Constance Frances Marie Ockelman
November 14, 1922
Brooklyn, New York, U.S.
|Died||July 7, 1973 (aged 50)|
Burlington, Vermont, U.S.
|Other names||Constance Keane|
|Education||St. Bernard's School (Saranac Lake, New York)|
Miami High School
|Years active||1939–1954; 1966; 1970|
(m. 1940; div. 1943)
(m. 1944; div. 1952)
Joseph Allan McCarthy
(m. 1955; div. 1959)
Constance Frances Marie Ockelman (November 14, 1922 – July 7, 1973), known professionally as Veronica Lake, was an American film, stage, and television actress. Lake was best known for her femme fatale roles in film noirs with Alan Ladd during the 1940s, her peek-a-boo hairstyle, and films such as Sullivan's Travels (1941) and I Married a Witch (1942). By the late 1940s, Lake's career began to decline, due in part to her alcoholism. She made only one film in the 1950s, but made several guest appearances on television. She returned to the big screen in 1966 in the film Footsteps in the Snow (1966), but the role failed to revitalize her career.
Lake's memoir, Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake, was published in 1970. Her final screen role was in a low-budget horror film, Flesh Feast (1970). After years of heavy drinking, Lake died at the age of 50 in July 1973, from hepatitis and acute kidney injury.
Lake was born Constance Frances Marie Ockelman in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. Her father, Harry Eugene Ockelman, was of German and Irish descent, and worked for an oil company aboard a ship. He died in an oil tanker explosion in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania in 1932. Lake's mother, Constance Frances Charlotta (née Trimble; 1902–1992), of Irish descent, in 1933 married Anthony Keane, a newspaper staff artist also of Irish descent, and Lake began using his surname.
The Keanes lived in Saranac Lake, New York, where young Lake attended St. Bernard's School. She was then sent to Villa Maria, an all-girls Catholic boarding school in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, from which she was expelled. Lake later claimed she attended McGill University and took a premed course for a year, intending to become a surgeon. This claim was included in several press biographies, although Lake later declared it was bogus. Lake subsequently apologized to the president of McGill, who was simply amused when she explained her habit of self-dramatizing. When her stepfather fell ill during her second year[vague], 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 with schizophrenia,[when?] according to her mother.
In 1938, the Keanes moved to Beverly Hills, California. While briefly under contract to MGM, Lake enrolled in that studio's acting farm, the Bliss-Hayden School of Acting (now the Beverly Hills Playhouse). She made friends with a girl named Gwen Horn and accompanied her when Horn went to audition at RKO. She appeared in the play Thought for Food in January 1939. A theatre critic from the Los Angeles Times called her "a fetching little trick" for her appearance in She Made Her Bed.
Keane's first appearance on screen was as an extra for RKO, playing a small role as one of several students in the film Sorority House (1939). The part wound up being cut from the film, but she was encouraged to continue. Similar roles followed, including All Women Have Secrets (1939), Dancing Co-Ed (also 1939), Young as You Feel (1940), and Forty Little Mothers (also 1940). Forty Little Mothers was the first time she let her hair down on screen.
I Wanted Wings and stardom
Lake attracted the interest of Fred Wilcox, an assistant director, who shot a test scene of her performing from a play and showed it to an agent. The agent, in turn, showed it to producer Arthur Hornblow Jr., who was looking for a new girl to play the part of a nightclub singer in a military drama, I Wanted Wings (1940). The role would make Lake, still in her teens, a star. Hornblow changed the actress's name to Veronica Lake. According to him, her eyes, "calm and clear like a blue lake", were the inspiration for her new name.
It was during the filming of I Wanted Wings that Lake developed her signature look. Lake's long blonde hair accidentally fell over her right eye during a take and created a "peek-a-boo" effect. "I was playing a sympathetic drunk, I had my arm on a table ... it slipped ... and my hair – it was always baby fine and had this natural break – fell over my face ... It became my trademark and purely by accident", she recalled.
I Wanted Wings was a big hit. The hairstyle became Lake's trademark and was widely copied by women.
Even before the film came out, Lake was dubbed "the find of 1941". However, Lake did not think this meant she would have a long career and maintained her goal was to be a surgeon. "Only the older actors keep on a long time ... I don't want to hang on after I've reached a peak. I'll go back to medical school", she said.
Series of classic movies
Paramount announced two follow-up movies, China Pass and Blonde Venus. Instead, Lake was cast in Preston Sturges's Sullivan's Travels with Joel McCrea. She was six months pregnant when filming began.
Paramount put Lake in a thriller, This Gun for Hire (1942), with Robert Preston as her love interest. However, she shared more scenes with Alan Ladd; the two of them were so popular together that they would be reteamed in lead roles for three more films. Both had cameos in Star Spangled Rhythm (1942), an all-star Paramount film.
Lake was meant to be reunited with McCrea in another comedy, I Married a Witch, (also 1942) produced by Sturges and directed by René Clair, but McCrea refused to act with her again, reportedly saying, "Life's too short for two films with Veronica Lake". Production was delayed, enabling Lake to be reunited with Ladd in The Glass Key (again 1942), replacing Patricia Morison. The male lead in I Married a Witch was eventually played by Fredric March and the resulting movie, like The Glass Key, was successful at the box office. 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."
Lake was meant to co-star with Charles Boyer in Hong Kong for Arthur Hornblow, but it was not made. She received acclaim for her part as a suicidal nurse in So Proudly We Hail! (1943). At the peak of her career, she earned $4,500 a week.
Lake had a complex personality and acquired a reputation for being difficult to work with. Eddie Bracken, her co-star in Star Spangled Rhythm, in which Lake appeared in a musical number, was quoted as saying, "She was known as 'The Bitch' and she deserved the title." However, Lake and McCrea did make another film together, Ramrod (1947). During filming of The Blue Dahlia (1946), screenwriter Raymond Chandler referred to her as "Moronica Lake".
During World War II, Lake changed her trademark peek-a-boo hairstyle at the urging of the government to encourage women working in war industry factories to adopt more practical, safer hairstyles. Although the change helped to decrease accidents involving women getting their hair caught in machinery, doing so may have damaged Lake's career. She also became a popular pin-up girl for soldiers during World War II and traveled throughout the United States to raise money for war bonds.
Decline as star
Lake's career faltered with her unsympathetic role as Nazi spy Dora Bruckman in The Hour Before the Dawn (1944), shot in mid 1943. Scathing reviews of The Hour Before the Dawn included criticism of her rather unconvincing German accent. She had begun drinking more heavily during this period, and a growing number of people refused to work with her. Lake had a number of months off work, during which time she lost a child and was divorced.
In early 1944 she was brought back in Bring On the Girls (1945), Lake's first proper musical, although she had sung in This Gun for Hire and Star Spangled Rhythm. She was teamed with Eddie Bracken and Sonny Tufts. The movie was not a financial success.
In June 1944, Lake appeared at a war bond drive in Boston, where her services as a dishwasher were auctioned off. She also performed in a revue, with papers saying her "talk was on the grim side". Hedda Hopper later claimed this appearance was responsible for Paramount giving her the third lead in Out of This World (1945), supporting Diana Lynn and Bracken, saying "Lake clipped her own wings in her Boston bond appearance ... It's lucky for Lake, after Boston, that she isn't out of pictures".
Lake had a relatively minor role in a film produced by John Houseman, Miss Susie Slagle's (also 1945), co starring Sonny Tufts; Lake was top billed but her part was smaller than Joan Caulfield's. In November 1944 she made a third film with Bracken, Hold That Blonde (1945). She liked this part saying "it's a comedy, rather like what Carole Lombard used to do ... It represents a real change of pace".
Lake then made a second film produced by John Houseman, The Blue Dahlia (1946), which reunited her with Ladd. While waiting for the films to be released in 1945, she took stock of her career, claiming, "I had to learn about acting. I've played all sorts of parts, taken just what came along regardless of high merit. In fact, I've been a sort of general utility person. I haven't liked all the roles. One or two were pretty bad".
Lake expressed interest in renegotiating her deal with Paramount:
The studio feels that way about it too. They have indicated they are going to fuss more about the pictures in which I appear. I think I'll enjoy being fussed about ... I want this to be the turning point and I think that it will. I am free and clear of unpleasant characters, unless they are strongly justified. I've had a varied experience playing them and also appearing as heroines. The roles themselves haven't been noteworthy and sometimes not even especially spotlighted, but I think they've all been beneficial in one way or another. 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.
Since So Proudly We Hail only The Blue Dahlia had been a hit. She made her first film outside Paramount since she became a star, a Western, Ramrod (1947), directed by her then-husband Andre DeToth, which reunited her with Joel McCrea, despite his earlier reservation. It was successful.
Final years at Paramount
Back at her home studio she had a cameo in Variety Girl (1947) then was united with Ladd for the last time in Saigon (1948), in which she returned to her former peek-a-boo hairstyle; the movie was not particularly well received. Neither was a romantic drama, Isn't It Romantic (also 1948) or a comedy The Sainted Sisters (1948). In 1948 Paramount decided not to renew Lake's contract.
In 1950 it was announced she and DeToth would make Before I Wake (from a suspense novel by Mel Devrett) and Flanagan Boy. Neither was made.
She appeared in Stronghold (1951), which she later described as "a dog", an independent production from Lippert Pictures shot in Mexico. She later sued for unpaid wages on the film. Lake and DeToth filed for bankruptcy that same year.
"They said, 'She'll be back in a couple of months,'" recalled Lake. "Well I never returned. Enough was enough already. Did I want to be one of the walking dead or a real person?"
After her third divorce, Lake drifted between cheap hotels in New York City, and was arrested several times for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. In 1962, a New York Post reporter found her living at the all-women's Martha Washington Hotel in Manhattan, working as a waitress downstairs in the cocktail lounge. She was working under the name "Connie de Toth". Lake said she took the job in part because "I like people. I like to talk to them".
The reporter's widely distributed story led to speculation that Lake was destitute. After the story ran, fans of Lake sent her money which she returned as "a matter of pride". Lake vehemently denied that she was destitute and stated, "It's as though people were making me out to be down-and-out. I wasn't. I was paying $190 a month rent then, and that's a long way from being broke". The story did revive some interest in Lake and led to some television and stage appearances, including the 1963 off-Broadway revival of the musical Best Foot Forward.
In 1966, she had a brief stint as a television hostess in Baltimore, Maryland, along with a largely ignored film role in Footsteps in the Snow. She also continued appearing in stage roles. She went to Freeport in the Bahamas to visit a friend and ended up living there for a few years.
Lake's memoirs, Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake, which she dictated to the writer Donald Bain, were published 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 romances with Howard Hughes, Tommy Manville and Aristotle Onassis, her alcoholism, and her guilt over not spending enough time with her children. In the book, Lake stated to Bain that her mother pushed her into a career as an actress. Bain quoted Lake, looking back at her career, as saying, "I never did cheesecake like Ann Sheridan or Betty Grable. I just used my hair". She also laughed off the term "sex symbol" and instead referred to herself as a "sex zombie".
When she visited the UK to promote her book in 1969, she received an offer to appear on stage in Madam Chairman. Also in 1969, Lake essayed the role of Blanche DuBois in a revival of A Streetcar Named Desire on the English stage; her performance won rave reviews. With the proceeds from her autobiography, after she had divided them with Bain, she co-produced and starred in her final film, Flesh Feast (1970), a low-budget horror movie with a Nazi-myth storyline.
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). According to news from the time, Lake's son was born prematurely after she tripped on a lighting cable while filming a movie. Anthony died on July 15, 1943. Lake and Detlie separated in August 1943 and divorced in December 1943.
In 1944, Lake married film director Andre DeToth with whom she had a son, Andre Anthony Michael III (known as Michael DeToth), and a daughter, Diana (born October 1948). Days before Diana's birth, Lake's mother sued her for support payments. After purchasing an airplane for de Toth, Lake earned her pilot's license in 1946. She later flew solo between Los Angeles and New York when leaving him. Lake and DeToth divorced in 1952.
In September 1955, she married songwriter Joseph Allan McCarthy. They were divorced in 1959. In 1969, she revealed that she rarely saw her children.
In June 1973, Lake returned from her autobiography promotion and summer stock tour in England to the United States and while traveling in Vermont, visited a local doctor, complaining of stomach pains. She was discovered to have cirrhosis of the liver as a result of her years of drinking, and on June 26, she checked into the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington.
She died there on July 7, 1973, of acute hepatitis and acute kidney injury. Her son Michael claimed her body. Lake's memorial service was held at the Universal Chapel in New York City on July 11.
She 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.
|1939||Sorority House||Coed||Uncredited, alternative title: That Girl from College|
|1939||The Wrong Room||The Attorney's New Bride||Credited as Connie Keane|
|1939||Dancing Co-Ed||One of Couple on Motorcycle||Uncredited|
Alternative title: Every Other Inch a Lady
|1939||All Women Have Secrets||Jane||Credited as Constance Keane|
|1940||Young as You Feel||Bit part||Credited as Constance Keane|
|1940||Forty Little Mothers||Granville girl||Uncredited|
|1941||I Wanted Wings||Sally Vaughn||First featured role|
|1941||Hold Back the Dawn||Movie Actress||Uncredited|
|1941||Sullivan's Travels||The Girl||Directed by Preston Sturges|
|1942||This Gun for Hire||Ellen Graham||First film with Alan Ladd|
|1942||The Glass Key||Janet Henry||With Alan Ladd|
|1942||I Married a Witch||Jennifer||Directed by René Clair|
|1942||Star Spangled Rhythm||Herself||One of a number of Paramount stars making cameos|
|1943||So Proudly We Hail!||Lt. Olivia D'Arcy|
|1944||The Hour Before the Dawn||Dora Bruckmann|
|1945||Bring On the Girls||Teddy Collins|
|1945||Out of This World||Dorothy Dodge|
|1945||Duffy's Tavern||Herself||One of a number of Paramount stars making cameos|
|1945||Hold That Blonde||Sally Martin|
|1946||Miss Susie Slagle's||Nan Rogers|
|1946||The Blue Dahlia||Joyce Harwood||With Alan Ladd|
|1947||Ramrod||Connie Dickason||Directed by her then-husband Andre DeToth; first film made outside Paramount since becoming a star|
|1947||Variety Girl||Herself||One of a number of Paramount stars making cameos|
|1948||Saigon||Susan Cleaver||Last film with Alan Ladd|
|1948||The Sainted Sisters||Letty Stanton|
|1948||Isn't It Romantic?||Candy Cameron|
|1949||Slattery's Hurricane||Dolores Greaves||Directed by André de Toth|
|1966||Footsteps in the Snow||Therese|
|1970||Flesh Feast||Dr. Elaine Frederick||Alternative title: Time Is Terror|
|1950||Your Show of Shows||Herself – Guest Performer||Episode #2.11|
|1950||Lights Out||Mercy Device||Episode: "Beware This Woman"|
|1950–1953||Lux Video Theatre||Various||3 episodes|
|1951||Somerset Maugham TV Theatre||Valerie||Episode: "The Facts of Life"|
|1952||Celanese Theatre||Abby Fane||Episode: "Brief Moment"|
|1952||Tales of Tomorrow||Paula||Episode: "Flight Overdue"|
|1952||Goodyear Television Playhouse||Judy "Leni" Howard||Episode: "Better Than Walking"|
|1953||Danger||Episode: "Inside Straight"|
|1954||Broadway Television Theatre||Nancy Willard||Episode: "The Gramercy Ghost"|
Selected stage credits
|Thought for Food||Bliss Hayden Theatre, Beverly Hills||1939: January–February|
|She Made Her Bed||Bliss Hayden Theatre, Beverly Hills||1939: July–August|
|Private Confusion||Bliss Hayden Theatre, Beverly Hills||1940: October|
|Direct Hit||1944: June|
|The Voice of the Turtle||Atlanta||1951: February|
|The Curtain Rises||Olney Theatre||1951|
|Peter Pan||Road tour||1951|
|Masquerade||Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia||1953|
|The Little Hut||Road tour, including:
Erlanger Theatre, Buffalo
Murat Theatre, Indianapolis
Shubert Theatre, Detroit
Shubert Theatre, Cincinnati
|Bell Book and Candle||1956|
|Fair Game||Road tour, including:
Arena Playhouse, Atlanta
Hinsdale Strawhatter, Chicago
|Best Foot Forward||Stage 73 (Off-Broadway), Manhattan||1963|
|Madam Chairman||Tour of English provinces||1969|
|A Streetcar Named Desire||New Theatre, Bromley||1969|
In popular culture
Veronica Lake's image was used as a sight gag in the movie The Major and the Minor (1942) with Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland.
|March 30, 1943||Lux Radio Theater||I Wanted Wings|
|February 9, 1943||Bob Hope||Guest star Paulette Goddard and Veronica Lake|
|February 16, 1943||Burns and Allen||Guest star Veronica Lake|
|November 1, 1943||Lux Radio Theater||So Proudly We Hail!|
|January 8, 1944||Command Performance||Guest star Veronica Lake|
|February 18, 1945||Charlie McCarthy||Guest stars Ginny Simms and Veronica Lake|
|April 2, 1945||The Screen Guild Theater||This Gun for Hire|
|November 18, 1946||Lux Radio Theatre||O.S.S.|
|April 20, 1947||Exploring the Unknown||The Dark Curtain|
|April 21, 1949||The Screen Guild Theater||The Blue Dahlia|
|March 6, 1950||Lux Radio Theatre||Slattery's Hurricane|
|December 15, 1950||Duffy's Tavern||"Archie Wants Veronica Lake to Help Promote a New Latin Singer"|
|December 12, 1954||The Jack Benny Program||"A Trip to Palm Springs"|
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