Friday, November 30, 2007
For a short time during the early 1940s, Lake was considered one of the most reliable box office draws in Hollywood and was also known for her onscreen pairings with actor Alan Ladd. At first, the couple was teamed together merely out of physical necessity: Alan Ladd was just 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 m) tall and the only actress then on the Paramount lot short enough to pair with him was Lake, who stood just 4 feet 11½ inches (1.51 m). They made four films together.
A stray lock of her shoulder-length blonde hair during a publicity photo shoot led to her iconic peekaboo hairstyle, which hid one eye, and was widely imitated. During World War II, she changed her trademark image to encourage women working in war industry factories to adopt more practical, safer hairstyles.
Although widely popular with the public, Lake had a complex personality and acquired a reputation for being difficult to work with. Eddie Bracken, her co-star in Star Spangled Rhythm was quoted as saying "[s]he was known as 'The Bitch' and she deserved the title." In that movie, Lake took part in a song lampooning her hair style, "A Sweater, A Sarong and a Peekaboo Bang", performed with Dorothy Lamour and Paulette Goddard, although some of Lake's vocals were dubbed.
Lake's career stumbled with her unsympathetic role as Nazi sympathizer Dora Bruckman in 1944's The Hour Before the Dawn. During filming, she tripped on a lighting cable and her second child, William, was born prematurely on July 8, 1943, dying a week later from uremic poisoning. By the end of 1943, her first marriage ended in divorce. Meanwhile, scathing reviews of The Hour Before Dawn included criticism of her unconvincing German accent, which was said to have interfered disastrously with her acting.
Nevertheless, Lake was making $4,500 per week under her contract with Paramount when she married director André de Toth in 1944. Their son, her third child, André Michael de Toth III, was born October 25, 1945. Lake is said to have begun drinking more heavily during this period and people began refusing to work with her. Paramount cast Lake in a string of mostly forgotten films. A notable exception was The Blue Dahlia (1946) in which she again co-starred with Alan Ladd (who reportedly was also less than fond of her). During filming, author Raymond Chandler referred to her as "Moronica Lake". Paramount decided not to renew her contract in 1948.
Her fourth child, Diana de Toth, was born October 16, 1948. Lake was also sued by her mother for support payments that year. After a single film for 20th Century Fox, her career collapsed. By the end of 1952, she had appeared in one last film (Stronghold, which she later described as "a dog"), filed for bankruptcy, and divorced de Toth. The IRS seized the remainder of her assets for unpaid taxes. Lake resorted to television and stage work, and in 1955, married songwriter Joseph A. McCarthy.
After breaking her ankle in 1959, Lake was unable to continue working as an actress. She and McCarthy divorced, and she drifted between cheap hotels in Brooklyn and New York City and was arrested several times for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct.
A reporter found her working as a barmaid at the all women's Martha Washington Hotel in Manhattan. At first, Veronica claimed that she was a guest at the hotel and covering for a friend. Soon afterward, she admitted that she was employed at the bar. The reporter's widely distributed story led to some television and stage appearances. In 1966, she had a brief stint as a TV hostess in Baltimore, Maryland, along with a largely ignored film role in Footsteps in the Snow.
Her physical and mental health declined steadily and by the late 1960s Lake was in Hollywood, Florida, apparently immobilized by paranoia (which included claims she was being stalked by the FBI).
She published her autobiography Veronica amid much publicity and positive reviews. With the proceeds, Lake co-produced and starred in her last film, Flesh Feast (1970), a very low budget horror movie with a Nazi-myth storyline.
She then moved to the UK, where she had a short-lived marriage with "English sea captain" Robert Carleton-Munro before returning to the U.S. in 1973, having filed for divorce. Lake was immediately hospitalized and although she is said to have made a cheerful and positive impression on the nurses who cared for her, she was apparently estranged from her three surviving children. She had no guests or visitors and was destitute again.
Lake was 53 when she died of hepatitis and acute renal failure (complications of her alcoholism) near Burlington, Vermont. Her ashes were scattered off the Virgin Islands. In 2004, some of Lake's ashes were reportedly found in a New York antique store.
Lake has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6918 Hollywood Boulevard for her contributions to the motion picture industry.
"I wasn't a sex symbol, I was a sex zombie."