Veronica Lake soared to stardom in the early 1940s with movies that included Sullivan’s Travels, I Married a Witch and I Wanted Wings. She was incredibly popular in no small part to her dynamite looks and her iconic peek-a-boo hairstyle.
This article isn’t about any of that. It’s about how her star fell so quickly and what happened afterwards.
At the start of 1943, Lake was flying high after a string of successes. She had just turned 20 years old. She was making $4,500 a week at Paramount.
Her first mistake, she did a PSA for the U.S. Government called “Safety Styles” that illustrated suitable ladies’ hairstyles for factory work. This change was cooly received by the fickle public of the day. The ramifications would be felt in the next year.
Her other big mistake that year was to begin to drink heavily at all hours of the day. She was belligerent and rude to people on set and eventually, people refused to work with her. She made a movie called The Hour Before The Dawn, which was released in 1944 that did poorly at the box office, in which she played a Nazi spy. Her German accent was terrible and so were the reviews and box office.
In June 1944, Lake went to Boston for the war effort where her services were auctioned off as a dishwasher. Her behavior was extremely poor during this event, so much so, that when Paramount got wind of it she was given a lesser role in her next feature, Out Of This World.
Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper wrote:
“Lake clipped her own wings in her Boston bond appearance … It’s lucky for Lake, after Boston, that she isn’t out of pictures.”
Over the next 4 years, Lake would appear in several movies, a hit with Alan Ladd The Blue Dhalia, and several flops like Saigon and Variety Girl.
During the making of these movies, she was often referred to as Moronica Lake or simply “The Bitch” by the cast and crew behind her back. Her heavy drinking and random pattern of abruptly leaving the set were the main contributors to these opinions.
Eddie Bracken said of her:
“She was known as ‘The Bitch’ and she deserved the title.”
In 1948, Paramount decided to not renew her contract.
Over the next couple of years, Lake would go on to make a few more duds including Slattery’s Hurricane at 20th Century Fox. By 1951, she was broke and essentially out of the movie business. When the IRS seized her home for unpaid taxes, Lake ran away to New York ditching her husband and family in the process.
She did some theatre work in England, then some work in New York in the 50s, until falling completely into obscurity.
In 1962, Lake was noticed by a New York Post reporter who found her living at the all women’s Martha Washington Hotel in Manhattan, working as a waitress downstairs in the cocktail lounge. She was working under the name “Connie de Toth”.
Lake said of the job:
“I like people. I like to talk to them. I really enjoyed the job… I seem to have found peace. Spare me the high pressures of success. I’ve been there.”
In 1969, she returned to Hollywood for her Hollywood Star Ceremony on the Walk of Fame. Although she was only 47 she looked almost 30 years older.
While in Los Angeles she met Sue Cameron, who would eventually be a columnist for the Hollywood Reporter.
“My picture of her was this gorgeous screen siren with the beautiful blonde hair covering one eye. But there sat a woman who looked like a cleaning lady. I was really startled. I instantly knew here was someone… who was probably struggling financially. You could see she was very damaged.”
“That day she was getting a star on the Walk of Fame. she asked me to go with her. I said, ‘Of course.’ I had no idea there wouldn’t be anybody there. There was not one person there.”
“Today, there are busloads of people that show up — it’s insane. And here was one of the most extraordinary movie stars of the ‘40s… standing alone on Hollywood Boulevard with me and Gary Owens from ‘Laugh-In’ and her star sitting there.”
“There was no microphone. There was nothing. It was just three people… I was devastated for her. Just devastated… It was really a stunning experience. I could see that she recognized what was happening.”
“She put on a brave face. She tried to smile through it. But you could see that she was just trying to get through it. She wanted to get it over with and she couldn’t wait to leave. She literally left town as soon as that picture was taken.””
“She would have been better off staying where she was. She looked very haggard. She looked like she had been a drunk for years. But she wasn’t drinking that day. It’s possible, and this is just speculation, that she was sober.”
“And wherever she was living, she might have felt safe. But then she went off and dipped her toe again in Hollywood and got screwed over once again with nobody there. I’ve been to so many star unveilings. Hers was really the only one where there were just no people… it was strange.”
Lake’s autobiography was also published in 1969. She went on Dick Cavett’s show to promote it in 1971 and was drunk at the time.
In 1970, she co-produced and starred in Flesh Feast a terrible B-movie where her character kills Hitler by dumping some flesh-eating maggots on his head. This was her last role.
In 1973, Lake died of Hepatitis at 50 years old. Her ashes went unclaimed for three years and were discovered in a New York City Pawn Shop in 2004 for the price of $200.