Veronica Lake

She began her life as Constance Frances Marie Ockleman, but the world would come to know her as Veronica Lake. She was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 14, 1922, the daughter of Harry Ockleman, a ship’s master for an oil company, and his wife, the former Constance Charlotta Trimble.

At the age of twelve she lost her father in a ship explosion. A year after the accident her mother married a staff artist for the New York Herald Tribune named Anthony Keane. Over the years the family moved around quite often, living in Canada, New York State, and Miami, Florida, before finally settling in Beverly Hills, California in 1938.

Now in her teens, Veronica was a beautiful yet troubled young woman. She was diagnosed as a classic schizophrenic and it is said that her mother saw acting as a form of treatment for her daughter’s condition. She enrolled her in the Bliss Hayden School of Acting in Hollywood and it wasn’t long before casting agents took notice of her striking beauty. In 1939 she made her screen debut under the name Constance Keane in the RKO film Sorority House. Other small roles followed, until an appearance in the 1940 film 40 Little Mothers gave her career an unexpected boost : a wayward lock of hair fell over her eye during a publicity photo shoot, and her trademark “peek-a-boo” hairstyle was born. Executives at Paramount Studios took notice of the sultry blonde and after a successful screen test signed her to a long term contract in 1941.

Earlier, in 1940, she had married art director John Detlie, the first of her four husbands. Elaine Detlie, their first child, was born August 21, 1941. With a new baby and a contract at Paramount Studios things appeared to be going well for the rising star. She landed her breakout role as a torch-singing vamp in the film I Wanted Wings (1941), for which producer Arthur Hornblow Jr. changed her professional name to Veronica Lake. The movie was a huge success and was quickly followed by a string of hits, including Hold Back the Dawn (1941) and the comedy classic Sullivan’s Travels (1941), which sported the tagline, “Veronica Lake is on the take.”. She quickly became one of Paramount’s most bankable stars and in 1942 she received top billing for the film-noir classic This Gun for Hire, a movie which teamed her for the first time with her most successful screen partner, Alan Ladd. Their on-screen chemistry didn’t escape the notice of studio executives and the two were quickly reunited that same year in another film-noir classic, The Glass Key.

Veronica Lake was at the height of her popularity during the war years. Her hairstyle was so widely copied by women of the day that the War Womanpower Commission made a formal request that she wear her hair up for the duration of the war, in order to discourage working women from wearing “peek-a-boo” bangs on the job, as they feared the hairstyle would lead to more accidents. She complied, and Paramount released a newsreel in 1943 showing her adopting a new upswept look.

The public’s adoration for Veronica Lake wasn’t shared by her colleagues. She had quickly earned a reputation early in her career as someone who was difficult on the set. Despite their on-screen chemistry it’s widely reported that Alan Ladd was anything but fond of her, and Eddie Bracken, her co-star in Star Spangled Rhythm (1942) said of her, “She was known as ‘The Bitch’ and she deserved the title.”. Her personal life was also less than ideal. On July 8, 1943 her second child, William Detlie, was born prematurely after she tripped on a lighting cable while filming The Hour Before the Dawn. He died seven days later from uremic poisoning. By December of that same year her marriage to John Detlie ended in divorce.

A year later she married director André de Toth, and on October 25, 1945 gave birth to their son, André Michael de Toth III. During this time her film career was starting to crumble. Her only movie in 1944, The Hour Before the Dawn, was savaged by the critics and became her first major bomb. Heavy drinking was taking it’s toll on her career, making her increasingly more difficult to work with, and directors and actors were becoming reluctant to do so. Paramount placed her in one forgettable film after another, the one exception being The Blue Dahlia (1946) which again teamed her with Alan Ladd. However, the film’s success wasn’t enough to stop the downward spiral of her career, and in 1948 Paramount decided not to renew her contract.

That same year on the 16th of October, her fourth child, Diana de Toth, was born . She was also sued by her mother for support payments. In 1949 she appeared in Slattery’s Hurricane for 20th Century Fox, then all but disappeared from the screen. By the early ‘50s, her career in tatters, she and de Toth filed for bankruptcy. They divorced in 1952.

She made one more film appearance - 1952’s Stronghold, a film she described as “a dog,” - before turning her attention to TV and the stage. In 1955 she married her third husband, Joseph A. McCarthy, a music publisher and songwriter.

In 1959 a severe ankle break forced an end to her TV and stage work. She divorced McCarthy then disappeared from public view until 1962, when a reporter discovered her working as a barmaid in Brooklyn, New York. She attempted a comeback as a Baltimore TV hostess and in 1966 returned to the big screen in Footsteps in the Snow.

Her final screen appearance was in the dismal low-budget film Flesh Feast (1970), which she co-produced.

In 1972 she married her last husband, Robert Carelton-Munro, a British sea captain. They were reportedly undergoing a divorce when Veronica Lake died of hepatitis while visiting friends in Vermont in 1973.