“There’s no doubt I was a bit of a misfit in the Hollywood of the forties. The race for glamor left me far behind. I didn’t really want to keep up. I wanted my stardom without the usual trimmings. Because of this, I was branded a rebel at the very least. But I don’t regret that for a minute. My appetite was my own and I simply wouldn’t have it any other way,” – Veronica Lake
While many may not know her by name these days, the glacial beauty of Veronica Lake will always endure in cinema. This icy blonde’s trademark “peekaboo bang” hairstyle is still emulated ’til this day; it’s an iconic image of 1940’s Americana.
The above quote captures what I admire most about Veronica Lake and the characters she portrayed on screen: much like Sinatra, Lake did it “her way.” She is one of the ultimate femme fatales of film noir. One of my favorite Lake moments is her first appearance in The Glass Key (1942). She slaps a male character portrayed by Brian Donlevy and delivers an impassioned speech telling him off. Donlevy’s brash and corrupt politician is left impressed by her no-holds-barred attitude setting up a plot point for the rest of the film.
Lake had a larger than life persona with her sultry image compounded by her signature hairstyle but the actress stood at only 4’11 and weighed just a mere 90 pounds. Yet this tiny little thing was a force to be reckon with. Throughout the forties she was one of the most popular actresses of the decade. Audiences flocked to the theater for her, most notable for her films with another vertically challenge star, Alan Ladd. Ladd and Lake made four films together. The first three, The Glass Key, This Gun for Hire, The Blue Dahlia, are considered film noir classics while their final pairing, Saigon, has been largely ignored.
Individually, these two were gorgeous but put them together and the sparks just flew! When you watch their chemistry onscreen, you can sense the mutual respect the two actors had for one another. Ladd stood 5’6 in real life. Show lifts were used to make him appear taller onscreen and he also stood on platforms for certain scenes but the movie magic never took away from his performances. The camera loved him and his portrayal of tough yet sensitive characters made him appear larger than life.
“Alan Ladd was a marvelous person in his simplicity. In so many ways we were kindred spirits. We both were professionally conceived through Hollywood’s search for box office and the types to insure the box office. And we were both little people. Alan wasn’t as short as most people believe. It was true that in certain films Alan would climb a small platform or the girl worked in a slit trench. We had no such problems together.”
– Veronica Lake on Alan Ladd
Lake considered Ladd a kindred spirit in the early part of their careers but the end of their lives are also eerily similar. Both struggled with alcohol and personal blows became tabloid fodder. The two also died tragically at age 50.
I love the Ladd and Lake film noirs. These two blondes worked so well together and the plots of these films contain so many twists and turns. Ladd and Lake are the quintessential film noir hero and heroine.
But Veronica Lake wasn’t just a femme fatale. Her filmography of 26 films features hilarious turns in the comedies I Married a Witch and Sullivan’s Travels. Her best performance, however, comes in the unglamorous role of an Army nurse in So Proudly We Hail!. This film was a groundbreaking achievement as it was the first time the women in WWII were front and center in a film for wartime audiences.
As Lt. Olivia D’Arcy, Lake leaves the “peekaboo bang” behind as she steps into the role of a distant nurse dealing with the after effects of witnessing the bombing of Pearl Harbor. But there’s more to Olivia as we discover she is selfless woman who would do anything for her unit and her country. It’s a role vastly different from what we’re used to seeing her in and at 20, she plays it very well. In my opinion, it’s her finest performance.
Although she never considered herself a talent, you can’t help but become enthralled by her when she’s onscreen. She had a magnetic star quality to her that’s rare to emulate. Watch a Veronica Lake movie some day and you’ll see, there was more to her than a hairstyle.