June 17, 2009

Veronica Lake, a.k.a., "sex zombie"

Sullivan's Travels (1941)

I didn't know much about Veronica Lake, but I have seen Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982) and L.A. Confidential (1997), I am just generally into this sort of thing, so I was curious. It appears her life was a classic example of a beautiful, young starlet, chewed up and spit out by the Hollywood system (and life in general).

This Gun for Hire (1942)

When she made it into the movies in 1939/1940, she was just eighteen years old. That seems awfully young to me for someone back in those days to be thrown to the wolves, but I suppose that's life. It happens voluntarily (eagerly) today, so you expect it now, but back then?? Her film career was essentially finished by the time she was thirty and had no doubt begun to lose her iconic allure. But nay, the story gets worse, the seas rougher.

mid 1950s

After breaking her ankle in 1959, Lake was unable to continue working as an actress...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). Lake 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.

In the 1970s - pic from this isn't happiness (thanks, peteski!)

So Hollywood had no use for her once she'd passed her prime, at least until Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1988, and only then in cartoon form. It's hard to get a bead on how she felt about things from these quotes, but perhaps they are somewhat illuminating:

"You could put all the talent I had into your left eye and still not suffer from impaired vision."

"I wasn't a sex symbol, I was a sex zombie."

"I've reached a point in my life where it's the little things that matter... I was always a rebel and probably could have got much farther had I changed my attitude. But when you think about it, I got pretty far without changing attitudes. I'm happier with that." (1970)

Veronica Lake (sex zombie)

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Peteski said...

great post chris, check this out:

Retro Hound said...

Dang, I with I didn't know this. I loved her in Sullivan's Travels.

Retro Hound said...

That's "I wish".

Chris said...

Thank you for that link, Pete. I couldn't find any pictures of her from the 70s. I'd figured there weren't any. Yes, but it's fairly typical and par for the course, wouldn't you say, Retro Hound? It is sad, though. And I thought you just had a pronounced lisp.

Ed Porben said...

Is amazing how she changed from the forties to 1962! And the pictures from the seventies- she was born in 1922- my gosh! Rest her soul...............

Scot said...


Ain't it a bitch.

Lisa said...

Love her. In her interviews and her autobiography, she always came off as very unhappy, but what you see on screen with Alan Ladd or in "Sullivan's Travels" or "I Married a Witch", she's just something else. She smolders while she sparkles. Harlan Ellison wrote a short story in the 70's that was inspired by her, "The Resurgence of Miss Ankle-Strap Wedgie". It's pretty neat. GREAT POST! :)

Chris said...

Thank you, Lisa!

Gabriel McCann said...

If you think Veronica Lake had it bad you should read the autobiography of Frances Farmer