Femme fatal film icon VERONICA LAKE fell from Hollywood heights to waiting tables in a sleazy women’s only hotel before succumbing to the ravages of alcoholism and mental illness at only age 50.
Veronica Lake was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 14, 1922 as Constance Frances Marie Ockleman. Her father worked for an oil company as a ship employee and died in a tragic oil tanker explosion.
Her ethereal beauty, natural charm coupled with a talent for acting prompted her mother and tubercular step-father to move to Beverly Hills, California, where they enrolled her in the Bliss Hayden School of Acting in Hollywood.
Although Connie had been previously diagnosed as a classic schizophrenic her parents saw acting as a form of treatment for her condition. She soon found work as a bit player in several unremarkable pictures but "Sorority House" director John Farrow (Mia Farrow’s father) saw how her long flowing hair always covered her right eye, creating an hint of allure and mystery. While still a teenager, Farrow introduced her to Paramount producer Arthur Hornblow who promptly changed her name to Veronica Lake.
Veronica’s breakthrough film was “I Wanted Wings” in 1941, a major box office hit.
She then became Paramount’s top female star toplining such classics as “Sullivan’s Travels”, “This Gun for Hire”, The Glass Key”, “So Proudly We Hail” and “I Married A Witch”.
"She was a very gifted girl, but she didn't believe she was gifted,” director Rene Clair recalled.
Often paired with diminutive star Alan Ladd, the couple made seven films together. At first it was out of necessity as Ladd was just 5 feet five while Lake was 4 feet 11 inch but the pair had undeniable on-screen chemistry
For a short time during the early 1940s, Veronica was at the height of Hollywood stardom.
During World War Two, the rage for her peek-a-boo bangs became a hazard when women in the defense industry would get their hair caught in machinery. Lake was staged in a publicity picture in which she reacted painfully to her hair getting "caught" in a drill press illustrating her hazardous ‘do. Finally, Lake famously cut her hair and, sadly, her popularity diminished.
By the early 1950's Lake's career had hit the skids.
Still battling schizophrenia, and in a state of paranoia, she began drinking heavily. As her mental state deteriorated further, with two failed marriages, Veronica became manic-depressive as her self-destructive addiction to booze pushed her over the edge.
Soon, with no film career and little alimony after an IRS forced bankruptcy, Lake drifted between cheap hotels in New York City. She was arrested several times for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct.
In 1963, a reporter found her working as a barmaid/waitress while living at the seedy all-women's $7-a-night Martha Washington Hotel in Manhattan. In the hotel bar, Lake was working under an alias — Connie De Toth (“House of Wax” director Andre DeToth had been her second hubby).
Lake had never revealed her true name to her co-workers nor customers although her boss Joe Rauji at the Colonnade Bar knew who she was. “She’s a good girl but she’s had a hard time,” he told a reporter.
Lake later toiled at other bars including Greenwich Village’s famed One Fifth getting a steady paycheck and a never ending stream of booze.
The widely circulated news reports of her plight led to some minor TV and film work but Lake soon made a financial comeback by penning her memoirs.
With the profits from her best selling tell-all, Lake co-produced and starred in her last film, “Flesh Feast” (1970), a micro-budget horror movie with a Nazi-myth storyline. It bombed.
After another failed marriage and brief sojourn in England, Lake returned home.
She was already "pretty far along” when she was admitted to the Fletcher Allen Hospital in Vermont, doctors said.
Finally, in the early morning hours of July 7, 1973, Veronica Lake died from hepatitis and acute renal failure — seemingly alone and forgotten at the age of 50.
That is, until the news broke, when suddenly EVERYONE remembered.