Classic Hollywood #54 – Veronica Lake – 1940

The Beautiful Veronica Lake – The Smallest Waistline in Hollywood

Veronica Lake I Wanted Wings promotional photo 1940

Veronica Lake publicity photograph for “I Wanted Wings” November 1940

Veronica Lake was born Constance Ockelman on November 14, 1922 in Brooklyn, NY. After the death of her father in a ship accident, she adopted her stepfather’s last name of Keane in 1934. Because of her great beauty, after graduating high school, the family moved to Beverly Hills, California so Constance could take acting lessons.

After a series of bit roles in 1939 and 1940 Constance Keane had a meteoric rise to fame.

The publicity machine started to roll in 1940 when Constance was “discovered” by producer Arthur Hornblow Jr. She was cast in I Wanted Wings (1941) co-starring Ray Milland and William Holden. For the film, Constance was given a new name – Veronica Lake.

Syndicated gossip columnist Hedda Hopper wrote about Lake on August 24, 1940, “It’s her first part in pictures, though she’s had a couple of years of little theaters and after they saw her (screen) test, and said, ‘You’ve got the part,’ she turned pale, said, ‘Oh yes?’ Her knees started to cave in, she whispered, ‘Gee Whiz!’ and fled. If she’s as good as her test, the audience won’t be able to keep its mind on its work either.”

Veronica Lake I Wanted Wings promotional photo 1940 back copyHopper’s column is typical Hollywood ballyhoo of the period.  Short on facts and stretching the truth. So is the back caption of our studio publicity photo above, which has many inaccuracies, such as Lake’s birthday and birth name.

Lake was just under five feet tall and became known for her peekaboo hairstyle which covered one eye and waspish figure. At the start of her film career her measurements were reported as 34-18½-34.

The caption to the news photo below reads:

Veronica Lake waistlineHollywood’s Smallest Waistine

Hollywood, Calif. – Veronica Lake, shown in costume for a movie role, has the smallest waistline in the cinema capital and probably the smallest in the history of the films, according to famed dress designer Edith Head, who made an exhaustive survey. Miss Lake measures 20 and 3/4 inches. Some slim waisted stars of another era and their waist measurements include Clara Bow, 24 inches, Mae West, 25 inches, Mae Murray, 26 inches and Pola Negri, 27 inches.   – 5/16/47 World Wide Photos, Los Angeles Bureau

During the first portion of the 1940s, almost everything Lake appeared in was box office gold, Sullivan’s Travels, This Gun For Hire and I Married A Witch were just some of her successes.

Mental illness, bad casting and a distaste for the Hollywood machine led to a decline in her acting career. Veronica Lake wrote Veronica The Autobiography of Veronica Lake in 1969. It is an unusual book by a star because she is brutally honest about her career, co-stars, failed marriages and health issues.

Veronica Lake appeared in just 30 films, yet she remains one of the cinema’s most recognizable and remembered stars. On July 7, 1973 Veronica Lake died from hepatitis in Vermont. She was only 50-years-old.

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