Tuesday, September 13, 2011
GET PERSONAL: VERONICA LAKE
Veronica Lake is the blonde bombshell whose mysterious peek-a-boo hairstyle and slinky shape made her a heroine of the noir era. She was born Constance Frances Marie Ockelman in Brooklyn, New York on November 14, 1922. Her father, who worked for a petroleum company, died tragically in an industrial explosion in 1932. Her mother quickly remarried and moved the small family to Montreal Canada, where Lake was enrolled in an all girls Catholic school. Lake was soon expelled for inappropriate conduct and the family uprooted to Miami, Florida. Lake attended a public high school where she was widely known for her unmistakable beauty. However, she continued to struggle with attitude and mood disorders, finally being diagnosed as schizophrenic.
In 1938 the family moved once again, this time to Los Angeles, CA. Lake was enrolled at the Bliss-Hayden acting school, where she appeared to excel. One year later she was cast in her first film, Sorority House, in which she had a small role. The role caught the attention of Paramount producers. Arthur Hornblow Jr. offered Lake a contract and changed her name to Veronica Lake, referring to the deep blue color of her eyes. Her breakthrough came in 1941 with the release of I Wanted Wings for which her scene stealing performance gained favorable reviews. The film was the first of many with on-screen love interest Alan Ladd. Ladd stood at only 5'5'' which strictly limited the women he could play against. Lake's petite frame, standing on 4'11'', was a perfect match.
In addition to her films, Lake became widely known for her hairstyle. She wore her hair down and wavy, with one curl covering half of her face. She often tilted her head, looking out from underneath her draped hair. This style was popularized and portrayed in the fashions of the 1940s, as well as incorporated into Lake's on-screen roles. During WWII, Lake appeared in a campaign to promote safer hairstyles for working women.
Lake married art director John S. Detlie with whom she had her first daughter, Elaine. While shooting The Hour Before the Dawn (1944), she became aware of her second pregnancy, but, after accidentally tripping on set, she began hemorrhaging and worried for the health of the child. Her son, William, did come to full term, but died one week later of uremic poisoning.
After the death of her son, Lake's marriage dissolved and she divorced Detlie. She also received unfavorable reviews for her performance in The Hour Before the Dawn, which was a box office flop. Lake began developing a reputation in Hollywood circles as being incredibly difficult to work with. Actors began declining film offers that included Lake in the cast.
Despite the rumors, Lake continued earning the $5,400 per week stipulated in her Paramount contract. In 1944, she married film director Andre De Toth and subsequently gave birth to another daughter, Diana, and a son, Andre Anthony.
In 1948, after filming the acclaimed The Blue Dahlia, screenwriter Raymond Chandler was quoted calling the actress "Moronica Lake." This was the final straw for Paramount. Her talent was not strong enough to overshadow her terrible reputation and, after 1948, Paramount did not renew her contract.
In 1951 Lake divorced De Toth and filed bankruptcy. She became estranged from all three of her surviving children. In 1955 she married song writer Joseph A. McCarthy.
Four years later, the couple divorced. Lake sought television and stage work, but broke her ankle in 1955 and could no longer act. She jumped between cheap hotels in New York, Brooklyn, and New Jersey, taking jobs wherever she could. She was continually arrested for disorderly conduct and public drunkenness, which inspired rumors of alcohol dependency.
Lake's alcoholism worsened as she grew older. She was never able to find steady work again and her mental and physical conditions were in steady decline. In the 1960s she moved to Hollywood, Florida where she was converted to a recluse, paralyzed by feelings of paranoia.
Veronica Lake died on July 7, 1973 of hepatitis and renal failure - complications from her alcohol dependency. Her ashes her spread over the virgin islands and her body was claimed by her only surviving son. She had a memorial service in Manhattan, New York, attended only by her son and a few strangers.
Although her short-lived career spiraled downward and her personal life dissolved completely, Veronica Lake made a strong impact on female image in the 1940s and her pin-up posters will be lusted after for generations to come.