As the novel opens, in 1945, Helen Lawson is a revered musical-comedy star of the Broadway stage. 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.
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.
For the 1967 film adaptation, author Susann hoped that the legendary Bette Davis would play the role, but Judy Garland was hired instead. Garland was eventually replaced by Academy Award winner Susan Hayward.
Lawson made another appearance in the 2008 novel Candy Everybody Wants by Josh Kilmer-Purcell, where she acts as a mentor to the protagonist, fifteen-year-old Jayson Blocher, as he is beginning his career in Hollywood.
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