The life of Veronica Lake

December 18, 2013



Yesterday I watched, for the first time in my life, a Veronica Lake film. Well, I did saw 'I Married a Witch' before, kind of, but I was tipsy and it was the day that I met my boyfriend Ben for the first time, so we were talking more than we watched the film. I only saw a fragment of it. We also have her autograph hanging on the wall, between many other actresses of that period, and I decided that it was time to watch 'I married a witch' again and this time paying attention. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, absolutely, and it is as watchable now as it was in 1942. It's sure one of my favorite comedies from that era. Veronica has an amusing, kittenesque way of acting throughout the film and she really gave me some bouts of laughter. You should really see it and if you do not know how to download you can watch it *here* on Youtube.

Her ashes found in an antique store ...
Now, I knew only a little of Veronica Lake; she was disliked by many others, was an alcoholic, a schizophrenic, she was only 4'11" (1.51 m) tall, that her ashes were found in a urn in a recycle store and ofcourse, above all, that she was famous for her cascade of golden tresses that obscured one heavy lidded eye. But certainly there had to be more to her than just that!

Veronica Lake was born Constance Frances Marie Ockelman in Brooklyn New York in 1922 on november the 14th. Constance's father Harry Ockelman was of German-Danish descent and worked for an oil company aboard a ship. He wasn't home much around the 20s and the 30s and died in an oil explosion in 1932. Her mother Constance Charlotta then married another man, Anthony Keane, and little Constance began using his surname. Constance had a troubled childhood but blossomed into a beauty in her early teenage years. According to her mother she began to show the classic signs of Schizophrenia; quirky speech patterns, muddled thinking processes, auditory hallucinations, paranoid tendencies along with clear signs of disturbed social life. 


However, Constance gained some fame in beauty pageants and she and her parents then moved to Beverly Hills in 1938, CA, enrolling her in the Bliss Hayden school of Acting in Hollywood as they thought of acting as a treatment for her Schizophrenia. She showed some remarkable abilities and almost immediately she got her big break. Constance signed with film studio RKO and made her film debut in a romantic drama 'Sorority House' (1939) in which she was initially billed as Constance Keane. In the other movies that followed, her roles were so small that her characters rarely had a name. But Constance persevered.

In 1940 she took some time out from trying to become a star to marry art director John Detlie and gave birth to a daughter, Elaine, the following year. With the arrival of Elaine, it gave Constance also an upswing in her career and she was signed to a contract at Paramount in 1941. Famed producer Arthur Hornblow gave her the name Veronica (suggesting a classic beauty) Lake (being inspired by the blueness of her eyes).


Almost immediately after signing with Paramount Veronica's stardom rose. She made a huge impact on people in the movie 'I wanted wings' (1941) and many producers began offering Veronica some leading roles. Veronica appeared in a string of box-office hits, showing considerable talent for comic roles in the movie Sullivan's travels (1941) and as a 17th century witch who falls for the ancestor of the man who condemned her to death in 'I married a witch' (1941). However, it was her pairing with another rather tiny actor; Alan Ladd who was just 5'5" (1.65m) that made her a screen legend. This pairing was so popular that they made 7 films together. 

Veronica rocketed to national stardom and Hollywood after the movie Sullivan's Travels (1941). She became World War II's defining platinum blonde pin up girl. She appeared in This Gun For Hire, I Married A Witch, The Glass Key and So Proudly We Hail.


A dangerous hairstyle ...
Veronica's  hairstyle, which was dubbed 'the peek-a-boo', was incredibly popular and was imitated world wide by women who tortured their hair to wear it just like Veronica Lake. But for the war effort, women were needed in the factory; wearing their tresses like Veronica was dangerous; their hair might get tangled in the equipment and the consequences would be horrible. Veronica was asked by the US Government to wear her hair in a safe way.

                   

       

      


Veronica seemed to burn out as fast as she rose to stardom ...
But things would go downhill for Veronica Lake - very rapidly. In 1943 Veronica's second child was born prematurely and died after a week and her first marriage ended in a divorce. Her film The Hour Before Dawn, where she plays a nazi sympathizer, received poor reviews due to her less than convincing German accent. Veronica seemed to burn out as fast as she rose to stardom. Only 'I Married a Witch' used her natural talent for comedy, but Paramount casted her in mediocre films which wasted her talent; Hold that Blonde, Out of this world, and Miss Susie Slagle. Her last succes was alongside Alan Ladd in the film 'The Blue Dahlia' (the film that would give murdered aspiring actress Elizabeth Short the name 'The Black Dahlia ).

The sad end of Veronica's career and life ...
Veronica got the reputation of difficult to work with. Alan Ladd and her co-star in I Married a Witch, Fredric March, actively disliked her. He dubbed the movie 'I married a bitch' and was asked to star in another movie with Veronica but he answered that life was too short to make another movie with her. In 1948, Veronica was dropped at Paramount. She began to drink heavily whilst in a stage of paranoia and her marriage of 1944 with film director Andre de Toth did nothing to help her. They had two children, Andre and Diana, and her husband, who was known as a violent man, did not encourage her to seek medical help. Veronica did appear in a few films for 20th Century Fox such as Slattery's Hurricane (1949) and Stronghold (1951) but the sad truth revealed that her career had already collapsed. Veronica filed for bankruptcy in 1951 and her marriage ended in divorce. Veronica then retreated to television and theater including Broadway revival of the musical 'Best foot forward' where she co-stars next to Liza Minelli. But she found little success.

In 1955 she married for the third time to songwriter Joseph A. McCarthy. Veronica was no longer able to find acting work after breaking her ankle in 1959. She and Joseph divorced and her drinking behaviour began to worsen. She was arrested several times for public drunkenness and then virtually dissapeared from the public eye.


In 1960 she was found by a reporter, living in a crumbling hotel and working as a cocktail waitress in Manhattan - she never revealed her true identity to her collegues. The publicity she got from this was that it briefly resurrected her career and she appeared several times on television and even returned to the movie industry in 1966 in the film that is more forgotten than remembered: Footsteps in the snow. In the late 1960s she reached rock bottom, hiding in her apartment out of paranoid fear that the FBI was following her and tapping her phone. Veronica published her autobiography in the late 1960s named 'Veronica' and it was well received. In the book she describes her struggle with alcoholism and mental illness. The success of the book enabled her to star in one more film which is a low-budget horror movie 'Flesh feast' in 1970 but the movie was not a successful one and Veronica is barely recognizable. She moved to England in the very early years of the 1970s and married for the fourth time with a sea captain but this marriage also collapsed, they divorced and Veronica moved back to America in 1973 with a body and mind that were ravaged by alcohol. She moved back to Saranac Lake where she had once spent the happiest days of her childhood; she wanted to relive the good days where the happy memories contrasted so much with the painful reality of her mental and physical suffering. 

Her physical condition began to worsen and she was afflicted by bouts of paranoia. Veronica had come to Saranac Lake to recover but she was beyond help and Veronica came home to die. However, Saranac Lake did not have the resources to give Veronica Lake the medical help she really needed and thus Veronica was moved to the hospital in Vermont. Word spread and her true identity was revealed. Doctors and nurses came in to pay their respect and it seemed to brighten up Veronica who happily signed autographs for the nurses whilst speaking positively and confidently of future plans. According to a nurse: "Veronica was in her final days cheerful, friendly and happy, looking forward to the future and still retained a shadow of her former beauty". But Veronica was painfully lonely; completely alone with no guests or phonecalls.



Veronica never received professional help that would have helped her with her mental disease and she therefore had to endure it alone. Those who knew Veronica in the 1960s said that she was once a great beauty but was now a total mess with rotting teeth, unwashed hair and the pasty complexion of an alcoholic.

Veronica died in a hospital of Hepatitis and acute renal failure due to alcoholism on July 7, 1973 in Burlington Vermont. She was only 50 years of age. A memorial service was held and was only attended by her son and a few strangers and was payed for by veteran ghostwriter Donald Bain who penned Veronica's incomplete autobiography. Her ashes were scattered off the coast of the Virgin Islsands in 1976 after being stored at the funeral home because of a squabble over money. It is said by some that in 2004, some of Veronica's ashes were found in a New York antique store. Some say that it appears that Constance Ockelman aka Veronica Lake can't rest ... even in death.


There's no doubt I was a bit of a misfit in the Hollywood of the forties. The race for glamor left me far behind. I didn't really want to keep up. I wanted my stardom without the usual trimmings. Because of this, I was branded a rebel at the very least. But I don't regret that for a minute. My appetite was my own and I simply wouldn't have it any other way. - Veronica Lake


You Might Also Like

14 Comments

  1. Your detailed, thoughtful, engaging description of Veronica's life brought tears to my eyes. I knew about many of the tragic, painful events in her life, but reading about them all in one quick go like that, really drives home just what a tremendously difficult life she endured. It breaks my hear that she was so dismissed and forgotten later in her (relatively short life), but at least those of us who appreciate and love vintage movies can help honour her (in ways like this excellent post) now decades after her passing.

    ♥ Jessica

    ReplyDelete
  2. I took care of Veronica Lake when she was hospitalized at Bellevue in NYC. Shevwas living at thevGeorge Washingto Hotel on 23 st at the time. Very sad.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I took care of Veronica Lake when she was a patient in Bellevue Hospital in NY C, and she ws living in the George Washington Hotel on 23 st at the time. Sad, indeed.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Am I correct that Bellevue is/was mostly a mental hospital? Was Veronica there for medical treatment, treatment for her schizophrenia, or treatment for her alcoholism? It's so beyond sad that nobody was available nor cared to help her. Mental illness had such a stigma attached to it in those days. A little better now, but certain stigmas still linger, plus there were so many things even the psychiatrists didn't know back then. It's still like pulling hen's teeth to find affordable, competent mental health care these days. My 28 yr old daughter has bipolar disorder. The correct treatment for bipolar involves 2 things, each just as important as the other. #1 is being on the correct medication regimen and #2 is talk therapy with behavior modification. My daughter is on a good course of meds but we can't afford therapy and there is absolutely no help on the local, state or federal levels. They just think, "tough luck". I wonder who raised her children because it certainly seems like she couldn't really take care of herself, much less children. Besides the movies mentioned in this article, there is a wonderful comedy with a good plot I found on YouTube the other day. It's called, "Saintly Sisters".nIf you are really a Veronica Lake fan then you gotta look it up.

      Delete
  4. Veronica and Alan Ladd, two of the loneliest people ever in Hollywood.....

    ReplyDelete
  5. I am very sad for her. I heard a story (rumor I hope) that she got involved with Hollywood porn in the latter years of her life. Is there any truth to that story?

    ReplyDelete
  6. So many unfits filled the screen and very few survived it

    ReplyDelete
  7. >>Only 'I Married a Witch' used her natural talent for comedy

    I can't agree with this. "Sullivan's Travels" very much shows her flair for comedy.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Why her children didn't take care of her?

    ReplyDelete
  9. I just stumbled across this. It is most unfortunate that she lapsed into alcoholism and mental disease. I pray that she is at peace now and that her children are doing well. She had a tough life it seems. Both parents died when she was very young. I will have to get her autobiography from the library now to find out who raised her. I wonder if she was sexually abused as a child and if that was a possible contributing factor to her mental illness?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Veronica Lake had that larger than life look on the big screen and was extremely photogenic. It is sad she wasn't offered more screen roles that highlighted her cool dry wit. She is brilliant in Sullivan's Travels and I can't think of another actress from that era who could have brought more appeal to that role. Veronica Lake was definitely unappreciated by the movie industry.

    ReplyDelete
  11. A blog with useful info for families and patients with psychotic disorders: curetoschizophrenia.blogspot.com, My son was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 30s. After a difficult period coping with depression, anxiety and paranoia, My son feels his illness is under control and permanently cure using herbs, thanks to a very effective herbal product called CONSUMMO. In the midst of movement and chaos, keep stillness inside of you and everything will be okay, don't ever give up. check out the link to know more: http://curetoschizophrenia.blogspot.com/ or contact me with this so I can share our experience with you: patberg080@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
  12. Great post about this beautiful, talented lady. But one thing needs to be cleared up once and for all - Alan Ladd DID NOT dislike her. There were times when her behavior was erratic (Ladd suffered from alcoholism and depression himself), but he did not insult her the way that Fredric March did. In fact, shortly before his death in 1964, Ladd announced the intention to make a film version of the radio series, "Box 13" (which had been created by Ladd's production company, Mayfair Productions), and wanted Veronica and their mutual friend, William Bendix, to star in it. If he disliked her so strongly, I doubt he would have willingly worked with her again. Veronica was friendly with Ladd's wife, Sue Carol; Lake herself had nothing but positive things to say about Ladd in her autobiography.

    It's also more likely that Lake suffered from bi-polar disorder, rather than schizophrenia - there is no proof that she suffered from the latter and it was likely invented by her grasping, money-hungry, nasty stage mother who sued her daughter for financial support and didn't even attend Veronica's funeral! Lake's mother frequently bad-mouthed her daughter in the press, even after her death. Lake's alcoholism and mental illness drove a wedge between her and her children as well and only her son, Andre "Michael" de Toth attended her funeral. What a sad and lonely end. It's hard to believe when you watch her films that she would die impoverished and alone.

    ReplyDelete

Popular Posts

My Flickr Images