"I wasn't a sex symbol, I was a sex zombie" - Veronica Lake
The petite, sultry blonde with the low, husky voice and "peek-a-boo" hairstyle (long, wavy tresses hanging down over one side of her face) zoomed to stardom in the early 1940s, was a top screen attraction (and favorite pinup girl of GIs) during the WW2 years, and virtually disappeared by decade's end. She entered films in 1939 under the name of Constance Keane, snagging bits in that year's All Women Have Secrets, Sorority House and Dancing Co-Ed and 1940's Forty Little Mothers and As Young As You Feel. The following year, under contract to Paramount and rechristened Veronica Lake, she played the second female lead in I Wanted Wings and all but stole the film out from under the noses of leading men Ray Milland and William Holden.
Lake got her big break when Paramount's resident genius, writer-director Preston Sturges, chose her to star opposite Joel McCrea in Sullivan's Travels (also 1941), a brilliant comedy-drama in which she played a failed Hollywood hopeful taken under the wing of big-time director McCrea. The film's success assured Lake's own, and when the diminutive blonde was co-starred with short leading man Alan Ladd in This Gun for Hire (1942)-a taut thriller from Graham Greene's story-a screen team was born. She delivered an effective performance in Rene Clair's clever I Married a Witch. Then Ladd and Lake were rushed into The Glass Key (also 1942), a modestly budgeted remake of a Dashiell Hammett crime drama, the success of which guaranteed promising futures for them both.
She and her hairstyle were so popular that Billy Wilder made a joke about them in his comedy The Major and the Minor (1942), while Lake herself participated in a gag song, A Sweater, A Sarong and a Peekaboo Bang with Paulette Goddard and Dorothy Lamour in Paramount's Star Spangled Rhythm (also 1942).
And yet, Lake's career never took off the way Ladd's did. She starred and cameoed in a string of films for Paramount, including So Proudly We Hail! (1943), The Hour Before the Dawn (1944), Bring on the Girls, Out of This World, Duffy's Tavern, Hold That Blonde, Miss Susie Slagle's (all 1945), The Blue Dahlia (1946, a Raymond Chandler-written thriller that reunited her with Ladd), Variety Girl (1947), Saigon, The Sainted Sisters and Isn't It Romantic? (all 1948), but never enjoyed the critical enthusiasm she'd engendered in her early appearances. (It almost seemed as if her allure disappeared when she was forced to remove the peekaboo bangs; that occurred when wartime defense plants complained that women who'd imitated her hairstyle were at risk of getting their hair caught in machinery!) Her performances ranged from inspired to lackluster; she did some of her best work in the 1947 Western Ramrod re-teamed with Joel McCrea and directed by then-husband Andre de Toth.
Lake starred in Slattery's Hurricane (1949, for de Toth) and Stronghold (1951) before vanishing from the screen. Her marriage to de Toth dissolved in 1952 along with her career; she filed bankruptcy petitions and subsequently disappeared. In later years she made headlines several times by being arrested for drunkenness and disorderly conduct. By the early 1960s she'd been reduced to working as a cocktail waitress in the lounge of a downtown New York hotel. She eventually returned to acting, winning roles in minor stage productions and two low-budget films, the Canadian-made Footsteps in the Snow (1966) and Flesh Feast (1970), an execrable horror cheapie. She wrote a 1971 autobiography, Veronica.