The Veronica Lake Files: Secrets and Rumors

When it comes to Hollywood, the only thing juicier than a secret is a rumor, and vice versa. 

After a few years in the industry Veronica Lake had more attached to her character than most. As the list of actors who refused to work with her continued to grow, the impact of her reputation was swift. Lake appeared in six films in her first two years in Hollywood. Yet, in 1943 she would only star in one movie, the patriotic war drama So Proudly We Hail. The movie was a timely success. Before the film was released she began work on her next film The Hour Before The Dawn. Troubles began when Lake, who was pregnant with her second child at the time, tripped over a lighting cable on set. As a result she began to hemorrhage internally and was forced into early labor. 

Her son Anthony was born on July 8th 1943. Sadly the stress of the premature birth proved too much for the boy and he passed away a week later. Lake and her husband (set designer John S. Detlie) separated the following month and divorced in December. Dawn was released in May 1944 to negative reviews. In the film Lake played a Nazi spy. It was a controversial role, especially considering America and the Allied Forces were at war with Germany at the time. Many reviews were quick to criticize Lake for her unconvincing German accent, and accused her of being unsympathetic for taking the role.

A month after Dawn was released Lake traveled to Boston to appear in a War Bond drive. She auctioned off her services as a dishwasher and appeared in a revue for the event. Newspaper reviews for the drive claimed Lake’s “talk was on the grim side.” There are no transcriptions of what was said, only that multiple papers cited Lake publicly spoke of dark topics. Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper claimed Lake’s dark nature at the event lead to Paramount dropping her out of the lead role in her next film Out Of This World. She was eventually given a supporting role in the film. 

“Lake clipped her own wings in her Boston bond appearance,” Hopper is on record saying, “It’s lucky for Lake, after Boston, she isn’t out of the pictures.”

Looking back at Veronica Lake’s life in retrospect, it’s easy to say 1944 was the turning point in her career. In under a year she had lost a child, been divorced, and experienced her first Hollywood dud with a controversial role. Among one of the biggest rumors of Lake’s life and career was she suffered from mental illness. According to her mother, Lake had a troubled childhood, and that she had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. 

While there are no official medical documents to back up her mother’s claims, Lake was subject to questionable behavior. Such illnesses are private matters between doctors and patients, but be it true or false, the rumors were quick to spread throughout Hollywood. It should also be noted that Lake had a very strained relationship with her mother. The two rarely spoke to one another after Lake’s film career began, and when they did, the conversation usually ended in an argument. Another rumor was Lake struggled with alcohol. This proved to be especially true later in her life, but it was always a subject she avoided talking about whenever possible. Mix all the gossip up and you have a women who drank as a means of self treatment. The only bright spot for Lake in an otherwise dismal year occurred when she married Hungarian-American director Andre DeToth.

The following years were kinder to Lake, and she appeared more tame on set. She even tried to approach the craft of acting with more sincerity, saying "I've played all sorts of parts, taken just what came along regardless of merit. In fact I've been a sort of general utility person. I haven't liked all the roles. One or two were pretty bad." By her mid-twenties Lake was at a crossroad in Hollywood. “I want this to be a turning point,” she confessed, “and I think it will.” Her box office draw wasn’t what it had been the first few years of her career, yet she steadily appeared in a variety of successful films, varying from musicals, comedies, and dramas. She would have 2 more children with DeToth, and life appeared to balance out for the actress. She especially seemed determined to re-prove herself to Hollywood. In 1947 she made Ramrod, her first film outside of Paramount after becoming a star. Directed by her husband, the film reunited Lake with her first co-star Joel McCrea. Despite his comments of never wanting to work with Lake again in another film, perhaps he noticed a change in the actress, and agreed to give her a second chance. Regardless of the rumors, Lake continued to hold her own as the flying forties gave way to a new decade of stars. 

-Lee L. Lind