Veronica Lake (4' 11½" (1.51 m) November 14, 1922 – July 7, 1973) was an American film actress and pin-up model. She received both popular and critical acclaim, most notably for her role in Sullivan's Travels and her femme fatale roles in film noir with Alan Ladd during the 1940s, and was well-known for her peek-a-boo hairstyle. She had a string of broken marriages and, after her career declined, long struggles with mental illness and alcoholism.
Lake was born Constance Frances Marie Ockelman in Brooklyn, New York. Her father, Harry E. Ockelman, of Danish-Irish 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, née Constance Charlotta Trimble (1902–1992), (listed as "Veronica F." on the 1920 census), married family friend Anthony Keane, a newspaper staff artist, a year later, and Lake began using his last name.
Lake 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 Senior High School in Miami, where she was known for her beauty. She had a troubled childhood and was, according to her mother, diagnosed as schizophrenic.
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.
Her contract was subsequently dropped by RKO. She married art director John S. Detlie, 14 years her senior, in 1940. 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. On August 21, 1941, she gave birth to her first child, Elaine Detlie.
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. This success was followed by Hold Back the Dawn later that year. 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!. Looking back at her career years later, Lake remarked, "I never did cheesecake; I just used my hair."
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 11½ 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. During World 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 in Star 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, reputedly 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. During filming, she tripped on a lighting cable while pregnant and began hemorrhaging. She recovered, but her second child, William, was born prematurely on July 8, 1943, dying a week later from uremic poisoning. By the end of 1943 her first marriage ended in divorce. Meanwhile, 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.
She married film director Andre De Toth in 1944 and had a son, Andre Anthony Michael De Toth, known as Michael De Toth (October 25, 1945 – February 24, 1991), and a daughter, Diana De Toth (born October 16, 1948). Lake was sued by her mother for support payments in 1948.
Lake earned her pilot's license in 1946 and was able to fly solo between Los Angeles and New York.
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"), filed for bankruptcy, and divorced de Toth. The IRS seized the remainder of her assets for unpaid taxes. Lake turned to television and stage work and in 1955 married songwriter Joseph A. McCarthy.
After breaking her ankle in 1959, Lake was unable to continue working as an actress. She and McCarthy divorced, after which she drifted between cheap hotels in Brooklyn and 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. At first, Veronica claimed that she was a guest at the hotel and covering for a friend. Soon afterward, she admitted that she was employed at the bar. 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 physical and mental health declined steadily. By the late 1960s Lake was in Hollywood, Florida, apparently immobilized by paranoia (which included claims she was being stalked by the FBI).
She spent a brief period in England, where she appeared in the plays, Madame Chairman and A Streetcar Named Desire.
When Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake (Bantam, 1972) was published, she promoted the book with a memorable interview on The Dick Cavett Show, as well as an episode of To Tell the Truth, on which the panel had to guess which of three disguised women was the "real" Veronica Lake. Two of the panelists, Bill Cullen and Peggy Cass, quickly disqualified themselves because they knew her. With the proceeds, she co-produced and starred in her last film, Flesh Feast (1970), a very low budget horror movie with a Nazi-myth storyline. She then moved to the UK, where she had a short-lived marriage with an "English sea captain", Robert Carleton-Munro, before returning to the U.S. in 1973, having filed for divorce.
Lake was immediately hospitalized. Although she had made a cheerful and positive impression on the nurses who cared for her, she apparently was estranged from her three surviving children, particularly her daughters. Elaine Detlie became known as Ani Sangge Lhamo after becoming a member of the Subud faith in New Zealand. Diana became a secretary for the U.S. Embassy in Rome in the 1970s. Michael De Toth stayed with his mother on and off through the 1960s and 1970s. He married Edwina Mae Niecke. When Lake died, he claimed her body.
Lake died on July 7, 1973, of hepatitis and acute renal failure (complications of her alcoholism) in Burlington, Vermont, where her death was certified by Dr. Wareen Beeken at the Fletcher Allen Hospital, and where she was seen by many staff members during her nearly two-week stay. A rumor persists that she died in Montreal and was smuggled across the border to Vermont.
Her ashes were scattered off the coast of the Virgin Islands as she had requested. A memorial service was held in Manhattan, but only her son and handful of strangers attended. In 2004 some of Lake's ashes were reportedly found in a New York antique store. Her son Michael died on February 24, 1991, at age 45 in Olympia, Washington.
Lake has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6918 Hollywood Boulevard for her contributions to the motion picture industry. She remains a legendary star today and her autographs and other memorabilia continue to draw high prices on eBay and other popular outlets.
Sunday, December 11, 2011