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VERONICA LAKE

By Susan M. Kelly

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Veronica Lake Writing Tablet1940's Veronica Lake Made in USA Arcade CardBefore there was Jennifer Aniston’s shag and Dorothy Hamill’s bob, there was the secretive, sexy “peek-a-boo bang” of beautiful Veronica Lake.

Born Constance Frances Marie Ockleman on November 14th, 1919 in Brooklyn, NY, the mysterious beauty faced a life of hardships along her path to fame.  She made her acting debut at age 8 in a school play, “Poor Little Rich Girl”, and just four years later faced the first of several tragedies with the death of her father, a seaman, in an explosion on an oil ship.

Her mother remarried a year later and the family moved from New York to Canada and eventually to Miami, Florida.  It was as a teenager in Florida that Constance began to develop into the beauty that would attract the attention of the Hollywood studios.

In 1938, Constance and her mother moved to Hollywood, where the budding young actress attended the Bliss Hayden School of Drama.  Invited to keep a friend company at a casting call, Constance wound up getting the part and followed it with bit parts in five other films.

After small parts in such films as “Sorority House” (1939), “The Wrong Room” (1939), and “All Women Have Secrets” (1939), she was cast in the 1940 film “Forty Little Mothers”.  During the filming of a scene for “Forty Little Mothers”, Connie’s hair kept falling over her eye, giving birth to the now infamous “peek-a-boo bang”.

After failing a screen test at MGM in 1941, Connie moved on to Paramount, where her hair once again refused to behave during her screen test.  But producer Arthur Hornblow, Jr. liked what he saw and decided to give her what would become her breakthrough role, as Sally Vaughn in “I Wanted Wings”, alongside Ray Milland and William Holden. For the film, Hornblow renamed his new discovery Veronica Lake.

1942 Movie Radio Guide Magazine featuring Veronica Lake in Sullivan's TravelsMagazine ad for I Wanted Wings featuring Veronica LakeThe mysterious beauty quickly began making her mark on Hollywood with two more parts in 1941, in “Hold Back The Dawn” and “Sullivan’s Travels”, where her turn as a down-on-her-luck aspiring actress who joins director John L. Sullivan in his “experiment” as a hobo gained her notice for her charm, humor and the touch of class she brought to the screen.

The following year, Veronica finally achieved star billing, playing Ellen Graham in “This Gun For Hire”.   The picture featured several firsts for Veronica, including her first teaming with Alan Ladd, her first screen kiss, with Robert Preston, and her first foray into film noir, the genre with which she would eventually become synonymous.  By this time the peek-a-boo hairstyle had become a nationwide fad, so much so that government officials actually had to request that Ms. Lake stop wearing her signature style because women in war plants who were copying it were catching their hair in the machines!

Despite the hair controversy – or perhaps because of it – Life Magazine named Veronica the top box office star of the year and Paramount quickly picked up on her marketability by casting her in several films in quick succession.  “The Glass Key” (1942) saw her teamed with Alan Ladd for the second time and it was a worthy addition to their growing film noir catalog.  Based on a book by Dashiell Hammett, the film had everything you’d expect – a gangster, a politician, and Veronica Lake as the woman who comes between them.  The chemistry between Ladd and Lake was palpable and director Stuart Heisler used it to great advantage, further establishing their star appeal.

Veronica’s next role was slightly different.  In “I Married a Witch”, she played a witch who was burned to death in 1672 and rematerializes several centuries later to plague the descendent of her executioner.   The comic fantasy was a drastic departure from Veronica’s now familiar femme fatale roles, but it suited her quite well.  She proved quite adept at comedy and the film was a pleasant diversion, even giving us an early glimpse at what would become the plot line of the beloved 1960’s sitcom “Bewitched”.

Later that year, she was also featured in “Star Spangled Rhythm”, where she, Paulette Goddard, and Dorothy Lamour performed a song and dance number spoofing their respective images called, “A Sweater, a Sarong, and a Peek-a-boo Bang”.

1943 Cinemundial Magazine featuring Veronica Lake on the cover from I Married a WitchLIFE Magazine article cautioning girls from the danger of keeping their hair like Veronica Lake1943 saw career highs and personal lows for Veronica.  After her performance in the box-office smash “So Proudly We Hail”, with Claudette Colbert, she suffered the devastating loss of her infant son, William, who had been born prematurely.  Despite her personal tragedy, she soldiered on and Life Magazine named her the top box office draw for the second year in a row while she topped the Army Poll as the most popular female actress.

After several small roles in 1944 and ‘45, Veronica was teamed with Alan Ladd for the third time in “The Blue Dahlia” (1946).  Written by Raymond Chandler, the film cemented Lake and Ladd’s reputation as the premiere pairing of the film noir genre.  With Edith Head costumes and exquisite art direction by Hans Drier, the film highlighted Lake’s extraordinary sex appeal and quickly became a classic among fans of film noir.

After rounding out the 40’s with cameos and supporting roles, Lake found herself on hard times with the arrival of the 1950’s.  She appeared in Sid Ceaser’s “Your Show of Shows”, but roles were scarce. After filming “Stronghold” in 1952, Veronica settled in New York where she worked steadily in television and on stage for the next decade, including a stint as hostess on the “Festival of Stars” show.

She found work in off Broadway productions including “Goodbye Charlie” and “Best Foot Forward”, and returned to the big screen in “Footsteps in the Snow” in 1966.  She made her final film appearance in the bizarre “Flesh Fest” in 1970, which she co-produced.

She died on July 7, 1973 and was buried in a quiet ceremony.  To the end, she remained a mysterious, hard scrabble beauty, beloved by her fans but shrouded in the dark shadows of film noir and forever hidden behind her famous peek-a-boo bangs.
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Susan M. Kelly has been working as a freelance writer for the last 12 years, during which time she has written everything from press releases and brochures to newspaper articles and web text.  Watch for Susan's regular column in The Movie Profiles & Premiums Newsletter.  She currently lives and works in Dunellen, NJ and can be contacted at smkwriter@worldnet.att.net.

Other Veronica Lake Pages:

'Come to Peek-a-boo Bang (co.uk). The Tribute site to Veronica Lake
Denny Jackson's Veronica Lake Page -- An American Blond Beauty