So... to start off with, I have chosen Veronica Lake as my Eye Candy Wednesday pick. Aside from being absolutely drop dead gorgeous, she's always exuded this uncanny mysteriousness to me, so much so that I had to make it a point to further analyze this vixen beauty who was quite the complicated creature, with a sad end to her life...
Veronica was born on November 14, 1919 in Brooklyn, New York and named Constance Frances Marie Ockleman. The daughter of Harry Ockleman, a ship’s master for an oil company, and his wife, Constance Charlotta Trimble.
Tragedy struck Veronica at the age of twelve when 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.
In her teens by then, Veronica was a beautiful yet troubled young gal. 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, and she won fame co-starring in several films, but her claim to fame came with her celebrated "peek a boo" hairstyle when during her appearance in the 1940 film 40 Little Mothers , a wayward lock of hair fell over her eye during a publicity shoot. Thereafter many women in the early 1940's emulated Lake's do, to the point where she was asked to change because it endangered the hair of female workers with armaments machinery! Veronica's career was taking off, she had married art director John Detlie earlier in 1940 (the first of her four husbands) and had their first child on August 21, 1941; Elaine Detlie. With a new baby and a contract at Paramount Studios things appeared to be going on the up and up 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. At first, the couple was teamed together merely out of physical necessity: Ladd was just 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 m) tall and the only actress then on the Paramount lot short enough to pair with him was Lake, who stood just 4 feet 11½ inches (1.51 m). They made four films together. The public was enamored with her.
In 1943, Veronica starred in only one film. She portrayed Lieutenant Olivia D'Arcy in So Proudly We Hail! (1943) with Claudette Colbert. The film was a box-office smash. It seemed that any film Veronica starred in would be an unquestionable hit. However, her only outing for 1944, The Hour Before the Dawn (1944) would not be well-received by either the public or the critics. As Nazi sympathizer Dora Bruckmann, Veronica's role was dismal at best. Critics disliked her accent immensely because it wasn't true to life. Her acting itself suffered because of the accent. Mediocre films trailed her for all of 1945 but in 1946, Veronica bounced back in The Blue Dahlia (1946) with Howard Da Silva. The film was a hit, but it was the last decent film for Veronica.
Paramount continued to put her in pathetic movies. After 1948, Paramount discharged the once prized star and she was out on her own. In 1949, she starred in the Twentieth Century film Slattery's Hurricane (1949). Unfortunately, another weak film. Clearly evident, by the early 1950's, Lake's career had hit the skids. Three broken marriages, a domineering stage mother, a manic depressive personality, and a whole lot o' liquor pushed her right into oblivion. After 1952, she would make only two more films, both low budget horror film trash. It is said that she frequented skid row hotels in New York City and even took work as a bartender to keep close to a steady supply of booze.
By the late 1960's she had bottomed out in Hollywood, Florida, often holing up in her apartment out of paranoid fears that the FBI was following her and tapping her phone. Those who saw her reported that the once great beauty had turned into a worn out mess, with rotting teeth, unwashed hair, and the pasty complexion of a bloated alcoholic..how sad...
In the early 1970s Lake made a brief return to the spotlight with the publication of a tell-all autobiography, which earned her enough cash to relocate to the British Isles. She married for a fourth time to an English sea captain, but that soon ended in divorce. By early 1973, her body was ravaged by alcoholism..she returned to the U.S for her final days. There are conflicting reports that when she returned to the U.S, she headed to Vermont to visit friends, but there are others that say that she didn't have any friends, and instead went to Saranac Lake, New York which seems to make more sense because it said that it was the place where Veronica had spent the happiest years of her childhood, so it would make sense for her to 'go home' to die.
One of the last pictures of Veronica Lake found at This isn't Happiness
circa 1970s in front of Paramount Studios
According to doctors who treated her, she was "pretty far along" with an acute case of hepatitis when she got to the U.S, so her trip to Saranac Lake was short lived, and was was admitted to Will Rogers Hospital in Vermont. According to her treating doctor in Vermont, that facility did not have the resources to treat as well as the Medical Center in Burlington, Vermont so on June 26, 1973 she was transferred to the Burlington, Vermont hospital.
Lake's presence in the hospital was not publicized because, according to her publicist William Roos, "Frankly, I didn't think she was going to die". Well, he was in the dark concerning the extreme state of her medical condition. According to her treating doctor, her case of hepatitis had persisted for many weeks before she entered the hospital and her condition deteriorated rapidly once she was admitted.
Still, the faded pinup queen had one last moment of dignity left to her. Word spread of her presence around the hospital, and strangers visited her room to pay their respects. She visibly brightened due to the attention, signing autographs for the nurses and speaking confidently of future plans. According to one nurse who attended her in her final days, she was very cheerful and friendly, happy and looking forward to the future, and still retaining a shadow of her former beauty. Yet, she was also utterly and completely alone with no guests or calls. Beeken looked in on her one last time on the evening on July 6, when acute renal failure had set in. Early on the morning of July 7, 1973, she passed away at age 50.
A sad end to a sad life, but at least she died with dignity in the end...