November 14, 1922 – July 7, 1973
“I wasn’t a sex symbol, I was a sex zombie.”
During the 1940s Veronica Lake captivated Hollywood audiences like few other actresses. She was a popular pinup queen during WWII and won fame co-starring in several films with Alan Ladd (Lake was short enough to play along aside the diminutive Ladd without emphasizing his small stature). Her claim to fame came with her celebrated “peek a boo” hairstyle, which many women in the early 1940s emulated, to the point where she was asked to change because it endangered the hair of female workers with armaments machinery! Most recently, Kim Basinger adopted this “Lake look” all the way to an Oscar in the film L.A. Confidential.
By the early 1950s however, Lake’s career had hit the skids. Three broken marriages, a domineering stage mother, a manic depressive personality, and a whole lot o’ liquor pushed her right into oblivion. After 1952, she would make only two more films, both low budget horror film trash. She frequented skid row hotels in New York City and even took work as a barmaid to keep close to a steady supply of booze. By the late 1960s she had bottomed out in Hollywood, Florida, often holing up in her apartment out of paranoid fears that the FBI was following her and tapping her phone. Those who saw her reported that the once great beauty had turned into a worn out mess, with rotting teeth, unwashed hair, and the pasty complexion of a bloated alcoholic.
In the early 1970s Lake enjoyed a brief return to the spotlight with the publication of a tell-all autobiography, which earned her enough cash to relocate to the British Isles. She married for a fourth time- to an English sea captain, but that soon ended in divorce. In early 1973, her body ravaged by alcoholism, she returned to the U.S. for a final time.
Lake’s biography and other sources report that she went to the USA to visit friends in Vermont. However, my research around here has found this to be inaccurate. For one thing, she had no friends, and for another, she did not come to Vermont but instead went to Saranac Lake, New York, an upstate New York town once well known for its therapeutic tuberculosis sanitarium.
Saranac Lake was also important in one other way- it was the place where Lake had spent the happiest years of her childhood.
It is my strong belief, weighing the evidence, that Veronica Lake returned home to die. According to doctors who treated her, she was “pretty far along” with an acute case of hepatitis when she got to the U.S. Anyway, she was not long in Saranac Lake when she was admitted to Will Rogers Hospital. According to her doctor in Vermont, Warren Beeken, that facility did not have the resources to treat as well as the Medical Center in Burlington, Vermont across Lake Champlain, so on June 26, 1973 she was transferred to the Vermont hospital.
Lake’s presence in the hospital was not publicized- because, according to her publicist William Roos, “Frankly, I didn’t think she was going to die.” Well, he was in the dark concerning the extreme state of her medical condition. According to Dr. Beeken, her case of hepatitis had persisted for many weeks before she entered the Fletcher Allen Hospital, and her condition deteriorated rapidly once she was admitted.
Still, the faded pinup queen had one last moment of dignity left to her. Word spread of her presence around the hospital, and strangers visited her room to pay their respects. She visibly brightened due to the attention, signing autographs for the nurses and speaking confidently of future plans. According to one nurse who attended her in her final days, she was very cheerful and friendly, happy and looking forward to the future, and still retaining a shadow of her former beauty. Yet, she was also utterly and completely alone- with no guests or calls. Beeken looked in on her one last time on the evening on July 6, when acute renal failure had set in. Early on the morning of July 7, 1973, she passed away at age 50.
Roos issued a statement to the press telling of a memorial service for her in a New York City chapel, and all sorts of brave talk about the many things Lake had going on in terms of her career. However, her service in New York brought only a handful of mourners, including none of her exes.
One who did make it was Lake’s son Michael, who lived in Hawaii. He had asked his father, Lake’s 3rd ex-husband the director Andre de Toth, for money to fly to Vermont, but was met with obscenities for even bothering him. He had to take a loan out to fly to Vermont to claim the body, which he found looking “small and lonely” at the Corbin Palmer funeral home located nearby the hospital in Burlington Vermont.
Lake’s body was cremated at another Vermont location, and her ashes scattered to the winds and waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
UPDATE OCTOBER 2004:
Sharon Thomas sends us this information she found on the IMDB news page: Tragic film legend Veronica Lake’s ashes have been discovered in a New York antique store, 30 years after her death. The Blue Dahlia actress died penniless on July 7, 1973 from hepatitis. Her ashes were thought to have been scattered off the Florida coastline, but it has emerged some of them have remained on dry land. Laura Levine, who owns Homer and Langley’s Mystery Spot in the Catskills, upstate New York, was amazed with the find and is planning a 16 October homage to the late star with Lake look-alikes. Levine says, “It’s a strange little footnote to a fascinating legacy. I’m a huge fan of Veronica Lake. I just think she’s brilliant, gorgeous, incredibly talented and under appreciated
A sad end to a sad life, but at least she died with a semblance of dignity. I’m glad to have the opportunity to research and tell the full story of her final days for the first time anywhere to Findadeath!
– Great Job John. Timely too. I’ve been interested in Lake for a while, but haven’t had much opportunity to see any of her films. A couple of weeks ago, my buddies Laer, Colm and I went to view a film at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, starring Lake. It was calledSullivan’s Travels. Great film, and it was made at Paramount Studios, just over the back fence of the cemetery. Colm took some great shots of the cemetery at night. The logo was pretty incredible, shown on the side of the mausoleum.
The film was great, and Lake was a terrific smart ass.
On our way out, I shared a beer with Dee Dee Ramone,
and we walked out along the traffic.
UPDATE February 2005, from Findadeath friend Jim:
Scott, I wanted to clear up a couple of facts about Veronica Lake’s death. There was an episode of “Biography” or something on “E” a few years ago about Veronica Lake. They said she was in Stowe, Vermont when she became ill. She was taken to the hospital, where she died. They showed a copy of her death certificate. It stated that the location of her death was Colchester, Vermont. One of the 3 hospitals in the area, The Fanny Allen Hospital, is in Colchester. The Corbin and Palmer Funeral Home pictured in the link is actually in Essex Junction, VT. The hospital pictured in the link is a new addition (late 80’s) to what was known at the time (1973) as The Mary Fletcher Hospital. The 3 local hospitals merged sometime in the late 80’s or early 90’s to become Fletcher/Allen Healthcare, and later: Vermont Hospital. That is probably the source of confusion. I will me going to Vermont this fall. Perhaps I could get a photo of the correct hospital and maybe even her death certificate. -Jim
Thanks for the info, Jim!