The Veronica Lake Files: Comeback

Veronica Lake was one of the most recognizable stars of the ‘40s. Her Peek-A-Boo hair style inspired a generation of women to embrace Lake’s signature look. As the decade came to an end, Lake’s star had diminished just as quickly as it had risen. She was labeled hard to work with by the men in the industry, and she was very outspoken when it came to Hollywood, especially when she drank. There were also rumors of wild promiscuous sexual activity. Looking back years later it’s safe to say Lake was a party girl. She would have fit in perfectly in today's society. In a pre-Instagram/Social Media era, Lake was the “It” girl. All the girls wanted to be her, all the guys wanted to be with her.  She was feisty, spoke her mind, and the early tabloid magazines had a field day exposing her exploits. In 1951 she had had enough. After a decade in the business, 29-year-old Lake left her career, husband, and children and disappeared from the industry. 

In 1962 a New York Post reporter was enjoying a drink at the Martha Washington Hotel lounge. The Martha Washington Hotel was the first hotel in New York built exclusively for women, although the lounge/restaurant on the bottom floor was open to both sexes. The reporter made the acquaintance with a barmaid named Connie de Toth. By the time he left, he realized his waitress was Veronica Lake, the actress who disappeared from Hollywood 11 years earlier. The reporter was quick to write a piece that was widely distributed across the country. Rumors began to circulate that Lake was broke and in dire straights. Fans began sending her money, which she immediately returned. Even Marlon Brando sent her a check for $1000. Lake never cashed the check, but instead put it in a frame and hung it on her wall. After a decade of seclusion, the spotlights of Hollywood had returned. People began visiting the Martha Washington Hotel to catch a glimpse of the one time star of the silver screen. "It's as though people were making me out to be down-and-out,” Lake said in her autobiography. “I wasn't. I was paying $190 a month rent then, and that's a long way from being broke.”

The story revived interest in Lake. Fans wondered what she had been doing for the last decade. She had kept busy as an actress on stage, appearing in a handful of plays. Although in 1955, she collapsed in Detroit where she had been appearing in the production of The Little Hut. Afterwords she decided to quit acting and moved back to New York where she fell into the ruts of depression and alcohol. While drifting between cheap hotels she was arrested several times for disorderly conduct and public drunkenness. She was able to pull herself together and eventually became a resident of the Martha Washington Hotel where she was employed when the news article broke. The article did reignite an interest in Lake, and she began to receive television and stage offers. The attention set the platform for a comeback.

Although far from the glitz and glam of Hollywood, Lake appeared in a handful of TV and stage productions, most notable was the off Broadway production of Best Foot Forward in 1963. In 1966 she appeared in an independent Canadian film Footsteps in the Snow. The film opened to unfavorable reviews and never screened in America. In the film Lake looks twice her age, and her voice had deepened significantly. The years of alcohol had unmercifully taken its toll. As it so often does, the gossip coin had flipped. Only 15 years earlier fans marveled at Lake’s natural beauty, but after she re-emerged from hiding, her decline seemed unfathomable. Hollywood has rarely been kind to stars as they age, and with Lake’s track record in the industry, the tabloids were quick to print unflattering photos. After filming wrapped, Lake decided to visit a friend in the Bahamas. Be it a need to get away again, or a love for the island life, she ended up staying for two years. While there, she began collecting her thoughts for a memoirs, a tell-all story about her career in Hollywood, and she planned to spare no detail. 

--Lee L. Lind