Of Italian heritage, Caruso was born in Pennsylvania. His father, August Caruso, worked in the landscape business and decided that the weather in the Mid-Atlantic was problematic and moved the family to Los Angeles, California in the mid-1920s. They first moved to East Los Angeles but soon settled in the Silver Lake neighborhood where Henry and his brothers, Albert and Lawrence, were raised. He enrolled at the University of Southern California (USC) in 1939 with plans to study medicine, but left to join the US Navy Air Corp and earned the distinction of Navy Pilot LTJG. He returned to USC after the war to finish his studies.
Caruso entered the car business by acquiring a number of new car dealerships, including from General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. He founded Dollar Rent-A-Car in 1966. After opening five locations, he was determined to open lucrative airport locations; however the "big three" car rental companies, Hertz, Avis and National, had already established location in airports and made it difficult for the new company to enter the market. This led to a legal fight in the 1970s that caused the Federal Trade Commission to take action and prohibit any practices that discriminated against small companies vying for airport locations. Under his 20 years of guidance it grew to be the fourth largest car rental agency worldwide with over 1,400 locations. He sold the company to the Chrysler Corporation in 1990 (it is now a part of the Dollar-Thrifty Automotive Group).
Caruso was also the head of Caruso Affiliated, which owned his car dealerships, and HJC Investments Corporation, an investment company.
Caruso lives with his wife Gloria in Beverly Hills, California. He has two sons- Rick J. Caruso, a prominent builder and retail operator and owner and CEO of Caruso Affiliated, which has built and owns and operates such retail propertes as The Grove at Farmers Market and The Americana at Brand. and Marc Caruso, a Los Angeles musician and music producer.
- Margret McNelis-Ahern, Dollar Rent-A-Car Systems Inc.: rental company tackles the globe, Los Angeles Business Journal, February 5, 1990.
- Henry J. Caruso, Ellis Island Medals of Honor (2001 Recipient), NECO, Inc., Accessed January 14, 2008.
- Deborah Belgum, The Grove: latest example of Caruso's main street feel, Los Angeles Business Journal, March 25, 2002.