The Veronica Lake Files: Bad Reputation

During her tenure in Hollywood Veronica Lake had a reputation for being difficult to work with. Eddie Bracken, one of the many co-stars with Lake in the patriotic musical Star Spangled Rhythm was quoted as saying, "She was known as 'The Bitch' and she deserved the title." Troubles started early in her career. She was six months pregnant when production began on her second film Sullivan's Travels. She did not reveal this fact until filming began. Director Preston Sturges was so furious he had to be physically restrained. A double had to be hired as a result, and costume designer Edith Head had to alter Lake's wardrobe to help conceal the pregnancy. Travels co-star Joel McRea refused to work with her again afterwards. He withdrew from his next film I Married A Witch, in which Lake was to play his love interest. “Life is too short for two films with Veronica Lake,” he reportedly said after pulling out of the film. Paramount had already announced McRea as the film's lead star. His departure postponed the entire production. After filming wrapped on her first movie I Wanted Wings, Director Mitchell Leisen confronted her about her “childish behavior” on set. Lake, who was 18 at the time, was reduced to tears. The encounter left her bitter, and afterwards she made it a point to never let anyone in Hollywood speak to her in such a manner again.

“I had acquired a reputation for saying what I thought. I hadn’t played the Hollywood game very much, and a certain resentment built about that…I’d adopted a cockiness to cover my obvious inadequacies.  And I found that as my confidence increased, I saw little or no reason to change myself and my approach to functioning in Hollywood”

Actor Fredric March signed on to replace McRae in I Married A Witch. March also found Lake difficult to work with. During a pre-production feud he called Lake "a brainless little blonde sexpot, void of any acting ability.” Not taking kindly to the insult, Lake took her own stab at March, calling him a "pompous poseur". During filming she took delight playing practical jokes on March. The most famous occurred during a scene where March sweeps Lake off her feet and carries her across the room. Prior to filming the scene, Lake, who was small in stature (4’11”) hid a 40 pound weight beneath her dress. March struggled with the scene, but never let it show for the camera. While the camera closed in for close up shots, Lake was also fond of rising her foot up March's leg and resting it underneath his crotch, trying to get him to break character.

On the set of The Glass Key, star Brian Donlevy called to question Lake's talent as an actress. She did not take kindly to the ridicule. While filming a scene where she was to punch Donlevy in the face, she swung into him as hard as she could, deliberately making full contact. Donlevy, unprepared for an actual punch, was nearly knocked unconscious. Rumors of Lake's erratic behavior quickly spread across Hollywood. Nevertheless, her films were a success and a big draw at the box office. Another question of character were rumors of Lake's promiscuous activities in the industry. Lake herself candidly recounted many of her exploits years later in her autobiography. While her book gave truth to the rumors, it also enlightened the fact she was very picky. Interestingly enough, she often turned down the advances of many leading men. What many suitors interpreted as a hard to get attitude in the beginning, ended up bitter afterwards, with some of the biggest names in the industry having their egos hurt as a result. Her most famous rejection was Errol Flynn. In her autobiography she recounts Flynn propositioning her while she was leaving one of his famous parties.

“He looked in my eyes and slipped his arm around my waist. His hand slipped down and clamped tightly on my rear end. ‘I think we should go and make use of a special bedroom I have, Ronni,’ he said. 'I have a special bedroom I’m going to make use of, Errol,’ I replied. ‘It’s my own and I’m going to sleep in it.’"

In retrospect this was another factor to why many male stars in the industry took such a dislike to her. In the end there were many actresses in Hollywood referred to as "The Bitch", but Veronica Lake stood out among most and wore the title with pride.

--Lee L. Lind