Veronica Lake was one of the most recognized and iconic actresses of the 1940s. The petite blond was known for her long blond hair that she usually wore in a distinctive peak a boo style. She was also known for a series of famous film noir classics with her frequent co-star Alan Ladd.
Veronica Lake was born Constance Frances Marie Ockelman in Brooklyn NY in 1922. After the death of her father Harry Ockelman in an industrial accident in Philadelphia. Her mother remarried to Anthony Keane a newspaper illustrator. The family later moved to Florida where the future Veronica Lake attended Miami High School. By her own account in her biography her childhood was a stressful one with a great deal of tensions in the family, especially between her and mother Constance.
In 1938 her family moved to Beverly Hills, CA and she enrolled in the Bliss-Hayden School of Acting and within a year was appearing as an extra in films.
Her first major professional credit was in the military drama, I Wanted Wings. While not the lead, her performance as the doomed Sally got the attention of the critics and the public. Her appearance in the Preston Sturges Dramedy, Sullivan’s Travels only increased the attention.
Her breakout film would hit the theaters the next year, in 1942. This Gun For Hire is considered to be a film noir classic for good reason. While there are some bugs in the script and motivations of the characters; the performances by Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake and Lair Cregar are iconic. Especially notable was the icy intensity between Lake’s character and Ladd’s professional killer.
The chemistry between the Ladd and Lake combo did not go unnoticed by their bosses and they were quickly paired up in hits such as film noir classics, The Glass Key and The Blue Dahlia. Another consideration of the studio was the petite, 4′ 11″ Lake, was perfectly proportioned to cast opposite the 5′ 6″ (maybe) Alan Ladd, who sometimes had to appear on a platform when cast against taller leading ladies.
The Glass Key established both of them as A-List actors and Veronica Lake worked steadily through the 1940s. She appeared in a variety of genres from, mystery and drama, to comedies such as Hold That Blond and even a turn as a tough, widowed ranch owner in the western Ramrod.
She also found the time to marry and have a family. After her first marriage failed, she married film director Andre DeToth. She also became a licensed pilot and was known for flying cross country, no small feat in that era, especially in a small aircraft.
While talented, beautiful and very popular with the public, Veronica Lake had developed a reputation within Hollywood for being a difficult personality to work with. Several prominent actors and directors refused to work with her.
At the time, a “difficult” reputation tag being placed on an actress could mean anything from screaming tantrums on set, to refusing to sleep with the director or producer. Often the true source and cause of the “difficulties” was never disclosed. Regardless, even a hint of it, could often end an actresses career and by the late 1940s, starring roles had largely dried up for Lake and she was released from her Paramount contract in 1948.
Bankruptcy and the failure of her marriage to director Andre DeToth in 1951 also contributed to her departure from Hollywood. She relocate to New York that year and appeared in television and on the stage during the 1950s, appearing in many “Theater” format television shows such as Tales of Tomorrow, Goodyear Playhouse and Broadway Television Theater.
In her autobiography, Lake stated that she did not consider herself a serious actress she wrote: “You could put all the talent I had into your left eye and still not suffer from impaired vision.” While her fans would disagree with her, it does show that her heart was not in her work.
According to some biographies, both Veronica and her mother may have suffered from Schizophrenia, but that has never been confirmed. It has long been suspected that problems with alcohol may have contributed to Lake’s reputation for difficulty in Hollywood. It is known that she battled alcohol addiction throughout the latter part of her life, chalking up multiple arrests and fines for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct.
By the late 1960s, she was almost forgotten, her only appearance on film was in 1966s Footsteps In The Snow. There were rumors, (that she angrily denied) that she was destitute. Sales from her autobiography, Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake, funded her last film appearance in the 1970 low budget horror/Sci-fi film Flesh Feast. After the failure of the film she relocated to Ipswich England.
Veronica Lake passed away in 1972 at the age of 50 from complications of renal failure and hepatitis. While she only had 38 acting credits, most from 1940 to 1948, many were high quality performances in successful films. She is also remembered as one of the defining ladies of film noir and her films are still appreciated by fans to this day.