Friday, March 7, 2014

THE LAST DAYS OF VERONICA LAKE

One of the most beautiful visions of 1940s films was that of Veronica Lake. With her "peek-a-boo bang" she was an iconic image of film noirs. Some of her popular films of the time included ‘This Gun for Hire’, ‘The Hour Before Dawn’, ‘Hold That Blonde’, and ‘Out of this World’ among others. Veronica was a big screen name in the 1940s and her success in acting seemed unstoppable.

By the early 1950's however, Lake's career had hit the skids. Still suffering from schizophrenia, and in a state of paranoia, she turned to drinking heavily to relieve herself from the burden. This only added to her deteriorating mental state and, with the stress of three broken marriages, a domineering stage mother, a manic depressive personality, and a self destructive addiction to liquor she pushed herself over the edge. After 1952, she would make only two more films, both grade B horror flicks. The beautiful super star with the peekaboo hair do, who entertained and inspired so many, never received the professional help which would have saved her from the mental suffering and she would endure it alone. She eventually frequented cheap hotels in New York City and worked as a bartender where she obtained a steady supply of booze. She never revealed her true identity and even her co-workers were in the dark about her glamorous past.

By the late 1960's she had reached rock bottom, holing up in her apartment out of paranoid fears that the FBI was following her and tapping her phone. Those who knew her in the 60's said 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. Saranac Lake native, James Quigley, recalls an encounter with her while she was working at a popular New York City bar at #1 Fifth Avenue in the 60's. He introduced himself as a Saranac Laker and Veronica seemed happy to meet someone from her old hometown. Jim said "I went to the bar at #1 Fifth Avenue, a very chic and popular bar for New Yorkers. Veronica was tending bar and when I told her I was from Saranac Lake she cried, kissed me and continuted to work. What a moment!"

 
  In the early 1970s Veronica made a brief return to the spotlight with the publication of her autobiography, which earned her enough cash to relocate to the British Isles. She married for a fourth time- to an English sea captain, a commercial fisherman known as "Captain Bob" but that soon ended in divorce. In early 1973, she returned to the states. According to the doctors who treated her, she was already "pretty far along" with an acute case of hepatitis and she was not long in Saranac Lake before she was admitted to Will Rogers Hospital. According to her doctor in Vermont, Warren Beeken, Saranac Lake did not have the resources to treat her as well as the Medical Center in Burlington, so on June 26, 1973 she was transferred to the Fletcher Allen Hospital.

 
 Her presence in the hospital was not publicized- because, according to her publicist William Roos- "Frankly, I didn't think she was going to die". He was not aware of the extreme state of her medical condition. According to Dr. Beeken, her case of hepatitis had persisted for some time before she entered the Fletcher Allen Hospital, and her condition had deteriorated rapidly. Word of her true identity quickly spread throughout the facility, and the hospital staff 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 retained a shadow of her former beauty." Yet, she was also utterly and completely alone- with no guests or phone calls, a sad state for one once so well known. Dr. 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, Veronica Lake passed away, alone and forgotten at age of 50. After hearing of his mother's death, her son Michael, who lived in Hawaii, asked his father, Lake's 3rd ex-husband, Andre de Toth, for money to fly to Vermont, but his request was denied. Michael had to take a loan out to fly to Vermont to claim the body from the Corbin Palmer funeral home, located near the Fletcher Allen hospital. She was then cremated but her ashes were stored at the funeral home until payment could be made. Her sparsely attended Manhattan memorial service was paid for by a friend, veteran ghostwriter Donald Bain, who penned Lake's incomplete autobiography.

Not even her ashes made the event; as they were still stored at the funeral home in a squabble over money. Her ashes remained there until March 1976, when two friends volunteered to bring Lake's ashes to Florida. Bain sent the funeral home $200 to cover the back storage fees, and the ashes were shipped to the Park Avenue residence of a friend, William Roos. Roos and Dick Toman supposedly took the ashes south for their ceremonial deposit in the water off Miami but it appears that this isn't the end of the story. It is claimed that the ashes somehow found their way to a curio shop in the Catskills, a place called 'Langley's Mystery Spot', in Phoenicia, N.Y. Even in death, Veronica Lake did not get the respect and recognition she deserved. It was a shame and a tragedy...

 

2 comments:

  1. That's such a sad story. I wish she had been as happy as she was beautiful; she certainly left some memorable films behind. SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS and I MARRIED A WITCH are two of my favorites.

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  2. I had to blink some tears in my eyes reading about Veronica. It always hurts to know how the old Hollywood I've always loved could be so uncaring and quick to shove someone like her under the rug with the rest of the debris. She really didn't have anybody, did she? Poor little thing ... at least she knows now that she is remembered and her work still enjoyed (my opinion anyway).

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