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Veronica Lake

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This is an excellent long-read on the brief career and spectacular flame out of Veronica Lake.

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  • Thanks so much for linking that! Gotta see “I Married a Witch” now.

    (Which reminds me how much we need a *good* adaptation of Leiber’s “Conjure Wife.” And I wish some Sundance darling would tackle “Our Lady of Darkness.” For that matter, where’s the Fafhrd & Gray Mouser TV series?)

    • I think Sullivan’s Travels is the only Veronica Lake film I’ve seen.

      • Actually, I’ve also seen This Gun for Hire, notable for the scene where Lake frames her breasts through an empty fish tank she is carrying.

        • Henry Holland

          She’s really good in the three movies she did with Alan Ladd: This Gun for Hire, The Glass Key and The Blue Dahlia. All are terrific film-noirs, especially This Gun for Hire.

          Fun fact: Alan Ladd was very self-conscious about his height, or lack of, and he liked working with Veronica Lake because she was smaller than him (he was 5’6″, she was 4’11”).

          • KarenJo12

            We own all of those movies. I especially like “This Gun’s for Hire”

            • Hogan

              Featuring a young Robert Preston. Also gas masks. Good stuff.

              • wjts

                My favorite gas mask movie is still Basil Dearden’s The League of Gentlemen.

                • Hogan

                  You can’t go wrong with a gas mask movie.

                • Warren Terra

                  Sounds OK. Disappointingly unrelated to the sketch comedy / gothic horror troupe.

                • Dearden is such an underrated director.

      • mikeSchilling

        Me too. And she was terrific in it.

    • wjts

      Gotta see “I Married a Witch” now.

      It has its moments, but it’s not a world-beater by any stretch of the imagination.

    • Dennis Orphen

      Gonna Roll the Bones.

  • tsam

    Ah, yes, Flesh Feast. A movie about a mad scientist, flesh-eating maggots, and Adolf Hitler. It’s nowhere near as good as it sounds.

    This cracked me all the hell up.

    • Flesh Feast : Veronica Lake :: Trog : Joan Crawford

    • Halloween Jack

      Sadly, I have seen Flesh Feast; it was part of the Insect Fear Film Festival one year. Even for a Z-grade film, it was underwhelming and pointless, and (given the focus of the IFFF) Lake and Hitler were mostly just killing time until the maggots’ last-reel appearance.

  • Todd

    I just saw “Ramrod” about a week ago. Had no idea De Toth was married to Lake. Can’t agree with the verdict of her performance in the article. I think the fact that she comes across as so soft and innocent is what makes her role work in the film. She is believable as a femme fatale in noirs for different reasons than a Barbara Stanwyck is. Her apparent innocence is what gets the guys into trouble, as they can’t imagine she is up to no good. Whereas a Stanwyck comes across as jaded and smart from the get-go, and you deserve what you get if you don’t watch yourself.

    Lake’s and McRea’s performances are about the only things that did work in the film.

  • lawyernogun

    This is a good read. A bit before my time– I had heard of the WW2-era request that she change her hair for the war effort, but not any of the rest.

    I am a bit skeptical of the “hard to work with” narrative– the only example really given is, “Meanwhile back at Paramount, Lake had already managed to piss off the studio by leaving for Arizona without telling anyone in the middle of filming, after taking childish offense to Leisen’s persnickety personality.”

    Hard to know without more about the specifics of the incident, and admittedly the director is in charge, but what made it childish? What, exactly, was she reacting to?

    Everything else is people saying bad things about her, but nothing substantial– e.g., ““She was impossible. Every suggestion you made, she fought; you fought with her all day long.” It doesn’t appear to be part of a longer quote that would provide more information (it doesn’t show up anywhere else on google). I read a couple of other articles about her, and the same pattern repeats– typically just two to three people saying something bad about her. Was she actually a hard person to work with, or was she just a young, physically small woman standing up for herself? Hard to say without more information. Of course, being new to this topic, it’s entirely possible her history is well documented and I just didn’t find it (didn’t do a ton of research here).

    • Ahenobarbus

      Wikipedia adds a few quotes. Of course, these sorts of things often lead to piling on and selective use of quotes.

      Eddie Bracken, her co-star in Star Spangled Rhythm (in which Lake appeared in a musical number) was quoted as saying, “She was known as ‘The Bitch’ and she deserved the title.”[14][15] Joel McCrea, her co-star in Sullivan’s Travels, reportedly turned down the co-starring role in I Married a Witch, saying, “Life’s too short for two films with Veronica Lake.”[16] During filming of the film The Blue Dahlia (1946), screenwriter Raymond Chandler referred to her as “Moronica Lake”.[17]

      TCM’s page for her claims she suffered from “metal illness,” although that is possibly a typo.

      • lawyernogun

        Yeah– I see a lot of invective, but it’s awfully short on anecdotes, which I noticed because I love stories about crazy people making unreasonable demands. She bailed once to go to Arizona and also got pregnant during a shoot (which doesn’t seem to have been a big deal). Contrast with, say, the detailed NY Times article on Lohan’s on-set antics. For all I know, Lake was the biggest pain in the ass ever, but I’m a bit skeptical. She was perfectly willing to work anonymously as a NY cocktail waitress and didn’t inform her coworkers about how she was– doesn’t strike me as the behavior of a diva, although maybe she just matured later in life. With the sources readily available, it’s hard to say.

      • Mercury poisoning? Hearing loss from too much Metallica?

        • Todd

          Iron deficiency was more common back then. Irony deficiency is our era’s cross to bear.

        • Heavy metal! Excellent!

          (does air guitar riff)

      • Wikipedia on I Married a Witch gives some examples of messing with Lake:

        March and Lake also had problems, beginning with March’s pre-production comment that Lake was “a brainless little blonde sexpot, void of any acting ability”, to which Lake retaliated by calling March a “pompous poseur”. Things did not get much better during filming, as Lake was prone to playing practical jokes on March, like hiding a 40-pound weight under her dress for a scene in which March had to carry her, or pushing her foot repeatedly into his groin during the filming of a from-the-waist-up shot.

        Sounds to me like she rocked.

        • lawyernogun

          A 40 pound weight? Under her dress? When she was 4’11 and looks like she weighed 90-100 pounds? Wow, that is some level of dedication to the joke, or the size of the weight has become inflated in the retelling…

        • skate

          IMDB has a quote from Lake saying that she only thought about giving the pretentious March a knee where it counts.

          He treated me like dirt under his talented feet. Of all actors to end up under the covers with. That happened in one scene and Mr. March is lucky he didn’t get my knee in his groin.

          • wjts

            In her autobiography (which I haven’t read; this excerpt is quoted in the booklet that came with the Criterion edition of I Married a Witch), she describes the incident like this:

            The shot was medium, showing only the two of us from waist-high. We were into the scene and he came close to me. He was standing directly in front of the chair. I carefully brought my foot up between his legs. And I moved my foot up and down, each upward movement pushing it ever so slightly into his groin. Pro that he is, it wasn’t easy for him, and I delighted simply in knowing what was going through his mind. Naturally, when the scene was over, he laced into me. I just smiled.

            Which, honestly, I can see as something one could reasonably get upset over, even allowing for the long and honorable theatrical tradition of fucking with your castmates.

            • tsam

              Hmmmm. Veronica Lake playing with me like that…that would not suck, people. Not. At. All.

    • Henry Holland
    • tsam

      In the context of the era in which she was in he movie pitchurs, I’m thinking that anything other than quiet obedience and deference from women was retold as being a “bitch”. This could be all whiny bullshit from an era when men expected to be the boss in all situations.

      • SV

        Yeah, look at Katherine Heigl today. I agree completely. “bitch”, “moron”, and “bimbo” are the kinds of things men say when a woman is insufficiently compliant with their expectations or demands. And ditto on enjoying her alleged practical jokes.

      • tsam

        I’d guess the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. The apparently corroborated story that her acting career was her mother’s dream and not hers lends credibility to the idea that her give-a-fuck might have been broke. Can’t say I blame her for that.

      • wjts

        Possibly/probably true, although there are stories about her being regularly late to the set on I Married a Witch and I seem to remember reading somewhere other than the linked article that she frequently had trouble both remembering and delivering her lines.

  • Richard

    Good article. Thanks Erik

  • I wonder how many girls were told by their grandmothers that with their hair falling in their face like that, they looked like Veronica Lake. That’s really all I know about her, that her hair was always covering her eyes.

  • Gregor Sansa

    She used to be big, a long time ago, but I haven’t thought of her lately at all…

    • witlesschum

      You blasted that one right to the nearest planet, Gregor. It really is a dandy reference.

  • mikeSchilling

    By the way, the piece Erik links include this bit of nonsense:

    Dashiell Hammett’s plot machinations are always a chore to follow

    Wotta maroon.

    • Warren Terra

      Wasn’t it Hammett who famously couldn’t follow his own plot for one of his blockbuster novel/films, and forgot who it was did the evil deed? Or am I thinking of Raymond Chandler?

      • Chandler. IIRC, at one point in writing The Big Sleep he wasn’t quite sure who’d committed one of the murders.

        • erick

          Yeah, he was all about style and dialogue didn’t care about plot at all

        • Henry Holland

          Turner Classic Movies shows the first version of The Big Sleep. After Lauren Bacall’s second movie role in Foreign Correspondent bombed big-time, the studio panicked and had re-shoots done on The Big Sleep to add more Bogie/Bacall scenes. I love the first version, it’s one of my very favorite movies, the second version not so much .

        • The Dark Avenger

          It was when they were writing the movie that the screenwriters asked him about a plot point in The Big Sleep, and of course, he couldn’t remember it.

          • skate

            Per TCM:

            Even such distinguished writers as William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett, and Jules Furthman couldn’t make sense of the story. Chandler claimed that Hawks even sent him a telegram, wanting to know who had committed one of the murders. Chandler had no idea.

            Specifically, it was the dead chauffer.

          • Hogan

            Chandler’s early novels were stitched together from previously published short stories, and he wasn’t real careful about continuity. Even in the stories, he leaned toward what Wilfrid Sheed called “the old Edgar Wallace stream of meaningless surprise.” (Or as Chandler once said, “When in doubt, have a man walk through the door with a gun in his hand.”)

            • mikeSchilling

              Chandler was the AE Van Vogt of mysteries.

              • Ahuitzotl

                high praise

                • mikeSchilling

                  That irritated me at first, but then I took a thalamo-cortical pause.

        • KarenJo12

          Chandler’s plotting is so convoluted that Don Martin parodied it in a Fester and Carbuncle cartoon for Mad Magazine. Sadly, said cartoon is not available on-line.

    • Hogan

      Fair enough. But he absolutely nails the sexual dynamic of Alan Ladd and William Bendix in that movie.

      • mikeSchilling

        It’s a nice piece and I’m glad Erik linked it, but that one sentence irritated the hell out of me.

  • I saw I Wanted Wings years ago. It’s about as silly as you would expect.

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    Please tell me Sunset Gun is on your blogroll!

  • NewishLawyer

    When I was 26 years old I once impressed an older couple by knowing who Veronica Lake was. The husband looked amazed and simply said “Oh, that’s not a name you hear very much anymore….”

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    thanks. what little i knew was the more glamorous roles. i think for an article titled ‘the outsider’, though, they should have led with the still of her with the cap and dirty face. but i also like the one of her with the dog. in both she looks like she knows an interesting little secret about the world

    • The dog photo is awesome & convinces me I would’ve liked being friends with her.

  • I am distrustful of any article that proclaims Sullivan’s Travels to have been Sturges’s best. It’s a good but flawed movie, unlike The Lady Eve and The Palm Beach Story, which are perfect.

    In conclusion, I am not a crank and to anyone who thinks otherwise I say bang baaang.

    • Hogan

      The Ale and Quail Club approves this message.

    • tsam

      There will be a point of order to address this matter at the next Stonemasons meeting.

  • grouchomarxist

    But then, who wouldn’t be a bitch if they had to make three movies in a row with Eddie Bracken?

    That line alone would have justified the entire article. (No, I’m not hating on Bracken, just a bit gobsmacked by the notion that anyone in their right mind would think this was a good idea.)

    Thanks for the link, Erik.

  • TopsyJane

    I’m all for reviving interest in stars now known mainly to buffs, but the reason people thought there was not much more to Lake than her hair was because there was not much more to Lake than her hair.

    Raymond Chandler used to call her Moronica Lake.

    She was good with Ladd.

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