STARRLIGHT: Veronica Lake
by Steve Starr.
In 1961, during a conversation over fried clams and coffee in an all night cafe, merchant seaman Andy Elickson asked the barmaid he had met earlier that evening, “Have you always been a waitress?” “Nope,” she replied, “I was a movie star.”
Constance Frances Marie Ockelman was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 14, 1919. When Connie was 13, her father, a ships’s master for an oil company, died in an on-board explosion. A year later, Connie became Constance Keane when her mother remarried a family friend. Mr. Keane developed tuberculosis, and the family moved to Montreal for treatment. There, Constance attended the all-girls Villa-Maria High School for two years where the Mother Superior predicted she would become a nun. Instead, the girl’s strange behavior led to her expulsion from the school and doctors diagnosed Connie as a paranoid schizophrenic. In 1937, the family moved to Miami, where it was believed the climate would improve Mr. Keane’s health. In 1938, Mrs. Keane decided to relocate her family once again, packed up everyone in their Chrysler Airflow and took the long drive across the continent to Hollywood.
Once in the movie capital, pretty Connie, who had won the Miss Florida contest only to lose the title when it was discovered she was underage, began to daydream about acting. Her mother took the daydreams seriously and enrolled Connie in the respected Bliss-Hayden School for Acting at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. There, she practiced her diction and balanced books on her head to ensure perfect posture.
One day Connie accompanied a friend to an audition for a bit part in the film Sorority House (1939) and they both ended up winning roles in a crowd scene. Billed as Constance Keane, she sought and won other bit roles, which lead to a small part in MGM’s Forty Little Mothers (1940), directed by the great Busby Berkeley and starring Eddie Cantor. That year, she married her first husband, MGM art director John Detlie. The couple argued constantly and divorced in 1943 after the birth of two children: Elayne, in whom Constance quickly lost interest, and William, who died a week after birth, due to an injury that occurred during the pregnancy when Constance tripped over a lighting cord on a movie set.
Soon Keane landed a screen test for a big role in I Wanted Wings (1941). During the test, her very fine long blonde hair kept falling in her face, obscuring one eye. The problem infuriated her and she was certain her chance at the part were ruined. Surprisingly, the producer instead gave Constance Keane the leading role and a luxurious new name, Veronica Lake. The movie, starring William Holden, Ray Milland and Constance Moore, was a big hit, and made the beautiful, newly christened Veronica a well-liked star.
Lake made a string of good movies in the 1940′s, in particular the classic Sullivan’s Travels (1942), with Joel McCrea. Next, the pretty, diminutive four-foot-eleven blue-eyed blonde was perfectly cast opposite the tough, diminutive five-foot-six blue-eyed blonde Alan Ladd in six extremely popular films that included This Gun For Hire (1942), The Glass Key (1942), and The Blue Dahlia (1946), and ‘Lake & Ladd’ became one of the most popular film couples of the 1940′s.
Lake received critical praise for her work in I Married A Witch (1942) during which her cocky on-set behavior induced costar Fredric March to refer to the film as “I Married A Bitch.” Years later the movie was the inspiration for the popular 1960s television show, Bewitched. Lake followed this success with another highly praised performance in So Proudly We Hail (1943) with Life Magazine naming her the Top Female Box Office Star of the year. Turner Classic Movies Schedule, TCM
In 1944, she married volatile director Andre de Toth, and they had a son, Michael, and a daughter, Diane. In 1946, Lake earned her pilot’s license and flew solo between Los Angeles and New York. In 1948, Veronica’s mother, who had never given Veronica the love she needed or found treatment for her daughter’s schizophrenia, sued the star for support, eventually winning an award of $500 per month based on an agreement signed years before. The stress of the lawsuit came just as Paramount Studios dropped her and prompted an increase in Lake’s consumption of vodka. She had been seeing psychiatrists for years, but de Toth disapproved, and once suggested that she should instead just spend the money on a new hat. Manipulative de Toth, whom she divorced in 1952, spent Veronica’s money freely, nearly bankrupting them both.
Lake’s blonde mane was a favorite subject of reporters, and articles appeared in the national press estimating the number of hairs she had on her head, measuring its length from front to rear and describing how it draped across her face. So many fans copied the “Lake Look” that eventually the federal government asked her to cut her long hair to inspire safety concern among the nation’s female defense factory workers whose hair sometimes became caught in machinery. Near the end of the war, Lake complied, but her patriotism seemed to doom her. Shorter hair was unbecoming to Lake, and her choice of hairstyles was even more unfortunate. Her career declined steadily, and after a series of film roles chosen strictly for the money, she left Hollywood.
Lake moved with her children to Greenwich Village where she met and married Joe McCarthy Jr., a songwriter with whom she got along well – as long as they were both drinking; the pair divorced in 1959. Alimony did not cover the bills and Lake was evicted. Her eldest daughter, Elayne, married and her youngest, Diane, attended a boarding school in Switzerland to be near her father. Lake put Michael in a boarding school and joined a touring company. Making very little money, she suffered another drawback when a dancing partner fell on her leg and broke it. In a cast for months, she ran out of funds and depended on friends for food and necessities.
That same year, Lake moved into the Martha Washington Hotel for Women in New York City. In order to pay rent, she took a job in the hotel lounge as a barmaid, where, in 1961, she met her adored fourth husband, seaman Andy Elickson. Eventually, people found out who the likeable woman was and so did the press. Lake was asked to appear as a hostess on the Festival of Stars television show, talking about Hollywood, and introducing old movies, sometimes her own. During this time, she also played an aging movie queen in an off-Broadway production of Best Foot Forward. Sadly, Elickson, the one who really loved her, died in an accident.
Lake financed two cheap films for herself, Footsteps In The Snow (1966), and her final movie, Flesh Feast (1969), which was advertised as “ghastly,” “revolting,” and “nauseating.” It turned out to be true to its promotion. During the filming of this horror, Lake published her popular, critically acclaimed autobiography, Veronica. On the last day of her promotional book tour, Lake was given a party by columnist Rona Barrett. A large number of Hollywood celebrities, including Lucille Ball and Mae West, as well as dozens of photographers showed up to see the once gorgeous star who instead appeared stout with rotted, separated teeth and puffed eyes. Her informative book sold well, leading to roles in plays in England; Madame Chairman and A Streetcar Named Desire. Critics gave Lake acceptable reviews, kindly avoiding any mention of her faded beauty. In London, she met and married her fifth and last husband, English sea captain Robert Carleton-Munro. Soon, though, Lake filed for divorce and returned to New York, where she was immediately hospitalized. No family or friends visited her, and, after being released, vodka-loving Lake was often drunk, bloated, and broke.
It was reported by author Kristian Gravenor that Lake traveled to Montreal to live in a cheap apartment where she enjoyed soap operas while laying in a cloud of liquor, and died there from acute hepatitis on July 7, 1973. Gravenor wrote that Lake’s good friend, Nat Perlow, the hardboiled, cigar-chomping editor of the famed Police Gazette, knew that she wanted to be buried in New York, and retrieved her corpse, doused it in her favorite perfume – the cobalt blue glass bottled Evening in Paris, and propped it up in the back seat of his car with a Spanish lace doily over her face. When stopped at the then low-security border, an American customs official peeked into the car and saw the unrecognizable Hollywood star, once the fascination and focus of millions of people throughout the world. The driver warned, “Shhh, she’s sleeping.” Veronica Lake movies on DVD, free torrent download
Newspapers, however, reported that Lake died while spending her final days in Burlington’s Vermont Medical Center, where she signed autographs and enjoyed her notoriety; other reports stated she passed away while staying with friends in Vermont. Trivia, Quotes, biography, nickname, videos
Veronica Lake’s son, Michael, flew in from Hawaii to arrange his mother’s funeral. None of her four living husbands or her two daughters attended, and Lake remained in a crypt as they all avoided the funeral bill for days. Not one of Lake’s Hollywood friends, who had once showered her with mounds of love and attention, showed up, and only 30 mourners sat in the small chapel, offering their respect to one of the screen’s most unique and fascinating stars.
Lake was cremated and her ashes remained at the funeral home for three years until a friend, Donald Bain, the ghostwriter of Lake’s autobiography, retrieved them by paying the $200 storage fee. Then, most of the ashes were scattered by his associates off the Florida coast, though they somehow decided to keep a portion of them. In a bizarre twist, the ashes were discovered in 2004 in the Mystery Spot Antique Store in Phoenicia, New York. There they remained, stored in an old Roseville vase created in 1919, the same year Lake was born, and publicized as a small spectacle and the center of a “Look-a-Like Lake” contest. A sad end for Constance Ockelman Keane who, as Veronica Lake, had been a glamorous movie star admired by millions around the world and described by actress Bette Davis as “the most beautiful person to ever come to Hollywood.”
Turner Classic Movies Movie Morlocks Monthly Schedule
The Decline and Fall of the Love Goddesses, by Patrick Agan
Hollywood Goddesses, by Michael Moellering
Veronica, by Veronica Lake book
Montreal Crypt Tales, by Kristian Gravenor
Peekaboo: The Story of Veronica Lake, by Jeff Lenburg
Veronica Lake websites Turner Classic Movies
This year at the 2012 Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, we will be highlighting the career of Veronica Lake with the rarely-seen Leon Errol comedy shot, “Wrong Room,” released theatrically in September of 1939, Lake’s second screen appearance. Errol, an authority on how to be charming, has a few too many drinks at the Ocean View Hotel and forgets all he knows on the subject. Among those he doesn’t charm are his wife, his lawyer, and his lawyer’s new bride (Veronica Lake, billed as Connie Keane in the opening credits), a blonde cutie he thinks he has bigamously married. We’ll also be screening Sullivan’s Travels (1941), proving she could also act as well as look beautiful.
About the Author: Steve Starr is the author of Picture Perfect-Art Deco Photo Frames 1926-1946, published by Rizzoli International Publications. A photographer, artist, designer, and writer, he is the owner of Steve Starr Studios, specializing in original Art Deco photo frames and artifacts, celebrating its 39th anniversary in 2006. Steve Starr’s personal collection of over 950 gorgeous Art Deco frames is filled with photos of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars. STARRLIGHT- Starr’s column on movie stars of the 1920′s, 1930′s and 1940′s, appears in various publications that include Entertainment Magazine Online, the Windy City Times, and the Chicago Art Deco Society Magazine.
STARRGAZERS-Radiant Photography by Steve Starr is available for portraits and events, For further information phone 773-463-8017.
Visit www.SteveStarrStudios.com where you can enter THE STARRLIGHT ROOM and view a portion of Starr’s frame collection, read Starrlight Stories, and enjoy photos, autographs and letters he has received from some of his favorite luminaries.