By Susan M. Kelly
there was Jennifer Aniston’s shag and Dorothy Hamill’s bob, there was the
secretive, sexy “peek-a-boo bang” of beautiful Veronica Lake.
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.
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
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.
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
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
Holden. For the film, Hornblow renamed his new discovery Veronica Lake.
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.
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 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
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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
Movie Profiles & Premiums Newsletter. She
currently lives and works in Dunellen, NJ and can be contacted at
Other Veronica Lake Pages:
Jackson's Veronica Lake Page -- An American Blond Beauty