Lake, Veronica (1919–1973)

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Lake, Veronica (1919–1973)

American actress best known for her sultry hairstyle. Name variations: Constance Keane. Born Constance Ockleman on November 14, 1919, in Brooklyn, New York; died on July 7, 1973, in Burlington, Vermont; attended a convent school in Montreal, Canada; attended the Bliss Hayden School in Hollywood, California; married John Detlie (a studio art director), in 1940 (divorced 1943); married Andre DeToth (a film director), in 1944 (divorced 1952); married Joe McCarthy (a songwriter), in 1955 (divorced 1959); married Robert Carlton-Munro (a naval captain), in 1972; children: (first marriage) Elaine Detlie; William Detlie (who died in infancy); (second marriage) Andre Anthony Michael DeToth III (known as Mike); Diana DeToth.

Filmography, all under the name Veronica Lake except as noted: (as Constance Keane) All Women Have Secrets (1939); (as Constance Keane) Sorority House (1939); (as Constance Keane) Young as You Feel (1940); (as Constance Keane) Forty Little Mothers (1940); I Wanted Wings (1941); Sullivan's Travels (1942); This Gun for Hire (1942); The Glass Key (1942); I Married a Witch (1942); (cameo) Star Spangled Rhythm (1943); So Proudly We Hail (1943); The Hour Before Dawn (1944); Bring on the Girls (1945); Out of This World (1945); (cameo) Duffy's Tavern (1945); Hold That Blonde (1945); Miss Susie Slagle's (1946); The Blue Dahlia (1946); Ramrod (1947); (cameo) Variety Girl (1947); Saigon (1948); The Sainted Sisters (1948); Isn't It Romantic? (1948); Slattery's Hurricane (1949); Stronghold (1952); Footsteps in the Snow (Can., 1966); (also co-producer) Flesh Feast (1970).

In her first major film, I Wanted Wings (1941), Veronica Lake launched a national craze by wearing her long blonde hair seductively cascading over one eye in what came to be known as the "peek-a-boo" style. The fad reached problematic proportions, however, when women working in war plants began getting their long hair caught in the machinery. Government officials petitioned Paramount to redo the star's golden tresses. Lake's film career, it seems, did not outlive her famous hair-do much longer, all but coming to a halt after her 1948 picture Saigon.

The diminutive actress (5'2") was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1919, the daughter of a seaman who died when she was 12. She grew up in Brooklyn and Miami and attended a Catholic convent school in Montreal. At 18, she moved to Hollywood with her mother and stepfather, who was a commercial artist. Already the veteran of several beauty contests and anxious to break into movies, Lake accompanied a friend to RKO Studios, where she landed a small part in the movie Sorority House (1939). Billed as Constance Keane, she also played bits in All Women Have Secrets at Paramount and Forty Little Mothers (1940) at MGM.

Lake's second major success after Wings was Sullivan's Travels (1942), with Joel McCrea, in which she turned in a credible comic performance, even with her famous hair tucked under a cap for most of the picture. Paramount then paired her with their new contract player Alan Ladd, who at 5'5" was difficult to cast as a leading man. Her first movie with Ladd, This Gun for Hire, was a box-office hit, jump-starting Ladd's career and adding to Lake's popularity. The two co-starred in three subsequent films: The Glass Key (1941), The Blue Dahlia (1946), and Saigon (1948).

In 1942, Lake campaigned for and landed the lead in René Clair's I Married a Witch, with Fredric March. The film was another smash hit, although Lake's squabbles with her co-star added to her growing reputation for being difficult on the set. The actress was memorable in her next effort, So Proudly We Hail (1943), but the subsequent Hour Before Dawn (1944), her first film with short hair, marked the end of the Veronica Lake vogue. Paramount then teamed her in a series of bland comedies with Eddie Bracken (Bring on the Girls, Out of This World, and Hold that Blonde) and co-starred her with Sonny Tufts in Miss Susie Slagle's, during which she reportedly was so bored that she began blowing lines. Her only substantial films during the late 1940s were the two she made with Ladd.

In the early 1950s, shortly after Lake and her second husband, Hungarian director Andre DeToth, filed for bankruptcy, Lake disappeared from the Hollywood scene, except for occasional tabloid headlines about public drunkenness. Her private life had been troubled from the time of her 1940 marriage to John Detlie, an art director at MGM with whom she had two children, a daughter Elaine and a son William, who died seven days after his birth. Lake divorced Detlie in 1943 and was subsequently linked with millionaires Aristotle Onassis and Howard Hughes, as well as director Jean Negulesco. Her marriage to DeToth, with whom she had a son Andre and a daughter Diana, was fraught with ego battles and money woes and ended unofficially in 1951, two years after DeToth directed her in Slattery's Hurricane (1949).

After her divorce from DeToth in 1953, Lake left Hollywood and settled in New York, where she appeared on television and spent summers doing stock. The children, out of necessity, were shuttled back and forth between their father in California and their mother in New York. In 1955, she married songwriter Joe McCarthy, but the union was stormy and lasted only three years. In the late 1950s, a badly broken ankle halted Lake's stage work and marked a low point in her life. "Days on end crawled by me as I spent them dragging myself from the tiny bedroom to the tiny living room at a snail's pace," she later recalled. "I had no way of knowing whether my ankle was healing properly. But my biggest concern was over the financial plight I once again found myself facing." After eight months in a cast and a stint in a small factory pasting felt flowers on lingerie hangers, Lake moved to the Martha Washington Hotel for Women, where she worked as a bartender to pay her rent. A newspaper reporter found her there in 1960, and the resultant flood of publicity brought her briefly back into public notice. She appeared in an off-Broadway revival of Best Foot Forward, for which she received good reviews, and made a few low-budget movies, but a real comeback never materialized. Her memoirs, published in 1969, brought another brief period of notoriety, after which Lake moved to England where she had roles in the short-lived Madame Chairman and a revival of A Streetcar Named Desire. In 1972, Lake was married a fourth time, to Englishman Robert Carlton-Munro, but the two soon began to feud, and she returned to the United States to try to sort out her life. In 1973, while visiting friends in Burlington, Vermont, she was hospitalized with hepatitis. She died there on July 7, at the age of 53.

Few mourners were present at Lake's funeral, which was held at the Universal Chapel in Hollywood. The only relative in attendance was her son Mike, who, like the rest of her children, had been estranged from his mother for a long time. He later expressed sorrow and some bitterness over her plight. "Her four husbands, her two daughters … none of them came," he told reporters. "She died a lonely and forgotten woman."


Agan, Patrick. The Decline and Fall of the Love Goddesses. Los Angeles, CA: Pinnacle, 1979.

Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia. NY: Harper-Collins, 1994.

Lamparski, Richard. Whatever Became of … ? 1st and 2nd Series. NY: Crown, 1967.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Lake, Veronica (1919–1973)

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