It’s shocking and sad to me that there are only two biographies written about legendary icon Veronica Lake. Both books are out-of-date and heavily disputed. I wonder what one needs to go on a quest to write a biography because I’d definitely take up the cause to write an honest and thorough account of Ms. Lake. Regardless, I decided to read both books about Lake starting with author Jeff Lenburg’s heavily debated, 1971 biography Peekabo: The Story of Veronica Lake. Not only does Lenburg do a hatchet job on Lake herself but the book is boring and if researched is incredibly lazy about it with no bibliography included leaving every quote and anecdote open to scrutiny. While I did question the truth of some things and felt sadly that they might be accurate there’s no proof for or against leaving the reader to think Peekabo is only 50/50 in its presentation of the actress.
Peekaboo attempts to tell the “true” story of Veronica Lake’s life from her humble beginnings as Constance Ockleman to her eventual status as the “peekaboo blonde.” Through it all the book asserts Lake was difficult as well as an alcoholic and paranoid schizophrenic.
The book opens with a preface stating that it’s a “true, factual account” of Lake’s life “fully authorized” by Lake’s mother Constance Marinos “who was interviewed exclusively for this book.” With that statement the entire body of the text is altered because this isn’t a biography about Lake but how her mother saw her. In doing some independent research it’s no secret that Lake was estranged from her mother so throughout Constance Marinos proves she had very little relationship with her daughter and grandchildren making a less than credible witness for a biography. While there are a few family members that dispute Marinos’ story from time to time the author doesn’t seem to worry about that and thus makes Marinos’ words the gospel truth. Marinos herself does nothing but mention how “bizarre” Veronica was starting with her childhood and how she didn’t cry when her father died. Veronica’s father traveled a lot and due to her age it’s understandable she wouldn’t know how to react but yet the book labels this signs of her schizophrenic behavior.
You can literally play a drinking game based on how many times the author states something as a sign of her schizophrenia and her mother mentioning something as “bizarre.” Nothing Lake says or does is seen as normal in the authors eyes but proof that she’s crazy (although I’d say mother Constance marrying so quickly after her husband’s death is abnormal but I didn’t write the book. The problem is the author never mentions any medical knowledge about schizophrenia nor does it appear that he interviewed any doctors or did any true research on the symptoms of a schizophrenic. I know the book was published in 1971 but seriously, there’s nothing to back up his assertions. I do know a few schizophrenic sufferers and there’s nothing in the book that’s directly seen as a sign other than the author saying it is. The few quotes or interviews included from Veronica herself are articulate and none of the interviews with other friends explicitly mention symptoms reminiscent of schizophrenia. For an author who mentions no one can know what was in Veronica’s head Lenburg is the master of putting out ideas and analyzing every single, little thing in Veronica’s life from a schizophrenic standpoint.
Things like Veronica making up stories about herself or running away when things are difficult are immediately cemented as “weird” and signs of mental illness. Um I used to make up stories about myself and I have been known to take a spontaneous trip when I don’t want to deal with something, according to this book I’m a paranoid schizophrenic! It could be argued that Lake’s stories and inability to cope could be out of feeling neglected from a mother who quickly remarried after the death of her father and pushed her into show business….but I’d be as unable to prove that as Lenburg (I’m telling you I should write a book). And what I continually noticed is that for someone so paranoid there’s never any stories about Veronica doing something paranoid like living off-the-grid or other attributes of someone with a paranoid nature.
The problem, as mentioned above, is that there is no reference section! Yep, there’s a filmography but no section showing any research. I know author Darwin Porter does this with his books but I don’t necessarily read his books as biographies to begin with. With the opening preface Lenburg is saying this is a biography and these are facts yet how do we know that with zero proof he did any research? Much like Porter, Lenburg also recreates whole dialogue exchanges between Veronica and other characters. How do we know these conversations took place? Because apparently someone said they did. I go back to using Marinos’ as the main source. How did she know certain events that took place when she wasn’t around? Who knows is apparently Lenburg’s response.
Marinos’ herself is not a saint and there are several stories in this book that made me raise my eyebrows. Case in point is Veronica’s first marriage to John Detlie. Marinos mentions at one point she wanted Detlie to date Veronica to make her a star due to his job in the entertainment industry, and for a mother so “overprotective” of her child she has no issues letting a 33-year-old man take her underage daughter out at night. Marinos comes off like she’s suffering from sour grapes. She continually alludes to a tawdry relationship between Veronica and her stepfather yet the book never details it. In fact their relationship sounds like that of a good man taking an interest in his stepdaughter. Marinos comes off completely jealous of her daughters relationship with not only her stepfather but also being famous. Marinos is constantly enmeshing herself in Veronica’s life if her stories are anything to go off of, spouting off things like famous people only went to functions if Marinos herself was there. And yet these are contradicted by the way Marinos uses words that imply she hasn’t been in contact with her family in some time, especially her grandchildren. The fact that she mentions particular symptoms of a paranoid schizophrenic and Lenburg uses these as medical facts is offensive.
There’s far too much opinion in this book not only from Veronica’s mother who constantly says her daughter was a bad mother who didn’t want her children, but even Lenburg gets in on the bashing by calling Veronica a “horrible mother” on page 117 or my personal favorite “Veronica might very well be called one of America‘s earliest examples of a liberated woman; or she might only have been a selfish one. She wanted everything a man had, only more” (112). That quote is about why her marriage to John Detlie failed. Then I definitely suffer from paranoid schizophrenia!
I could go on and on about the issues with this book. The mean-spirited attitude between Marinos and Lenburg cites Veronica as the worst person in the world and the biggest slut of all time. The book never celebrates anything good about her life or her body of work and in just reading the quotes from Veronica it’s apparent she was an actress trying not to be taken advantage of and thus acted tough. There’s several stories about her refusing to take crap from anybody and if anything that could have attributed to why actors and directors cited her as difficult to work with. The quotes and interviews range from two-faced friends and people who admit they barely knew Veronica. The only time Lenburg mentions not being able to get “the full story” is from people still alive, god forbid he get accused of lying about something. He also fails to include things that are true including how son Michael stayed with Veronica during her final days. Overall Peekaboo is just a boring book, simply moving from event A to event B with zero momentum or interest. It’s hard to be engaged in a book when everyone seems to hate the person being featured, including the author.
I wouldn’t recommend this book simply because the truth doesn’t seem to be apparent. There’s no reference section to back up any assertions and while the picture section is nice there’s only about five rare photos and the rest are publicity stills. I’m planning on reading Lake’s autobiography which is also disputed. Sadly I don’t think either book is the right one to depict such a complex actress. If anything the book only hints at why I feel Lake’s career stalled: that audiences were unable to cope with Veronica changing. One line specifically mentions how audiences rebelled against Lake changing her peekaboo hairstyle and if we know anything about the fickle nature of Hollywood it’s that audiences stick with what they know and Lake didn’t want to conform. I do feel that one or two elements of Lenburg’s story might be true (namely the tempestuous relationship with Lake’s children) but that’s not enough to warrant buying the book. Peekaboo: The Story of Veronica Lake is simply that, a story and not a biography.
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.