Constance Frances Marie Ockleman was born in 1922 in Brooklyn, New York. If there was ever someone famous by this name, I am sure it would still be talked about today. This Hollywood bombshell is better known as Veronica Lake. As a child, people constantly told Veronica that she would make a good star one day. This prompted her mother and stepfather to move their whole family from New York to Beverly Hills. Veronica’s mother hoped that she would be able to make a name for herself, and maybe even return the favor by financially supporting her mother.
Veronica Lake is best known for her hair, which still influences styles today. She had long blond hair that hung just slightly in front of her. According to producers this made her look alluring and mysterious. But that’s not all that her hair and beauty was hiding. Veronica was diagnosed as a schizophrenic back in New York. Some of you may not know that it is rare to hand down that serious of a diagnosis to a child, even back in the 1930’s. But unfortunately, there were not many options available for treatment. Veronica’s mother decided that the best thing to do was to enroll her in the Bliss Hayden School of Acting as a form of therapy. It is unclear whether or not this worked for a while for Veronica.
Regardless of her diagnosis and any troubles she may have been having, her career did indeed take off. At first, she only played a few roles as an extra, in some cases not even getting a line in the credits. Her first big movie was “I Want Wings” in 1941. After this movie became a box office hit, it seemed like there was no stopping her career. But even though she was taking off, there were troubles on set that would follow her from film to film. Many of her male co-stars found her difficult to work with. While they wouldn’t say exactly what it was, it was abundantly clear that it was not enjoyable to work with her. Some of the actors turned down future rolls once they learned that they would be working with her again.
However, there was one star that she appeared with at least seven times, Alan Ladd. But this pairing had less to do with personal preference and more to do with height preference. Despite her larger-than-life personality. Veronica was only 4 foot 11. This was useful for Alan Ladd, who was of below average height for a man. By starring alongside Veronica, he could appear as if he was bigger than he really was.
Her personal life was just as rocky as her professional career, though to the public no one really saw the reality of either. Veronica was married a total of three times and ended up having multiple children. One of them tragically passed away a week after it was born which would be heartbreaking for any mother. However, Veronica did not become close with any of her children. Instead, she left them in the care of their father’s after their divorces. Perhaps it was because she was struggling with the loss of her first child. An alternate theory is that she knew her mental illness was getting the better of her and she wanted to protect them. In a memoir published towards the end of her life, she mentioned that she wished she had spent more time with her kids and gotten to know them better.
During WWII, Veronica’s iconic hair started to become a problem. It is fairly common for women to emulate their favorite star, and Veronica was beyond popular at the time. Many of the women started to copy her hairstyle, letting their bangs hang in front of their face. The issue with this is that these same women were working in factories to help support the war effort. Long hair and poor vision do not mix well with complicated machinery.
After numerous reports of workplace incidents involving women wearing the hairstyle, Veronica felt the need to address the situation. She created a commercial where she demonstrated the importance of wearing your hair in a safe style. The video shows her getting her hair done, and when she is finished it is all pinned back and out of the way.
Unfortunately for Veronica, her iconic hairstyle was really the only thing keeping her afloat. No one wanted to work with her, she didn’t want to be there, and she had developed a drinking problem. When she left Hollywood, her mental health was worse than ever, and she was bankrupt. And that was it. Or, it would have been if people didn’t decide to seek her out years later.
After she left Hollywood, Veronica moved back to New York and became a waitress. She used a different name and tried to keep a low profile. Supposedly none of her coworkers knew who she was. The problem was that she could not keep her mental health in check if she wasn’t drinking. Neither end of that spectrum was a great choice, but Veronica continued to delf medicate.
Eventually someone did recognize her, and word spread that she was down on her luck. Some people in Hollywood who knew who she was tried to send her money, but she returned all of their checks. She claimed that she was doing fine and didn’t need their sympathy. After a few years she tried to capitalize on her small wave of regrowing popularity. She wrote and published a memoir explaining how she felt about her rise to stardom and subsequent fall.
Veronica never wanted to be a part of Hollywood. She wanted to be a doctor, perhaps even a surgeon. She blames her mother for forcing her into the industry. Supposedly the two had a falling out when Veronica could no longer provide for her. In the end she claims that she turned her back on Hollywood for her own sake. If she hadn’t then it would have killed her.
Veronica died in 1973 at 50 years old. No one was there for her when she got sick and eventually went into renal failure. She had alienated her friends and lost her family. She was burned by fame over and over again. At the end of her life, she had nothing to show for her career. When she was asked to do an interview shortly before her death she was surprised. She assumed everyone had forgotten about her, and honestly, she preferred it that way.