Veronica Lake

Peek-a-boo hairstyle and a fierce temper

Hi, I'm Kate!
What I am most passionate about is to inspire you to see that your life is your own and biggest masterpiece.

Veronica Lake is one of the most recognizable actresses of the Original Old Hollywood film noir and her iconic peek-a-boo hairstyle had a long-lasting impact Hollywood history.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST
SUBSCRIBE TO THE PODCAST

Beginnings

Veronica Lake was actually born Constance Frances Marie Ockelmann on November 14, 1922 in Brooklyn, New York City to parents of Irish and German descent. Her father unfortunately died, when Constance was only 10 years old. Her mother, Constance Frances Charlotta, remarried one year later and Constance Jr. would adopt his last name Keane. 

The young Constance was first educated in New York, then in Montreal, Quebec at Villa Maria, an all-girls Catholic boarding school. She would later write in her autobiography that she was the class „kook“ and got constantly into trouble. The Mother Superior saw through her at as the following passage shows: “I’d walk into her austere quarters, look at her through the top of my head, always bow, and mumble some form of apology. Her face would be set in firm resolution. And then the corners of her mouth would begin to crack… and soon she’d put back her head and laugh with great gusto. “Constance, Constance, Constance. What are we going to do with you? What a sense you have for finding trouble and entering into it.” Apparently, though Constance got expelled from school later on. 

The family moved to Florida, Miami, when Constance was in her teens and she would attend high school there. As she was already really beautiful, she entered the Miss Miami pageant. She made the third place and won the Miss Florida pageant. Unfortunately, though, the title was taken from her within minutes again – because she was underage. Nevertheless, the pageant had stirred hope in her mother as one of the judges had told her that Constance Jr. had the makings of a star. 

Start in Hollywood

So, by 1938, the Keane family had moved to Hollywood. Constance Keane would shortly be under contract for MGM and enroll in the Bliss-Hayden School of Acting, which is now the Beverly Hills Playhouse. She would move on to RKO, for which she appeared as an extra in the film Sorority House in 1939. Other smaller bit parts followed until she attracted the interest of assistant director Fred Wilcox. Wilcox shot a test scene with her and showed it to producer Arthur Hornblow Jr, the first husband of Myrna Loy. Hornblow was looking for a new girl to play the part of a nightclub singer in the 1941 military drama I Wanted Wings. Hornblow signed 19 year-old Constance to Paramount, cast her for the role and changed her name to Veronica Lake. His inspiration for the choice of name was that her eyes were „calm and clear like a blue lake.“ The Veronica-part? Not explained. 

Ascend to Stardom

During the filming of the movie I Wanted Wings something extraordinary happened – Veronica Lake the star was born … because, accidentally, a lock of hair fell over her right eye and created her iconic „peek-a-boo“ look. Veronica Lake stood out and was dubbed the „find of 1941“. The movie became a Hughe success and millions of women started to copy Lake’s mysterious and alluring hairstyle, covering one eye with glamorous waves. Veronica Lake and her seductive waves had become overnight stars. 

Her subsequent movies, This Gun for Hire, The Glass Key as well as I Married a Witch were solid hits with the audiences. Especially her pairing with Alan Ladd in the former two was well received by movie goers and thus, as usual, repeated by the studio.

WW II

But then, WWII started and changed things. As most of her co-stars in Hollywood, Lake also threw herself into helping the war effort and helped raise money for war bonds, became a favored pinup girl for soldiers, filmed patriotic-themed movies – the all-star musical revue Star Spangled Rhythm as well as So Proudly We Hail!. and participated in campaigns to help promote safety for women workers in factories. And that, actually, was one of the contributing factors for her career demise. 

As many women had copied Lake’s style, it was a natural decision by the government to approach Lake to promote other hairstyles, safer hairstyles to prevent women from getting their hair caught in heavy machinery. An so Lake did and sported a new hairdo in 1944’s The Hour Before the Dawn and even filmed a tutorial that showed alternative ways to style long locks. But that took away from the mystery and the glamour the pixie-sized Lake had created on the screen with her peek-a-boo-look. Lake earned negative reviews and her favor with the audiences diminished. 

Movies after WWII

When she returned to the screen after taking some time off after the death of her son, being sued by her own mother for support payments and her divorce from abusive husband #2, she found herself wanting to change her career – her image of the film noir siren had taken a nose-dive and she wanted to prove herself in proper roles not the various roles she had been given. She said: „From here on there should be a certain pattern of development, and that is what I am going to fight for if necessary, though I don’t believe it will be because they are so understanding here at Paramount.“ 

She filmed the comedy musical Bring On the Girls in 1945, which she apparently really enjoyed, as it was something different from what she had experienced up until then. It wasn’t successful though and neither were her roles in Out of This World and Miss Susie Slagle’s.

But then, The Blue Dahlia happened in 1946. 24 year-old Veronica Lake starred opposite her frequent costar Alan Ladd in what would become the largest success of her career and her first in three years. She followed it up with the United Artists Western Ramrod, which also proved to be a success. But the following 1948 movies Saigon, The Sainted Sisters and Isn’t It Romantic? were unsuccessful and thus Paramount opted to not renew Lake’s contract. She filmed some supporting roles and planned to produce two picture with then-husband de Toth, but then her private life caught up with her. In 1951, the IRS seized their home for unpaid taxes and later that year both of them filed for bankruptcy. Lake left Toth and went to England, saying Goodbye to Hollywood. There she would act in summer stock theatre as well as in stage roles. 

Mental illness, adversity and alcoholism

One thing that needs to be mentioned: Veronica Lake most probably suffered from a mental illness. Her mother apparently said that she was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the tender age of 15. But instead of caring for the teenage girl, her mother pushed her into the movie industry. This must have been terrifying for a girl with such a condition. She also suffered from low self-esteem and confidence as was evidenced by I Married a Witch director René Clair: “She was a very gifted girl, but she didn’t believe she was gifted.“ 

Her own words describing this time: “I was frightened to death of everything… What I did was to develop a shell, a very cocky and snippy shell that seemed to work,” she writes. “I was trying to act thirty and usually ended up acting fifteen.” She also encountered misogyny and sexism in Hollywood. One producer in particular apparently showed the teenage star his genitals, expecting her to pleasure him, but she threw a dictionary at the penis which was exposed before her on the desk. She did not play by the big bosses’ games, which definitely did not help her career in Hollywood. On the set of her breakthrough movie I Wanted Wings, Lake was apparently verbally abused and reduced to tears. 

Veronica Lake was often quotes as being difficult to work with. Co-star McCrea apparently dropped out of I Married a Witch being quoted: “Life’s too short for two films with Veronica Lake.“ And Eddie Bracken apparently said about Lake: “She was known as ‘The Bitch’ and she deserved the title.“

She also made director Preston Sturges furious during the filming of Sullivan’s Travels as she had not revealed her pregnancy during the casting. She was six months pregnant when shooting started, costume designer Edith Head had to alter her wardrobe completely to conceal the pregnancy and a body double had to be hired for some of the shots. Sturges apparently was so enraged that he had to be physically restrained. 

She would also resort to revenge when costars called into question her talent. Her most famous ones were pulled on hated co-star Frederic March, who had called her „a little blonde sexpot, void of any acting ability.“ In retaliation, Lake would hide a 40 pound weight under her dress in a scene when March had to sweep her up and carry her across the room. As Veronica Lake was a tiny 4’11“, that weight certainly must have startled and exhausted March. Her The Glass Key co-star Brian Donlevy also questioned Lake’s talent during filming. So, Lake infuriated by the comment would hit him really hard in the face in a scene she was just supposed to make it look as if. 

When confronted with her behavior, she would later say about this time: “I had acquired a reputation for saying what I thought. I hadn’t played the Hollywood game very much, and a certain resentment built about that…I’d adopted a cockiness to cover my obvious inadequacies.  And I found that as my confidence increased, I saw little or no reason to change myself and my approach to functioning in Hollywood.” 

But that obviously did not help Lake in rising the Hollywood ladder to stardom. Another factor that might have damaged her opportunities in Hollywood was her pickiness in men.Yes, she did have affairs and she did indulge, but she also did not fall prey to the many advances and she rejected many of them – the most famous one being Errol Flynn: “He looked in my eyes and slipped his arm around my waist. His hand slipped down and clamped tightly on my rear end. ‘I think we should go and make use of a special bedroom I have, Ronni,’ he said. ‘I have a special bedroom I’m going to make use of, Errol,’ I replied. ‘It’s my own and I’m going to sleep in it.’”

The pressure, probably her mental illness, her flatlining career and her personal troubles led Veronica Lake to abuse alcohol. She became a heavy alcoholic and would become even less dependable as time progressed. 

One passage of her autobiography makes her troubles quite palpable: “There were times I just stayed on the beach all night, heady with a belly full of lobster and gin. I’d just sleep right there and smile at the thought of the water sneaking in and carrying me away to a place where peace was always present and never interrupted by life.”

Last years

Veronica Lake came back from England around 1960, lived in cheap hotels in New York City and was arrested several times for drunkenness and disorderly conduct. In 1962, a reporter found Lake living in the Washington Hotel in Manhattan and working as a waitress in the downstairs bar under the name of Connie de Toth – a combination of her original first name and the name of her second husband Andre de Toth. Huge interest was created in her once again by the media coverage. 

So, Lake started the rounds in TV shows, got a job as a TV hostess in Baltimore and a film role in Footsteps in the Snow in 1962. She also continued to appear in a few stage productions. She would devote the following years until 1965 at the side of her life partner Andy and nursed him through his illness until his death. Then, she moved to Miami and afterwards to England. 

In 1969, her autobiography Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake was published and Veronica Lake went on a promotional tour to the UK. Here, she was offered some stage work and essayed the role Blanche DuBois in a revival of A Streetcar Named Desire. It was a huge success. With the money she had earned from the autobiography that she co-authored with writer Donald Bain, she co-produced and starred in the badly received low-budget horror movie Flesh Feast in 1970. 

When Lake returned to the US after her promotional tours in the UK and her stage appearances, she visited a doctor in Vermont complaining of stomach pains. The diagnosis: cirrhosis of the liver because of her heavy drinking. She was admitted to the hospital and died within two weeks from acute hepatitis and acute kidney injury on July 7, 1973. She was 51 years old. Her memorial service was held at the Universal Chapel in New York City and then Veronica Lake was cremated and her ashes scattered off the coast of the Virgin Islands. 

Romantic relationships

John S. Detlie (husband #1) – 18 year-old Veronica Lake married art director John S. Detlie in 1940 and would have two kids with him: Elaine, born one year into the marriage and Anthony, born two years later. Unfortunately, Anthony was born prematurely after Lake tripped over a lighting cable during the filming of The Hour Before the Dawn and died one week after delivery. Subsequently, Lake and Detlie separated and divorced in 1943. 

Andre de Toth (husband #2) – One year later, in 1944, 22 year-old Veronica Lake married director Andre de Toth with whom she had two kids – a son, Andre Anthony Michael III, and a daughter, Diana. The two lived quite lavishly. Lake even bought an airplane for de Toth and would receive her own pilot license. She would later use this license to conduct the plane herself between Los Angeles and New York when leaving him in 1951. They divorced in 1952. According to Lake the marriage to the abusive Hungarian was the reason for her spiraling out of control. 

Allan McCarthy (husband #3) – And finally, in 1955, 33 year-old Veronica Lake married her third and last husband, Joseph Allan McCarthy. The marriage lasted four years and ended in divorce in 1959. 

Andy – Andy was Veronica’s life partner and drinking buddy during her alcohol-soaked years in New York between 1962 and 1965. They both drank constantly and were probably a bad influence on each other. 

Additionally, Veronica Lake had affairs with Howard Hughes, Tommy Manville and Aristotle Onassis. 

Miscellaneous

Veronica Lake is one of the Hollywood actresses that inspired the fictional comic character of Jessica Rabbit with her side-swept peek-a-boo hair. 

With all my love!

xx

Kate

More

In the Shop

Joan Crawford Giclee Print
Jane Russell Giclee Print
Breakfast at Tiffanys Giclee Print