Veronica Lake was one of the early stars of Old Hollywood, and she showed great versatility, appearing in dramas, comedies, or musicals. However, her legacy in film can also be held up as a cautious reminder of both the fleeting nature of fame and the consequences of burning bridges. Lake’s career may have burned bright, but it was a flame that did not last very long in the grand scheme of things. If you wish to learn more about Lake and her life, here are 42 bombshell facts about Veronica Lake.
1. How Do I Look?
Lake was well known for her iconic hairstyle, which hid her right eye behind her blond locks. Interestingly, this look was entirely accidental, thanks to a moment on the set of I Wanted Wings. The look suited her character, who was supposed to be drunk during the scene, but the look became very closely associated with Lake for much of her career afterward.
2. Little Ockelman
Lake’s real name was Constance Frances Marie Ockelman—we can see why she invented a stage name. She was born on November 14, 1922, in Brooklyn.
3. When Was She Born?!
It’s worth pointing out that Lake’s birthday is highly contested amongst the sources about her life. Several sources indicated that Lake was born in 1919, but a 1920 United States Census claimed that her father was unmarried and childless at the time. A 1930 Census claimed that Lake was only 7 years old at the time, which would make a birthday in 1922 at least plausible. Lake herself claimed 1922 as her birth year in an autobiography.
4. From the Emerald Isle
While one would guess from the surname of Lake’s father that she was descended from Germans, this was only partly true. Lake’s father had a German background, but only on his father’s side. Lake’s paternal grandmother had been Irish, while both sides of her mother’s family were also first-generation Irish-Americans.
5. So it Begins
In her teens, Lake and her family moved from New York state to Beverly Hills. From there, she enrolled in acting classes at the Bliss-Hayden School of Acting. This was due to her receiving a contract from the film studio known as MGM; Bliss-Hayden was under MGM’s control, known as an “acting farm” in the days of Old Hollywood. The institution is now known as the Beverly Hills Playhouse.
6. That’s How You Leave a Man!
One of Lake’s lesser-known accomplishments was her acquisition of a pilot’s license in 1946. She had initially gotten it during the process of buying a plane for her husband, Andre de Toth. After their marriage fell apart, she made a cross-country solo flight from Los Angeles to New York!
7. Time for Some Canadiana
When Lake was a child, she attended St. Bernard’s School in New York. After that, she was sent to Montreal to attend classes at Villa Maria, an all-girls Catholic school that still exists to this day (it turned co-ed in 2016). However, for reasons that we couldn’t find, Lake was expelled from the school.
8. What a Fibber
Later in her life, Lake would claim that she attended a premedical course at Montreal’s McGill University. The allegation was repeated in several biographies on Lake until she came clean and admitted that it was a falsehood. To her credit, she contacted McGill University and apologized for the lie, but there was no harm done.
9. I’ll Pass, Thanks
One actor with whom Lake did not get along was Joel McCrea. Working together on Sullivan’s Travels, the two of them were on such bad terms with each other that McCrea turned down a leading role in I Married a Witch when he found out that he’d be working with Lake again.
Despite Lake’s initial clashes with Joel McCrea, and McCrea’s subsequent avoidance of her, the two actors were eventually reconciled in 1947 with their collaboration on the Western film Ramrod. On the other hand, it was also their last collaboration, so maybe their reunion wasn’t as successful as we’re implying here.
11. Fake it Til You Make it?
Contrary to what you might have expected about Lake, her dream was never to be a movie star or even an actress. Her real ambition in life was to become a surgeon. Sadly, the closest she ever got to that job was acting as a doctor in one of her films.
12. Let’s Go Exploring!
Anyone interested in looking for Lake’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame should go to 6918 Hollywood Boulevard.
13. Hello Down There
Even in the world of Hollywood, where movie stars are towering figures on screen while being shorter than your mother in real life, Lake was a rather extreme example. While she never pretended that she was a tall woman onscreen, she was only 4’11” tall in real life!
14. Hey Shorty
Lake’s incredibly short height proved beneficial to her on at least one major occasion during her Hollywood career. For the 1946 film The Blue Dahlia, Lake was cast alongside film star Alan Ladd. One reason was that Ladd, standing at 5’6” tall, would naturally tower over Lake rather than requiring platform shoes to ease his bruised ego. In fact, the two of them would act in seven films together throughout their careers.
As with many actors who make it big in Hollywood, Lake’s voice was dubbed into other languages when her films were released abroad. When her films came to Italy, all but one of her film performances were dubbed by one woman. That woman was Italian actress Rosetta Calavetta, who must have been a bit upset when Lake quit the film industry and got rid of a steady gig!
16. The Torch is Passed
One of the people most inspired by Lake in more recent years was the R&B singer Aaliyah. She modeled her own famous hairstyle on Lake’s, reintroducing Lake’s style to new generations of fans.
17. Was That Me?
Fans of Lake might recall her role in the 1942 comedy musical Star Spangled Rhythm. Unfortunately for those fans of hers, Lake did not do her own singing in that film. Her singing voice was, in fact, dubbed over by Martha Mears, a famous radio singer in her time. Mears would not only dub Lake, but also other film stars like Eva Gabor, Lucille Ball, and Rita Hayworth.
18. Is That You?
One of the first films that Lake ever acted in was the 1939 romance film Sorority House. However, Lake wasn’t given a credit in the film, as she was just an extra.
19. I Dub Thee…
Lake’s stage name wasn’t her own creation. Rather, it was thought up by producer Arthur Hornblow Jr. when he cast her as a nightclub singer in the military drama I Wanted Wings. According to the man himself, he invented the name “Veronica Lake” based on her “calm and clear” blue eyes. We’re not sure where the name “Veronica” comes into the picture, so we’re forced to assume that he opened the phone book and pointed at a name with his eyes closed.
20. Should Have Been Mine!
One of Lake’s most critically acclaimed films was the war drama So Proudly We Hail! The film was not only nominated for four Academy Awards, but it was also popular enough to get adapted into a radio show just a few months after it was first released. Lake would reprise her role on the radio from the film, but she was not nominated for any Oscars—though her co-star Paulette Goddard was.
21. Making it Rain
At the height of her fame, Lake was making upwards of $4,500 per week—and keep in mind, this would be worth a lot more 70 years later!
22. You’re Thinking of the Other Guy
Lake was married three times in her life. The last of these husbands, Joseph Allan McCarthy, was the son of renowned Hollywood lyricist and songwriter Joseph McCarthy (not his infamous namesake senator).
23. Troubling Tensions
Throughout her acting career, Lake had a reputation for being difficult on film productions. This first began with her breakthrough film I Wanted Wings. Lake famously clashed with not just her co-stars, but also her director, Mitchell Leisen. Lake didn’t make things easier by frequently being late for work. This went on until she was ordered to stay on set in order for her to be readily available.
24. Who Said 13 was Unlucky?
Lake’s final film was the 1970 low-budget horror titled Flesh Feast. Lake not only starred but also co-produced the film, which dealt with Nazi scientists trying to resurrect Adolf Hitler. The film managed to have a surprisingly long theatrical life, thanks to its exploitable title. The film would spend years being sold as a second- or third-billed film alongside similarly-themed films. This led to the film being seen in theatres as late as 1983, a full 13 years after it was first released!
25. Memories like Mayflies
We’ve already pointed out that Lake became well known for the hairstyle which would cover her eye in what was sometimes called the “peekaboo style.” As some of you have probably already noticed, there were serious problems with women adopting this style for their own, particularly for those who work in war plants. After several cases of hair mishaps, Lake was pressured to change her look. Unfortunately for Lake’s career, her popularity suffered as a result of this new do.
26. See the Resemblance?
In case you’re still wondering where you’ve seen Lake before, you might recall seeing an iconic character whose look was partly modeled on Lake’s appearance. Disney fans will know this character as Jessica Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The redheaded bombshell was also inspired by Rita Hayworth, Lauren Bacall, Jayne Mansfield, and Gene Tierney.
27. Ruined by Social Media
In 1944, Lake was involved with a war bond drive being held in Boston. Lake herself was auctioned off as a dishwasher, and she was also part of a performance at a revue during that event. However, it was widely reported that Lake had made a lot of negative comments while in Boston, and this allegedly influenced her career in Hollywood at the time. It’s often been stated that this was the beginning of the end for Lake’s career, as this was when her film career began to fizzle and she began losing out on film roles.
28. Silver Lining
Things didn’t end completely badly for Lake. Though the beginning of the 1960s began badly for her, it was reported in 1962 that Lake was living under a new pseudonym. She was also working as a cocktail waitress in Manhattan’s Martha Washington Hotel. According to Lake herself, she was motivated by a desire to talk with people to work such a humble job.
29. Thanks, Marlon!
While Lake was busy working as a cocktail waitress, rumors spread around the country that she was living in abject poverty. Fans of her acting career—including Marlon Brando, allegedly—sent her money through the mail in order to help. Lake would send the money back, explaining that she had no need for charity. As for the $1,000 cheque that she received from Brando? She never cashed it, framing it on her wall instead. To be fair, Brando’s signature would probably be worth more than $1,000 nowadays anyway!
30. The Troubles Begin
Lake’s star began to wane with the 1944 war film The Hour Before the Dawn. Lake went against type, playing the unlikable character who spies for the Nazi government. Not only did this alienate Lake from her fans, but her performance was harshly criticized for her unconvincing German accent. In fact, the film itself was quite unsuccessful and was an overall disappointment.
31. From Bad to Worse
Following the failure of The Hour Before the Dawn, Lake also met failure with the musical Bring On the Girls in the following year. During this time, Lake’s alienation of so many within the film industry was really taking its toll, and she herself was struggling with alcohol addiction.
32. That was Cold-Blooded!
In 1948, Lake acted in the comedy Isn’t It Romantic. The film was famously reviewed by renowned film critic Leonard Maltin, and his review was entered into the Guinness World Records for being the shortest film review in American history. Maltin’s review of Isn’t It Romantic said simply “No.” Safe to say he didn’t like the movie!
33. And Starring…
In 1997, Kim Basinger co-starred in the period piece film noir L.A. Confidential as a sex worker named Lynn Bracken. Being set in the 1950s, Bracken’s popularity amongst her clients comes from her resemblance to Lake. Basinger won an Oscar for her performance in the film. Now if only she was cast in a biopic about Lake, she might have gotten another Oscar for her troubles!
34. Farewell, Father
When Lake was around 10 years old, she lost her father to a tragic event. Harry Eugene Ockelman worked on a ship for an oil company until he was killed in an industrial explosion in Philadelphia. The following year, Lake’s mother remarried to a newspaper artist named Anthony Keane. From then on, Lake would use Keane’s surname as her own.
35. Predicting the Future
One of Lake’s most successful films was the adventure film Slattery’s Hurricane. The film’s respectful salute to Navy pilots resulted in a special screening of the film. Slattery’s Hurricane was screened to the passengers of the 90-ton aircraft known as Constitution. According to Lake, the work put into screening the film inside the airplane led to writers on hand to contemplate the idea of in-flight screenings. As Lake would later dryly comment, “If they only knew.”
On July 7, 1973, Lake died due to a combined effect of acute kidney injury and acute hepatitis. She was 50 years old.
37. Tough Times
According to Lake’s mother, Lake struggled a lot when she was a child. If she can be believed, Lake was actually diagnosed with schizophrenia when she was a teenager.
38. Mommy Dearest
Lake reportedly had a very contentious relationship with her mother, who was credited with pushing her daughter into an acting career. Lake’s success as an actress did nothing for their fractured relationship, however. At one point, Lake’s mother sued her for a lack of support!
39. Low Point
Following the disintegration of her film career, coupled with the end of her third marriage, Lake ended the 1950s in near bankruptcy, turning her back on Hollywood. She was also struggling with alcoholism to the point where her public drunkenness and disorderly conduct resulted in several arrests.
40. Fire with Fire
Filming on the set of I Married a Witch was far from an enjoyable experience for Lake or her co-star, Fredric March. March had made some rude comments about Lake, which left her in a mood to get March’s goat through a series of pranks. In a scene where March had to carry her, Lake hid weights under her clothing to make his job extra difficult. If March didn’t like her at the start of production, he absolutely loathed her by the end of it. His personal nickname for the film was “I Married a (B-word).”
41. Missing Mom
Lake would have four children throughout her life. One of them would die prematurely a week after his birth, while the other three would grow up never really knowing their mother, due to divorce. Many years later, reflecting on her life, Lake would frequently express her regret at not being close to her children.
42. Surprise Appearance
After her death, Lake was cremated, as per her wishes. Her ashes were scattered off the coast of the Virgin Islands. However, a portion of Lake’s ashes were reportedly discovered in 2004—found in a New York antique store.