Hollywood’s Golden Age was an intriguing era. On the surface, it looks incredible: fame, fortune, good looks. Who wouldn’t want to live such a glamourous life? But behind the scenes, these beautiful starlets were dealing with a lot, particularly the ones working with MGM studios and under the control of the notorious studio head Louis B. Mayer. One of these Old Hollywood starlets is Veronica Lake.
The talented starlet began taking acting classes when she was a teenager, because her mother wanted to get her into the cut-throat entertainment industry. She had everything she needed to make it: beauty, talent, and determination. Her shine burned bright, but sadly, the flame didn’t last long. From her childhood trauma to becoming a famous cocktail waitress, this is the life of Old Hollywood star Veronica Lake.
Ready for My Close Up
Veronica Lake was known for a lot of things, and one of them was definitely her iconic hairstyle. She was always seen with her blonde locks covering her right eye, and she rocked the look. However, that classic, beautiful style was entirely accidental.
It all started on the set of I Wanted Wings. That look fit her character really well. She was meant to appear drunk in the scene. She pulled it off so brilliantly that after that, the blonde over-the-eye look was associated with the actress for much of her career after that.
How Old Is She?!
Lake was welcomed into the world on November 14, 1922, in Brooklyn, and was given the name Constance Frances Marie Ochelman. Yikes! No wonder she wanted a different stage name. But anyway, I should point out that some sources claim she was born in 1919, but a 1920 United States Census revealed that her father was single and childless at the time.
A census from 1930 claimed that Lake was only seven years old at the time, which would have meant she was born in 1922. In her autobiography, Lake revealed that her birth year was, in fact, 1922.
Based on her last name (Ochelman), one might assume that Lake’s father was of German descent… but that’s only half true. Yes, her dad did have a German background, but only on his dad’s side. Lake’s paternal grandmother was actually Irish. The actress’s mother was also Irish on both sides. Her mother’s family were also first-generation Irish Americans.
She seemed like a normal kid. She went to school, played with friends, and had that childhood innocence. But then, a lot of obstacles in her childhood (including tragedy) would affect her tremendously.
East Coast to West Coast
When she was a teenager, Lake’s family moved from New York state to Beverly Hills, California. At this point, she began taking acting classes at the Bliss-Hayden School of Acting after getting a contract from a little film studio you may have heard of: MGM.
MGM is obviously a huge Hollywood studio, and they controlled Bliss-Hayden, enrolling their stars to take classes there; it was referred to as an “acting farm” in the Old Hollywood days. These days, however, the institution is known as the Beverly Hills Playhouse.
Now, That’s How You Leave a Man!
Lake is known for many things, but one of her amazing accomplishments is one people tend to forget about. In 1947, the girl acquired a pilot license. Initially, she received it during the process of purchasing a plane for her husband, Andre de Toth.
But even though their marriage ended, her pilot skills didn’t go to waste. After they split up, she made a cross-country solo flight from Los Angeles to New York. It looks like someone missed her East Coast hometown; luckily, she could just fly herself there. How impressive is that?
She May Have Lied…
When Lake was a little girl, she went to St. Bernard’s School in New York. After that, she was sent to Montreal to attend Villa Maria, an all-girls Catholic school that still exists to this day (although it is co-ed as of 2016). However, Lake was expelled from the school for an unknown reason.
Later on, Lake stated that she attended a premedical course at Montreal’s McGill University. The rumor continued to circulate in several biographies until the actress came clean and admitted that it was a lie. She even went as far as to contact the University and apologized for lying. Luckily, no harm was done.
He Never Wanted to Work With Her Again!
There was one particular actor with whom Lake didn’t really get along: Joel McCrea. The two worked together on Sullivan’s Travels, and things got heated between the fellow actors, and this wasn’t your usual on-set bickering. They were on such bad terms that McCrea turned down a starring role in I Married a Witch solely because he didn’t want to work with Lake ever again.
Despite Lake’s relationship with Joel McCrea and their subsequent avoidance of each other, the actors were able to put it all behind them in 1947, when they reconciled for their collaboration of the Western film, Ramrod. In all fairness, it was their last collaboration, so it’s unclear if their reunion was as successful as it seems.
Contrary to what you would expect from such an iconic starlet, it wasn’t Lake’s dream to become an actress, let alone a movie star. Initially, her ambition in life was to become a surgeon. She never achieved that goal, but at least she got to portray a doctor in one of her films.
In more recent years, one of the people inspired by Veronica Lake was R&B singer Aaliyah. She even modeled her own famous hairstyle after Lake’s and reintroduced the Golden Age starlet to a whole new generation of fans. Veronica Lake definitely earned her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. If you’re interested in finding it, head over to 6918 Hollywood Boulevard.
Small Size, Big Talent
One of the very first films that Veronica Lake appeared in was the 1939 romance Sorority House. However, the actress wasn’t credited in the flick because she just played an extra. Little did everyone know how famous she would soon become.
With the power of Hollywood, it’s common for movie stars to appear as tall figures on screen while being shorter than most in real life. There are endless examples, but Lake was a rather extreme one. Though she never pretended to be a tall lady on screen, her actual height was just 4’11”.
Short Is Good, Short Is In…
Nevertheless, Lake’s extremely short height ended up being beneficial to her as an actress, specifically for one major role. Lake stared alongside Alan Ladd for the 1946 movie The Blue Dahlia. Ladd, who stood at 5’6”, would naturally tower over Lake, despite not being particularly tall himself.
Otherwise, his role would have required platform shoes which might have bruised his ego. However, the two made a wonderful team and had great chemistry on screen. In fact, they were so amazing together that they would go on to act together in a total of seven films throughout their careers.
Dubbed in Italy!
Just like many stars who make it big in Hollywood, Lake’s voice was dubbed over into other languages, so audiences could understand her films when they were released abroad. When her movies came to Italy, one woman dubbed all her performances with the exception of one.
That woman was Rosetta Calavetta, an Italian actress who must have been pretty disappointed when Veronica Lake left the film industry and no longer gave her a steady gig. She also dubbed roles in a series of Disney movies, including Snow White in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Cruella de Vil in One Hundred and One Dalmatians, Marionette in Pinocchio, and many others.
And Dubbed Again
Veronica Lake fans probably remember her appearance in the 1942 comedy musical, Star Spangled Rhythm. However, what those fans might not know is that Lake did not do her own singing in that movie. Her voice was actually dubbed by a famous radio singer at the time, Martha Mears.
Lake wasn’t the only one who Mears worked with. She dubbed for a bunch of other actresses, including Eva Gabor, Lucille Ball, Rita Hayworth, Loretta Young, Claudette Colbert, and Hedy Lamarr. Although she voiced a bunch of Old Hollywood actresses, Martha Mears’s claim to fame was her singing career.
Blue Like a Lake
So, I know you might be wondering where her stage name came from? The idea didn’t come from her own imagination; it was thought up by producer Arthur Hornblow Jr. When Hornblow cast her a nightclub singer in the military drama I Wanted Wings, the name dawned on him.
As the man himself admitted, he created the stage name “Veronica Lake” based on the starlet’s “calm and clear” blue eyes. I don’t know where the name Veronica originated from, but it has a really nice ring to it.
Making It Rain
One of Veronica Lake’s most critically acclaimed movies was the war drama, So Proudly We Hail! Not only was the film nominated for four Academy Awards, but it was so successful that just a few months after its initial release, it was adapted into a radio show.
Lake would reprise her role from the film on the radio. Although she wasn’t nominated for any Oscars, her co-star Paulette Goddard was. At the height of her fame, Lake was making more than $4,500 a week.
Difficult to Work With
Throughout her career in showbiz, Lake developed a reputation for being “difficult to work with.” She didn’t always make things easy on movie sets, and it all started with I Wanted Wings, her breakout film. She wasn’t always kind or considerate to the people around her.
Lake famously clashed with her costars as well as her director, Mitchell Leisen. Apparently, Lake would act kind of like a diva, constantly showing up late to work. Her tardiness was so frequent that they literally ordered her to stay on set so that she would be readily available.
Lucky Number 13
Lake’s last film was a low-budget horror flick called Flesh Feast. Not only did the actress star in the 1970 movie, but she was a co-producer on the project. The film depicted German scientists trying to resurrect Adolf Hitler. Perhaps surprisingly, the movie has had a long theatrical life, probably due to its exploitable title.
The film also spent years being sold as a second- or third-billed film alongside movies with similar themes. Because of this, the film was still available in theatres until 1983 – 13 years after it first came out!
Peekaboo Hair Controversy
We already mentioned how Lake was known for her classic hairstyle, which covered one of her eyes; this was sometimes referred to as the “peekaboo style.” As some of you may have already noticed, there was a serious problem with women trying to achieve this look. Particularly for those working in war plants.
Accidents happen, but after several cases of hair mishaps, Lake was pressured to change her signature look. Somehow it was her fault. She switched up her hair but, unfortunately, the makeover didn’t help her popularity or her career.
That’s Where I’ve Seen Her Before
In case you may still be wondering where you’ve seen Veronica Lake before, you might remember seeing an iconic character who was modeled partly on the actress’s appearance. Disney fans can certainly recall this one.
Do you remember Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? That’s right; the redheaded bombshell was inspired by Lake, as well as many other Golden Age starlets such as Rita Hayworth, Lauren Bacall, Jayne Mansfield, and Gene Tierney. I mean, I would be honored if I inspired any character in any sort of way, even if I had to share the spotlight with other talented beauties.
The Beginning of the End
Veronica Lake was involved with a war bond drive held in Boston in 1944. The actress was auctioned off as a dishwasher, and she was also featured in a performance at a revue during that event.
It was widely reported that while in Boston, the actress made a lot of negative comments and which, apparently, influenced her career at the time. People often refer to this as the beginning of the end of Lake’s career. After that, she began losing out on movie roles, and her career fizzled out.
She Just Wanted to Meet People…
Things didn’t turn out completely terrible for Lake, though. Maybe the beginning of the 1960s didn’t start off on the right foot, but in 1962, it was reported that the actress was living under a new name and had started a new life, in a way.
The Hollywood superstar was working as a cocktail waitress in Manhattan’s Martha Washington Hotel. According to Lake, her motivation to work a humble job in the service industry came from a desire to talk to new people. As a former bartender myself, it certainly has its perks and is definitely a wonderful way to meet new people.
While Lake was busy serving customers as a cocktail waitress, rumors flew across the country about is the fact she was living in poverty. And who could blame them for the speculation? Serving tables is quite the change from starring in movies. Her Hollywood friends, such as Marlon Brando, allegedly sent her money because they thought she needed help.
Lake sent back the money explaining that she didn’t need it. However, the $1,000 check from Brando was special to her. She didn’t cash it and instead framed it over her bed. It’s safe to say Brando’s signature may be worth more than that $1,000 these days anyway.
The Downfall Begins
Lake’s star started to fade in the 1944 war film, The Hour Before the Dawn. The actress went against her usual sensible roles and portrayed an unlikeable character who was a spy for the German government.
Not only did this role alienate the actress from her fans, but she was harshly criticized for her performance because… well, her German accent wasn’t very convincing. And that’s a nice way to say it was terrible. Nevertheless, the movie was unsuccessful. The entire project was an overall disappointment.
Going Through a Lot
After the utter failure of The Hour Before the Dawn, Lake met another catastrophe the following year with the musical, Bring On the Girls. During that time, Lake’s estrangement by so many in the movie industry was really beginning to take a toll. She started struggling with alcohol abuse. Her addiction issues would affect her for the rest of her life.
Veronica Lake walked down the aisle a total of three times in her life. Her third husband was Joseph Allan McCarthy – whose father was renowned Hollywood lyricist and songwriter Joseph McCarthy.
He Had “No” Words (Pun Intended)
In 1948, Lake was featured in the comedy flick Isn’t It Romantic. Renowned film critic Leonard Maltin famously reviewed Isn’t It Romantic, and his opinion made it into the Guinness World of Records. So, I’m sure you’re wondering which record he broke.
As it turns out, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Maltin’s review was the shortest film review in history! When it came to the movie, Maltin’s short but clear review simply said “No.” I’m going to guess he didn’t like the movie… just a hunch.
Starring Kim Basinger
Kim Basinger costarred in the 1997 film noir period piece, L.A. Confidential, playing a sex worker named Lynn Bracken. Being on set in the 1950s, much of Bracken’s popularity among her clients came from her similarities to Veronica Lake.
Basinger ultimately went on to be nominated for an Oscar for her performance in the film, and she won! Well, I’m sure if she was cast in a biopic about Veronica Lake, she might have taken home two Oscars. Either way, her performance was incredible, and she has Lake to thank for the inspiration.
When Lake was only ten years old, she dealt with a heartbreak that no child should ever have to deal with. Her dad tragically died in a work-related accident. Harry Eugene Ockelman worked on a ship for an oil company and died in an industrial explosion in Philadelphia.
That is a traumatic thing for anyone to go through, especially at such a young age. A year later, Lake’s mother tied the knot with a newspaper artist named Anthony Keane. From that moment on, Lake would take Keane’s last name as her own and respected him as a stepfather.
In Honor of the Navy Pilots
Slattery’s Hurricane was an adventure film and one of Lake’s most successful. Because of the movie’s respectful salute to Navy pilots, the film had a very special screening. Slattery Hurricane was screened to the passengers of the 90-ton aircraft known as Constitution.
According to Lake, screening the film inside the airplane took a lot of work! The writers on hand even had to contemplate the idea of in-flight screenings. She later ironically remarked, “If they only knew.” Remember, this movie came out in 1949! We certainly didn’t have the technological advancements that would make this doable today.
Apparently, Veronica Lake didn’t have the best relationship with her mother, who was a huge stage mom credited for pushing her daughter into the industry. Unfortunately, Lake’s acting success didn’t help their contentious relationship. In fact, at one point, Lake’s mother sued her for lack of support. I didn’t even know you could sue for that…
According to her mom, Lake had a lot of difficulties as a child. She went so far as to claim that Lake was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teenager. I don’t know how believable her mother is, so take that with a grain of salt.
Downhill From Here…
As her Hollywood career continued to decline and with her third marriage coming to an end, Lake ended the 1950s close to bankruptcy and turned her back on Hollywood. At that point, the actress was also dealing with some alcohol issues. It got to the point where she was arrested several times because of her public drunkenness and disorderly conduct.
Lake sadly passed away on July 7, 1973, due to a combined acute kidney injury and acute hepatitis. She was just 50 years old when she died.
You Got Punked
The set of I Married a Witch wasn’t a fun place for Veronica Lake or her costar Fredric March. March made a few unkind comments about Lake, which got her in the mood for a little revenge… in the form of pranks! But these weren’t two friends joking around; Lake really wanted to tick him off.
In one particular scene which required March to carry her, Lake hid weights under her clothing to make his life a little harder. If he didn’t hate her when production started, he certainly did by the end of it. He had his own little nickname for the movie: “I Married a (B-word).”
Her Legacy Continues
Throughout her life, Lake had a total of four children. Sadly, one of them died prematurely just one week after he was born. The rest of them grew up not really knowing their mother because of divorce. Years later, Lake reflected on her life and expressed regret for not being closer to her children.
After she passed away, Lake’s body was cremated, as per her wishes. Her ashes were scattered off the coast of the Virgin Islands. Reportedly, a portion of her ashes were discovered in 2004 – at a New York antique store.