Veronica Lake (November 14, 1922 – July 7, 1973) was an American film 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 noir with Alan Ladd, during the 1940s. She was also well known for her peek-a-boo hairstyle. By the late 1940s, 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 renal failure at the age of 50.
Lake was born Constance Frances Marie Ockelman in Brooklyn, New York. Her father, Harry E. Ockelman, of German-Danish descent , worked for an oil company aboard a ship. Her father died in an industrial explosion in Philadelphia in 1932 when she was ten. Her 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 last name.
Lake lived in Saranac Lake, New York, and went to St. Bernard's School for a time. She 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. 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 Lake moved with her mother and stepfather to Beverly Hills, where her mother enrolled her in the Bliss-Hayden School of Acting. Her first appearance on screen was for RKO, playing a small role among several coeds in the 1939 film, Sorority House. 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 her right eye, creating an air of mystery about her and enhancing her natural beauty. She was then introduced, while still a teenager, 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 in her first starring role, oppositeJoel McCrea in Sullivan's Travels
Her breakthrough film was I Wanted Wings in 1941, a major hit in which Lake played the second female lead and was said to have stolen scene after scene from the rest of the cast. She had starring roles in more popular movies, including Sullivan's Travels, This Gun for Hire, I Married a Witch, The Glass Key, 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. She became known for onscreen pairings with actor Alan Ladd. At first, 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 111⁄2 inches (1.51 m). They made four films together.
A stray lock of her shoulder-length, blonde hair during a publicity photo shoot led to her iconic "peekaboo" hairstyle, which was widely imitated. DuringWorld War II, Lake changed her trademark image to encourage women working in war industry factories to adopt more practical, safer hairstyles,although doing so may have damaged her career.
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 inStar Spangled Rhythm, was quoted as saying, "She was known as 'The Bitch' and she deserved the title." In that movie, Lake took part in a song lampooning her hair style, "A Sweater, A Sarong and a Peekaboo Bang", performed with Paulette Goddard and Dorothy Lamour. 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."
Lake's career stumbled with her unsympathetic role as Nazi spy Dora Bruckman in 1944's The Hour Before the Dawn. Scathing reviews of The Hour Before Dawn included criticism of her unconvincing German accent. Nonetheless, Lake was earning $4,500 per week under her contract with Paramount. She had begun drinking more heavily during this period and people began refusing to work with her. Paramount cast Lake in a string of mostly forgotten films. A notable exception was The Blue Dahlia (1946), in which she again co-starred with Ladd. During filming, screenplay writer Raymond Chandler referred to her as "Moronica Lake". Paramount decided not to renew her contract in 1948. Looking back at her career years later, Lake remarked, "I never did cheesecake; I just used my hair."
After a single film for 20th Century Fox, Slattery's Hurricane (1949), her career collapsed. 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, Andre De Toth, filed for bankruptcy that same year. The IRS later seized their home for unpaid taxes. Lake turned to television and stage work.
Lake earned her pilot's license in 1946 and later flew solo between Los Angeles and New York.
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). Anthony was born prematurely a week after Lake fell over a cable while filming. Anthony died on July 15, 1943. Lake and Detile separated in August 1943 and divorced in December 1943.
She married film director Andre De Toth in 1944 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. Lake divorced Carleton-Munro after one year.
After her third divorce, Lake drifted between cheap hotels in New York City, and was arrested several times for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. 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 some television and stage appearances, most notably in the off-Broadway revival of the musical Best Foot Forward. (Her contract overlapped with the departing Liza Minnelli and the two briefly co-starred together.) 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.
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 alcoholism, and her guilt over not spending enough time with her children. With the proceeds from her autobiography, she co-produced and starred in her last film,Flesh Feast (1970), a very 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. Upon her return, she was immediately hospitalized.
Lake died on July 7, 1973, of hepatitis and acute renal failure (complications of her alcoholism) in Burlington, Vermont's Fletcher Allen Hospital. Her son, Michael, claimed her body.Lake's memorial service was held at the Universal Chapel in New York City on July 11.
Lake 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, Veronica Lake has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6918 Hollywood Boulevard.