Quilters (1984) — musical; owner of the Jack Lawrence TheatreSo Long on Lonely Street (1986) — play; owner of the Jack Lawrence Theatre
Jack Lawrence also wrote the lyrics to: "Sleepy Lagoon" a popular hit by The Platters. The music to "Sleepy Lagoon" was written by Eric Coates in 1940. It was originally a hit for Harry James and his Orchestra in the early 1940s.
Lawrence was a gay man, and was open about his sexuality later in life. He was the long-time companion of Dr. Walter David Myden (birth surname Cohn or Cohen). Myden was born in Cooperstown, New York in 1915 to Jewish parents who had immigrated from the Russian Empire, much like Lawrence's family. He and Lawrence met while serving in the United States Merchant Marines during World War II. Myden was a psychologist and a social worker at a Los Angeles community council. His UCLA dissertation was published in 1957, on the personalities of creative types, such as composers—like Lawrence.
In 1968, Lawrence and Myden made a sizable donation of 20th century American art to the then-new American Pavilion of Art and Design at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The gift was noted in an interview with the couple in the Sunday New York Times that made it clear the two were a couple who were living together and making the donation together, an unusual and brave admission for gay men in pre-Stonewall America.
Myden died suddenly of a heart attack on May 21, 1975 in Los Angeles. Lawrence writes in his autobiography how surprised and touched he was that his Orthodox Jewish family, who had rarely acknowledged his homosexuality or the existence of their long-time partnership, were so gracious and kind to him as he mourned Myden's death.
In 1979, Lawrence adopted Richard ("Rick") Debnam as his son and heir.
Lawrence died on March 16, 2009 at age 96, after a fall at his home in Redding, Connecticut.