Veronica Lake is one of the most iconic movie goddesses of the 1940’s. And leave it to several men to try and take credit for her trademark Peek-a-Boo hairstyle that made her instantly recognizable the world over. Veronica’s first appearance on screen was for RKO, playing a small role among several coeds in the film SORORITY HOUSE (1939). Similar roles followed, including All Women Have Secrets and Dancing Co-Ed. During the making of Sorority House, director John Farrow said he first noticed how her hair always covered her right eye, creating an air of mystery about her and enhancing her natural beauty. But this wouldn’t be the first or last time someone took credit for discovering Lake’s unique look.
While still a teenager, Lake was introduced to the Paramount producer Arthur Hornblow, Jr. He changed her name to Veronica Lake because he said her surname suited her blue eyes. But it wasn’t enough to make Lake a household name, not yet at least, and RKO subsequently dropped her contract. But a small role in the comedy Forty Little Mothers (1940) brought unexpected attention. And in 1941, Veronica was signed to a long-term contract with Paramount Pictures. Her star was ascending but it would take another supposed man to rocket her to superstardom.
Lake next starred opposite Joel McCrea in Sullivan’s Travels (1941). But Lake’s breakthrough role was in the 1941 war drama I Wanted Wings. The film was a major hit in which Lake played the second female lead. Hollywood lore (or more likely studio PR men) wrote that it was during the filming of I Wanted Wings that Lake developed her signature look. Lake’s long blonde hair accidentally fell over her right eye during a take and created a “peek-a-boo” effect. The hairstyle became Lake’s trademark and was widely copied by women. Lake then followed up with starring roles in more popular movies, including This Gun for Hire (opposite Alan Ladd), I Married a Witch, and So Proudly We Hail!. Lake was considered one of the most reliable box office draws in Hollywood. At the peak of her popularity, she earned $4,500 a week.
Lake became known for playing opposite actor Alan Ladd, which began with This Gun for Hire. Initially, the couple was teamed together because Ladd was just 5 feet 5 inches tall and the only actress then on the Paramount lot short enough to pair with him was Lake, who stood just 4 feet 11 1⁄2 inches. They would make four more films together including the film noirs The Glass Key (1942), The Blue Dahlia (1946) and Saigon. Amazing how things happen in Tinseltown, right? But they did have a fiery on-screen chemistry, even though Ladd called Lake a bitch to work with. No doubt Lake was one of the original divas – but there’s always two sides to every Hollywood story.
During World War II, Lake changed her trademark peek-a-boo hairstyle at the urging of the government to encourage women working in war industry factories to adopt more practical, safer hairstyles. Although the change helped to decrease accidents involving women getting their hair caught in machinery, doing so may have damaged Lake’s career. She also became a popular pin-up girl for soldiers during World War II and traveled throughout the United States to raise money for war bonds. Unfortunately, Lake’s true story does not have a happy ending. She fell out of favor in Hollywood because of her alcoholism and other mental health issues. But alas, I will always remember Lake in her signature film noir roles. She was a screen siren of the tallest order and, at the end of the day, we’re to buy the myth and not the reality of Hollywood sex goddesses. In my opinion, Lake was a talented actress who fell victim to the fame of her own hairstyle. It’s a cautionary tale for any talented actress trying to break through today. Stay true to yourself, and even when you do break through – don’t buy the hype!
Veronica Lake will be remembered as a beautiful woman who influenced an entire generation of women and how they wore their hair. She just happened to be a talented actress, too. And for this, we’ll always love her place in cinematic history!
One more crazy Hollywood pin-up photo for the road!