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Film Noir Star Veronica Lake: My Dad Called Her 'Connie'

Veronica Lake's popularity has never faded among her devoted fans and her peekaboo hairstyle is still a cut above the rest. My father had the chance to tell her story.

By Laurie Bain Wilson

The centenary anniversary of Hollywood film noir actress Veronica Lake's birth was marked with little fanfare two years ago. Surely, as a little girl, she played peekaboo way before her peekaboo hairdo won hearts and was replicated by millions of women — and still is, one hundred years later.

A glamorous photo of a woman with curly blonde hair. Next Avenue, Veronica Lake
Veronica Lake, 1945  |  Credit: Getty

Veronica Lake was born Constance Frances Marie Ockelman, on November 14, 1922, in Brooklyn, New York. She married four times and had four children, one who died shortly after his birth.

The Hollywood star was known for several standout movie roles in the 1940s including "Blue Dahlia," "Sullivan's Travels" and "I Married a Witch." She made her debut in 1941 in "I Wanted Wings" and Alan Ladd was often her co-star.

The story goes that once during a rehearsal for her debut movie in 1941, her blonde hair suddenly fell over her right eye. And the rest is history.

Veronica Lake died of acute hepatitis in Burlington, Vermont, in the summer of 1973; she was only 51 years old. Her cremated remains went unclaimed for several years because of a confusion about an unpaid cremation bill. But when her friend and co-author of her autobiography, Donald Bain, learned of the whereabouts of Lake's ashes, he paid the modest bill.

Donald Bain is my dad. Veronica was a dear friend of his. Sadly, my father passed away a few years ago. My dad was a successful author and was introduced to her by his literary agent in 1967 in order to collaborate with Veronica on her autobiography.

Veronica Lake's Peekaboo Hair

Lake's beauty was her God-given gift, especially her cascading contour waves hairstyle which she insisted was natural, and not styled to drape over her eye. The story goes that once during a rehearsal for her debut movie in 1941, her blonde hair suddenly fell over her right eye. And the rest is history.

Her captivating glam and raw talent captured the hearts of many fans, but it surely was her hair that swooped her fame — and still does.

"Yes, the classic Veronica Lake hairstyle is a timeless, glamorous look that continues to revisit Hollywood starlets to this day," says Jeff Hafler, owner of the Beauty Bubble Salon & Museum in Joshua Tree, California. "We are in fact getting more requests for 'side bangs' which I would consider to be the modern Veronica Lake hairstyle."

Two people smiling wearing 1950s garb. Next Avenue
Laurie Wilson with Veronica Lake  |  Credit: Courtesy of Laurie Wilson

His salon/museum displays memorabilia with a connection to Lake. "I was lucky enough to meet and become friends with Earle Adams and his wife Bernice," says Hanler. "They were both hairdressers in Hollywood from the '40s through the '80s and Earle did Veronica Lake's hair and donated a perm machine to my collection that he said she sat under at one time."

Veronica's hairstyle also has staying power on TikTok with hair tutorials captivating young women eager to get Veronica's sexy style. There's also a video on Yahoo Beauty from Reese Witherspoon's hair stylist, Adair Abergel, instructing viewers on how to create Witherspoon's cascading Veronica-style waves which she flaunted during an award show ceremony's red-carpet appearance.

Other celebs have also channeled Veronica's Hollywood look, especially at awards shows, including Taylor Swift and Brie Larson. And Elle Magazine paid tribute to Veronica's 91st birthday in 2014 with a "#TBT Beauty Tutorial: Get Veronica Lake's Classic Hollywood Look."

Kim Basinger's 1999 Oscar-winning call girl performance in the film "L.A. Confidential" was said to have been inspired by Lake.

But Veronica's iconic hairstyle suddenly became a problem rather than an asset. During WWII, women went to work in factories and apparently could not see through their bangs and consequently lost their fingers or got their hair caught in the machines.


"It is said that her career was affected when she was asked to cut her hair short to support the war effort and encourage women working in factories to cut their hair short to avoid accidents at the machines," says Hanler.

The Years After Hollywood

Hollywood was no longer for Veronica, and, in fact, she often questioned if it ever was.

In the early 1960's, Lake went on to work as a cocktail waitress at the Martha Washington Hotel on East 29th Street in Manhattan in what is now known as the NoMad district. She enjoyed it, she said, and met her fourth husband there. He passed away from cancer, a devastating blow for Lake. Interestingly, the hotel almost made a comeback recently as part of a $30 million renaissance revival project hotel with a lobby bar and lounge named 'Veronica' but the entire deal never came to fruition, due apparently to COVID hiccups.

The Book About Veronica Lake

Veronica Lake had been a successful movie star, but she also played many roles off the screen, and there was a book in there somewhere that needed to be written — one of fame and joy and heartbreak and sadness, a story that needed to be told.

"A vulnerable, tragic woman who drank too much while attempting to survive in the truest sense of the word,"

In 1966, Veronica moved to Miami from New York and was living in an apartment complex near Miami's Cuban section. It was here that my dad and his agent flew down and met with her and "assorted hangers-on." My dad said it was an exasperating week working with Veronica, but he was thankful that it resulted in a book that he was extremely proud of and allowed him to become close friends with the Hollywood legend, whom he described as "a vulnerable, tragic woman who drank too much while attempting to survive in the truest sense of the word, and to maintain what dignity she had left."

He always called her Connie; in an inconsequential but ironic twist, my dad's mother and sister were both also named Connie.

My father also spent time with Veronica in Manhattan when she'd come up to visit, gathering material for her book which was ultimately published in 1969 as: "Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake."

After the book was published, my dad and mom enjoyed evenings with her in Manhattan. She'd often stayed at the penthouse apartment of her close friends, Bill Roos and Dick Toman, and my parents would make the trip into the city from our home on Long Island for cocktails and dinner. Once she'd just returned from England and gifted my mother a lovely vintage silver-mounted engraved coconut cup, which my mom still displays on her dresser.

I also met Veronica several times, although I was a young girl, and I don't recall much. But I love the photo of myself taken with her at Kennedy Airport (on right.)

Veronica Lake's Long Farewell

Veronica Lake passed away in July 1973. Shortly after, in a room at the Universal Funeral Chapel in midtown Manhattan, my dad gave a eulogy for Connie, not Veronica, because he said he wanted to eulogize "the human being, not the movie actress."

My dad called the funeral home, they told him $200 was still owed and so he sent a check, and her friends took the ashes with them to Florida and spread them off the coast.

In March 1976, Roos phoned my dad and said he'd learned that Veronica's ashes were still at the funeral home in Burlington. He'd told my father that she'd always wanted her ashes "strewn over Southern waters," and he'd mentioned that he and Toman were headed to Florida.

My dad called the funeral home, they told him $200 was still owed and so he sent a check, and her friends took the ashes with them to Florida and spread them off the coast.

But for Veronica, perhaps her real farewell was her performance in the fall of 1967 at John Hancock Hall in Boston. It was a reading she did of "The World of Carl Sandburg," selections of his poetry and prose. My parents were there, as well as our family friends. Veronica described her performance as one of the finest moments of her life.

Laurie Bain Wilson
Laurie Bain Wilson's work has appeared in Real Simple, Working Mother, OpenTable, Travel Channel, CNNTravel, Eat This, Chowhound, Parents, Salon, Wine Enthusiast, VinePair, New York Times and longtime correspondent at The Boston Globe. Read More
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