When most people hear the name, “Veronica Lake” usually one of three things comes to mind – that incredible peek-a-boo hair, the Film Noir’s with Alan Ladd or possibly Kim Basigner playing a Miss Lake lookalike in L.A. Confidential (1997) – fun fact, she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for that role. Although, with Veronica’s heyday being well over half a century old, that’s sadly usually as far as it goes.
However, with the Classic Hollywood Era being hugely timeless and forever coming back into fashion, the genre is becoming less of a niché subject and more Stars are on the public radar. If you’re a long time Vintage Lover like myself, you’ll be aware that unfortunately, a lot of our favourites don’t have many books written about them, or if they do, they’ve been out of print for a number of years and can be hard to find, or very expensive. Therefore, when I came across the news that Dean Street Press were publishing a reprint of Veronica’s Autobiography, which was first released in 1969, I was absolutely ecstatic! As most who know me are probably aware of my love for Blonde Bombshells, it may not be as well known that Veronica is my other favourite, after Marilyn.
There have only been two books published on Veronica, which I must add, astounds me – and one of them is this one which was co-written by ghost writer Donald Bain, who sadly passed away in October of 2017. The other is by Jeff Lenburg and I am fortunate enough to have both. However, Lenburg’s book is fairly controversial as he takes a lot of his information from Veronica’s mother, who claims a lot of detrimental things about her daughter – yet was estranged from her for many, many years. I think it’s actually being reprinted this summer and I will read it again, but would definitely advise new fans to stick to Veronica’s own words.
The republished version of Veronica’s Autobiography features a new cover with a stunning publicity photo of her in Ramrod (1947) which was directed by her then Husband, André de Toth. The book is a shiny paperback, with a non crease format, so even when you’ve finished reading, it will be in great condition and can take pride of place on your bookshelf! At 215 pages and 27 chapters, it’s not a huge length, but definitely a substantial read and full of personal anecdotes from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
Broadcaster and writer, Eddie Muller adds a new Introduction and his following words really stuck with me, their relevancy still to this day does not go unnoticed,
“I’ll point out instead that while the public has granted Sterling Hayden, a legendary boozer and hash-head, a legacy as a heroic, larger-than-life iconoclast, it has branded Lake’s life after Hollywood a steady downward spiral of abasement, worthy of only pity. Blame a cultural double standard that applauds reckless rebellion in men but shames it in women.”
As the chapters do not have titles, I’ve decided to write down a snippet of information which sums up the pivotal points and various timelines in each section.
– Starts in 1938 and traces Veronica’s move to Hollywood with her mother, step-father and cousin on the 4th of July. Veronica enrolls in the Bliss Hayden School of Acting and has her first role in a movie as an extra in RKO’s Sorority House (1939).
– Veronica’s signature peek-a-boo hairstyle is unintentionally created on the set of Forty Little Mothers (1940) by Director, Busby Berkeley who stated, “I still say let it fall. It distinguishes her from the rest”.
– Director, Freddie Wilcox sets up Veronica’s first Screen Test, whilst at home her step-father suffers a collapsed lung.
– Veronica joins the iconic William Morris Agency and recounts her knowledge of the infamous Hollywood Casting Couch and how she turned away from the many advances.
– Veronica meets her first husband, John Detlie and has her named changed by Producer, Arthur Hornblow Jr., who, after a second Screen Test, decides to cast her as Sally Vaughn in her breakout movie, I Wanted Wings (1941).
– Focuses on the location filming of I Wanted Wings (1941) from August 26th 1940 in San Antonio, Texas.
– Continues filming in Hollywood for I Wanted Wings (1941) and elopes to marry her first husband, John Detlie.
– Veronica discusses the first 8 years of her childhood and her move to Florida in her teen years and the two schools she attended in Montreal and Miami.
– Recounts various appearances in Miami Beauty Pageants as a teenager.
– Returns to 1941 with the release of I Wanted Wings (1941) and focuses on the worldwide phenomenon of the famous hair. Also finishes with Director Preston Sturges hiring Veronica for the role of The Girl in Sullivan’s Travels (1941).
Veronica shares the news of her first pregnancy with her mother and how her third trimester would coincide with the physical demands of filming Sullivan’s Travels (1941).
– Covers the filming of Sullivan’s Travels (1941) from May 12th 1941 and the revelation of Veronica’s pregnancy. It’s simply incredible when watching the film all these years later to come to the realization that she was between six to eight months pregnant!
– The filming of I Married A Witch (1942), So Proudly We Hail! (1943) and The Hour Before The Dawn (1944). Veronica also discusses the deterioration of her marriage and the tragic loss of her second baby, Anthony, who died a week after being born two months prematurely.
– Veronica divorces John and retells various anecdotes of the Hollywood Lifestyle in it’s heyday in the 1940s.
– Veronica discusses the filming of Star Spangled Rhythm (1942) and also her dating history during this period. She shares some fascinating stories of various celebrity anecdotes which include such Stars as, Errol Flynn, Katharine Hepburn, Howard Hughes and Gary Cooper.
– The filming of Bring On The Girls (1945), Duffy’s Tavern (1946) and Hold That Blonde! (1945). Veronica recalls marrying her second husband, Andre de Toth and shares a moving story from her visit to The White House in January 1945.
– The filming of Miss Susie Slagles (1946), Out Of This World (1945), Ramrod (1946), The Blue Dahlia (1946), Saigon (1947) and The Sainted Sisters (1948). Veronica and Andre expand their family as she has her third baby, a boy named Michael. She also talks about her and Andre obtaining their Pilot Licenses and how the death of her step-dad deeply affected her.
– Features a highly entertaining story of Veronica flying her plane, whilst carrying her forth child, in her fifth month of pregnancy. With her on board is her secretary Marge, who up until then had never flown before.
– Veronica gives birth to her forth baby, a girl named Diana and talks about the turmoil of her relationship with her mother, who decided to sue her for, “lack of filial love and responsibility” and over $17,000.
– The filming of Slattery’s Hurricane (1949) and Stronghold (1951). Veronica discusses her frustration with Andre’s prolific spending, which results in them filing for bankruptcy and ultimately, the deterioration of their marriage.
– Veronica moves to New York in 1951 and continues her acting career through various television appearances and the stage. She enters her third marriage to husband, Joe McCarthy, which she admits was volatile from the start and they divorce after just four years, in September 1959.
– Covers the years 1959 through to 1961. Veronica discusses her time taking a job as a cocktail waitress – which contrary to popular belief, she actually quite enjoyed. She also talks about the traumatic accident which resulted in a severely broken ankle, which caused her inability to act for two years.
– Delves into her relationship with Andy Elickson, a Merchant Seaman, who she met during her time working in the Martha Washington Hotel and focuses on the period between 1961 and 1966. She also writes about a high note in her stage career; appearing in Best Foot Forward in 1963.
– Veronica discusses her move to Miami from New York in 1966.
– Ends in October 1967 with Veronica discussing her reading performance of The World of Carl Sandburg, which she describes as one of the, “finest moments” of her life.
Veronica’s words are full of honesty, she does not sugar-coat her flaws and her anecdotes convey a great sense of humbleness towards her career and lots of self criticism to her talent, the latter which saddens me. I’ve noticed many of the great Stars rarely seem to have any belief in themselves. If only they could see how loved and appreciated they truly are. However, her loyalty and generosity towards her close friends and even acquaintances does not go unnoticed. It’s refreshing to see her be able to share her own story, without various opinions and conspiracies that have grown over the years being included.
Overall, there’s only two downsides that springs to mind. Firstly, as the book was originally published in 1969 and finishes at the end of 1967, we’re missing the six final years of her fascinating life and tragically nothing can be done to change this. Of course no one is at fault, it’s just a shame that those last years will remain mostly a mystery to us. It would have been wonderful to read about her time in England. Lastly, in the original edition, a number of pages featured very rare photos of Veronica throughout her years, including her own comments. Sadly, only a small version of the cover photo reappears at the end of the newly republished book. I’m assuming this is down to cost and or copyright, but it would be nice to see these rare treasures reappear in the latest edition for fans that are not fortunate enough to also own an original copy.
Ultimately, Veronica always maintains her true self and comes across as not a Screen Icon, but just like one of us – albeit with some extraordinary Hollywood stories. She’s simply, and I mean this in the most complimentary way – a human being. It’s been almost a decade since I discovered Veronica, eight years in fact and I for one have not only became even more endeared to Miss Lake, but, I have also developed a warm space in my heart for my fellow 5’2″ little lady, Miss Connie/Ronni Keane.
Lastly, a huge thank you to Dean Street Press for believing in the popularity of Veronica and so wonderfully reprinting hers and Donald Bain’s special words for us all to enjoy.
For anyone who wants to see more of Veronica, I’ve amassed a fairly large archive of photos over the years which can be viewed on my blog devoted entirely to her; missveronicalakes.
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