Veronica Lake (November 14, 1922 - July 7, 1973) was an American film, stage, and television actress. Lake won both popular and critical acclaim, most notably for her role in Sullivan's Travels and for her femme fatale roles in film noirs with Alan Ladd, during the 1940s. She was also well known for her peek-a-boo hairstyle. By the late 1940s however, Lake's career had begun to decline in part due to her struggles with mental illness and alcoholism. She made only one film in the 1950s but appeared in several guest-starring roles on television. She returned to the screen in 1966 with a role in the film Footsteps In the Snow, but the role failed to revitalize her career.
Lake released her memoirs, Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake, in 1970. She used the money she made from the book to finance a low-budget horror film Flesh Feast. It was her final onscreen role. Lake died in July 1973 from hepatitis and acute kidney injury at the age of 50.
Lake was born Constance Frances Marie Ockelman in Brooklyn, New York. Her father, Harry E. Ockelman, was of German and Irish descent, and worked for an oil company aboard a ship. He died in an industrial explosion in Philadelphia in 1932. Lake's mother, Constance Charlotta (née Trimble; 1902-1992), of Irish descent, married Anthony Keane, a newspaper staff artist, also of Irish descent, in 1933, and Lake began using his surname. The Keanes lived in Saranac Lake, New York, where young Connie attended St. Bernard's School for a time, then was sent to Villa Maria, an all-girls Catholic boarding school in Montreal, Canada, from which she was expelled. The Keane family later moved to Miami, Florida, where Lake attended Miami High School, where she was known for her beauty. She had a troubled childhood and was diagnosed as schizophrenic, according to her mother.
In 1938, the Keanes moved to Beverly Hills, where Constance Keane enrolled in the Bliss-Hayden School of Acting (now the Beverly Hills Playhouse). Lake first began working in films as an extra. Her first appearance on screen was for RKO, playing a small role among several coeds in the film Sorority House (1939). Similar roles followed, including All Women Have Secrets and Dancing Co-Ed. During the making of Sorority House, director John Farrow first noticed how her hair always covered Lake's right eye, creating an air of mystery about her and enhancing her natural beauty.
While still a teenager, Lake was introduced to the Paramount producer Arthur Hornblow, Jr. He changed her name to Veronica Lake because the surname suited her blue eyes. RKO subsequently dropped her contract. A small role in the comedy Forty Little Mothers brought unexpected attention. In 1941 she was signed to a long-term contract with Paramount Pictures.
Lake's breakthrough role was in the war drama I Wanted Wings (1941). The film was a major hit in which Lake played the second female lead. It was during the filming of I Wanted Wings that Lake developed her signature look. Lake's long blonde hair accidentally fell over her right eye during a take and created a "peek-a-boo" effect. The hairstyle became Lake's trademark and was widely copied by women. She followed up with starring roles in more popular movies, including Sullivan's Travels, This Gun for Hire, I Married a Witch, and So Proudly We Hail!. René Clair, the director of I Married a Witch, said of Lake "She was a very gifted girl, but she didn't believe she was gifted." For a short time during the early 1940s, Lake was considered one of the most reliable box office draws in Hollywood. At the peak of her popularity, she earned $4,500 a week.
She became known for onscreen pairings with actor Alan Ladd, which began with the hit This Gun for Hire (1942). Initially, the couple was teamed together merely out of physical necessity: Ladd was just 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 m) tall and the only actress then on the Paramount lot short enough to pair with him was Lake, who stood just 4 feet 11 ⁄2 inches (1.51 m). They became a popular onscreen duo and would make four more films together, including the films noir The Glass Key (1942), The Blue Dahlia (1946), and Saigon (1948).
During World War II, Lake changed her trademark peek-a-boo hairstyle at the urging of the government to encourage women working in war industry factories to adopt more practical, safer hairstyles. Although the change helped to decrease accidents involving women getting their hair caught in machinery, doing so may have damaged Lake's career. She also became a popular pin-up girl for soldiers during World War II and traveled throughout the United States to raise money for war bonds.
Although popular with the public, Lake had a complex personality and acquired a reputation for being difficult to work with. Eddie Bracken, her co-star in Star Spangled Rhythm (in which Lake appeared in a musical number) was quoted as saying, "She was known as 'The Bitch' and she deserved the title."Joel McCrea, her co-star in Sullivan's Travels, reportedly turned down the co-starring role in I Married a Witch, saying, "Life's too short for two films with Veronica Lake." However, Lake and McRea did make another film together, the 1947 production Ramrod. During filming of The Blue Dahlia (1946), screenwriter Raymond Chandler referred to her as "Moronica Lake".
Lake's career faltered with her unsympathetic role as Nazi spy Dora Bruckman in The Hour Before the Dawn (1944). Scathing reviews of The Hour Before the Dawn included criticism of her unconvincing German accent. She had begun drinking more heavily during this period, and a growing number of people refused to work with her. To boost her career, Paramount tried Lake in a series of comedies. Few were successful, but she was in the popular thriller The Blue Dahlia (1946), in which she again co-starred with Alan Ladd. Paramount decided not to renew her contract in 1948.
After a single film for 20th Century Fox, Slattery's Hurricane (1949), her career slowed. By the end of 1951 she had appeared in one last film, Stronghold (which she later described as "a dog"). Lake and her second husband, André de Toth, filed for bankruptcy that same year. The IRS later seized their home for unpaid taxes. On the verge of a nervous breakdown and bankrupt, Lake ran away, left de Toth, and flew alone to New York. In the summer of 1951, she was fed up; two marriages had failed, and she was typecast in Hollywood as a sex symbol. As a result of her disillusionment with Hollywood and not liking what it did with people, she walked out on Hollywood, took her three children, and headed to New York to restart her career. Lake wanted to leave her sexy image behind, and New York offered the opportunity to work in theater and the new medium, television.
She performed in summer stock and in stage roles in England. In October 1955, she collapsed in Detroit, where she had been appearing on stage in The Little Hut.
After her third divorce, Lake drifted between cheap hotels in New York City, and was arrested several times for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. In 1962, a New York Post reporter found her working as a barmaid at the all-women's Martha Washington Hotel in Manhattan. The reporter's widely distributed story led to speculation that Lake was destitute. After the story ran, fans of Lake sent her money which she returned out of "a matter of pride". Lake vehemently denied that she was destitute and stated, "It's as though people were making me out to be down-and-out. I wasn't. I was paying $190 a month rent then, and that's a long way from being broke." The story did revive some interest in Lake and led to some television and stage appearances, most notably in the off-Broadway revival of the musical Best Foot Forward.
In 1966, she had a brief stint as a TV hostess in Baltimore, Maryland, along with a largely ignored film role in Footsteps In the Snow. She also continued appearing in stage roles. By the late 1960s, Lake had moved to England. Her memoirs, Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake, were released in the United Kingdom in 1969, and in the United States the following year. In the book, Lake discusses her career, her failed marriages, her romances with Howard Hughes, Tommy Manville and Aristotle Onassis (who she claimed proposed to her), her alcoholism, and her guilt over not spending enough time with her children. In the book, Lake stated that her mother pushed her into a career as an actress. Looking back at her career, Lake wrote, "I never did cheesecake like Ann Sheridan or Betty Grable. I just used my hair." She also laughed off the term "sex symbol" and instead referred to herself as a "sex zombie". Also in 1969, Lake portrayed the role as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire on the English stage. She won rave reviews for her performance. With the proceeds from her autobiography, she co-produced and starred in her final film, Flesh Feast (1970), a low-budget horror movie with a Nazi-myth storyline.
Lake then moved to Ipswich, England, where she met and married Royal Navy captain Robert Carleton-Munro, in June 1972. The marriage lasted just one year and Lake returned to the United States in June 1973. She went to the Virgin Islands to await her divorce decree when she fell ill.
After purchasing an airplane for her husband, André de Toth, Lake earned her pilot's license in 1946. She later flew solo between Los Angeles and New York when leaving him.
Marriages and children:
Lake's first marriage was to art director John S. Detlie, in 1940. They had a daughter, Elaine (born in 1941), and a son, Anthony (born July 8, 1943). According to news from the time, Lake's son was born prematurely after she tripped on a lighting cable while filming a movie. Anthony died on July 15, 1943. Lake and Detlie separated in August 1943 and divorced in December 1943. In 1944, Lake married film director André de Toth with whom she had a son, Andre Anthony Michael III (known as Michael De Toth), and a daughter, Diana (born October 1948). Days before Diana's birth, Lake's mother sued her for support payments. Lake and De Toth divorced in 1952.
In September 1955, she married songwriter Joseph Allan McCarthy. They were divorced in 1959. Lake's fourth and final marriage was to Royal Navy captain Robert Carleton-Munro in June 1972. They divorced after one year.
In June 1973, Lake returned to the United States and while traveling in Vermont, visited a local doctor, complaining of stomach pains. She was discovered to have cirrhosis of the liver as a result of her years of drinking, and on June 26, she checked into the Medical Center of Vermont in Burlington. She died there on July 7, 1973, of acute hepatitis and acute kidney injury. Her son Michael claimed her body. Lake's memorial service was held at the Universal Chapel in New York City on July 11. She was cremated and, according to her wishes, her ashes were scattered off the coast of the Virgin Islands. In 2004, some of Lake's ashes were reportedly found in a New York antique store.
For her contribution to the motion picture industry, Lake has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6918 Hollywood Boulevard.
Uncredited, alternative title: That Girl from College
Wrong Room, TheThe Wrong Room
The Attorney's New Bride
Credited as Connie Keane
One of Couple on Motorcycle
Alternative title: Every Other Inch a Lady
All Women Have Secrets
Credited as Constance Keane
Young as You Feel
Credited as Constance Keane
Forty Little Mothers
I Wanted Wings
Hold Back the Dawn
This Gun for Hire
Glass Key, TheThe Glass Key
I Married a Witch
Star Spangled Rhythm
So Proudly We Hail!
Lt. Olivia D'Arcy
Hour Before the Dawn, TheThe Hour Before the Dawn
Bring on the Girls
Out of This World
Hold That Blonde
Miss Susie Slagle's
Blue Dahlia, TheThe Blue Dahlia
Sainted Sisters, TheThe Sainted Sisters
Isn't It Romantic?
Footsteps In the Snow
Dr. Elaine Frederick
Alternative title: Time is Terror
Your Show of Shows
Herself - Guest Performer
Episode: "Beware This Woman"
Lux Video Theatre
Somerset Maugham TV Theatre
Episode: "The Facts of Life"
Episode: "Brief Moment"
Tales of Tomorrow
Episode: "Flight Overdue"
Goodyear Television Playhouse
Judy "Leni" Howard
Episode: "Better Than Walking"
Episode: "Inside Straight"
Broadway Television Theatre
Episode: "The Gramercy Ghost"
Selected stage credits:
Direct Hit (June 1944),
The Voice of the Turtle (Atlanta, February 1951),
The Curtain Rises (Olney Theatre, Olney, Maryland, 1951),
Peter Pan (Road tour, 1951),
Gramercy Hill (1952),
The Little Hut (Detroit, 1955),
Best Foot Forward (1963),
A Streetcar Named Desire (New Theatre, Bromley, Kent, 1969),
In popular culture:
Clips from her role in The Glass Key (1942) were integrated into the film Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982) as character Monica Stillpond.
Lake was one of the models for the animated character Jessica Rabbit in the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988), especially for her hairstyle.
In the 1997 film L.A. Confidential (based on James Ellroy's 1990 novel), Kim Basinger won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of a prostitute who is a Veronica Lake look-alike, and who is complimented by a police officer who tells her, "You look better than Veronica Lake".
A geographical feature called "Lake Veronica" was a recurring joke in the Rocky and Bullwinkle series and film.1
In Moose: Chapters from My Life (the 2013, posthumously released autobiography by Robert B. Sherman), the future Academy Award winning songwriter of Mary Poppins writes about his teenage friendship with Lake.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license