Lawson is described as having been a very successful Broadway star for many years (Lawson is said to be based on the real-life Broadway actress Ethel Merman). Her age is never revealed, there are only vague hints, but she's probably supposed to have been born ca. 1900. Her theatre history is described briefly; she has held the lead in many fictional musicals such as Hit the Sky, Sunny Lady, Sadie's Place, Madame Bovary and Nice Lady, having followed two years of vocal studying and overnight success.
Lawson soon becomes friends with protagonist Anne Welles and describes her life: she is Irish and Scottish, and her birth name was actually Helen Laughlin. Lawson's personality can be described as borderline, commanding and selective. She commands the directors in all areas, and is quite sexually active and man hungry. She has had numerous relationships, including several marriages (similar to the life of Ethel Merman).
Lawson later has a falling-out with Anne Welles, and develops bitter feelings toward Neely O'Hara (based on Betty Hutton and Judy Garland). Eventually, when O'Hara leaves the show, Lawson is not mentioned until much later in the novel.
Eventually Lawson marries again and leaves for Jamaica, but this marriage also fails. She travels back to New York and originates another musical role, but this musical is a failure. Her vicious temperament is later shown in a physical fight with Neely O'Hara after making comments towards O'Hara's failed marriage to a supposed homosexual man, and asking if Neely's twin sons, Bud and Jud, are homosexual as well. O'Hara rips off and destroys Lawson's wig, much to Lawson's horror.
At this point, Lawson's voice has developed a slight vibrato. Later in the novel, O'Hara mentions that Lawson's voice has gone and that she has left to play a "character role" in a television series.
In the film, the role of Helen Lawson was pursued by Academy Award-winning actresses Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, but it was ultimately given to child Oscar-winner Judy Garland. Garland was replaced by fellow Academy Award-winner Susan Hayward, who in real life clashed with Oscar-winner Patty Duke (Neely O'Hara).
Lawson has made another fictional appearance since in the newly published novel Candy Everybody Wants (2008) by Josh Kilmer-Purcell, where she acts as a mentor to the protagonist Jayson Blocher as he is starting his career in Hollywood as a 15-year-old.
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