Old Hollywood Book Reviews: Veronica – The Autobiography of Veronica Lake
Two weeks ago I reviewed the Veronica Lake biography Peekaboo that sought to tell the “true” story of Lake’s life by way of her estranged mother Constance Marinos. You can read my review of it here but suffice to say I doubted everything author Jeff Lenburg said because he didn’t have a bibliography and made bold assertions about schizophrenia with no backup. With that I decided to read and compare it against Lake’s autobiography entitled Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake, which came out a few years before the Lenburg book. While its still sad that the only two books written about Lake are over 30 years old, I have to recommend fans read the autobiography. It’s not perfect, mainly due to Lake’s sometimes racist dialogue (it was 1969), and ability to sidestep issues like her drinking and estrangement with her children, but Lake is candid and discusses her failures and regrets. And despite being about her life she does include a bibliography proving that there’s hearty background research outside her own thoughts. I do wish someone would write a comprehensive, and current, biography on Veronica Lake but for now her life, in her own words, will have to suffice.
It’s always strange reading an autobiography from a celebrity as they tend to fall within two camps: The one who glorify themselves and refuse to acknowledge any of their wrongs or the ones who tell endless sob stories and discuss how they’ve overcome adversities and darkness imposed upon them by the destructive Hollywood film machine. I would say Veronica falls in between, neither glorifying nor condemning Hollywood or her life. The book opens with some brilliant quotes that sum up the majority of the book’s chapters. Our star says there are two distinct personalities in her life, that of young Constance Ockleman and Veronica Lake. While Lake is appreciative of her fame she says she was never what Hollywood set her up to be. She’s incredibly self-aware of her writing this book and what others would say about her, summarizing that in an autobiography the star can “present a devil-may-care attitude when reaching back into your own private past, a past with no one really to refute what you say about your inner feelings. It’s a strong temptation to lie, or at least embellish, which is probably why any autobiography is usually less true than biographies written by the impartial bystander” (11). I have to wonder if she knew of Lenburg’s book while writing this because he epitomizes the impartial bystander…who got things completely wrong.
Speaking of Lenburg, it’s shocking how much of his material was directly lifted from Veronica. Remember how I mentioned there’s no works cited in his book? This should be the only work as he follows the same structure, refuted certain points or told stories from the mother’s side, and in some sections lifted entire paragraphs and jokes from this book passing them off as “never before read!” Peekaboo becomes the Veronica book as filtered through Constance Marinos and that’s why it fails as a biography of the star. If you read both back-to-back this becomes painfully apparent. And in many cases Lenburg left out truly important things that would have helped readers understand Veronica. Case in point, an anecdote where Veronica tells about being molested by a family priest her mother left her alone with! Why was that story not included in Lenburg’s book, you’d think Marinos would have loved to call that a lie! Another story involves her unintentionally auditioning for a porn film…where was that in Lenburg’s tome?
On its own merits Veronica reads as an incredibly sad piece of work, even more so if you believe the rumors Lake wrote it for money. She says she dreams of seeing her movies more on television, that audiences have forgotten about her and that she’s felt taken advantage of by others (a possible dig to her mother?). Lake discusses the reputation she gained throughout her career as one cultivated due to her refusal to play the Hollywood game and creating a “shell” so that others wouldn’t take advantage of her. Her first stories open with the fact these aren’t generalizations, but based on her experiences such as her bad time working with the William Morris Agency. Starting her career at the tender age of 17 caused Veronica to want to appear strong and confident which she believes might have been seen as bitchiness. That’s not to say she doesn’t admit when she’s wrong. In the case of her leaving I Wanted Wings, she tells of how the director made her cry which now admittedly was the response of an immature child. Regardless, her attitude and demeanor was one of determination, not craziness like Lenburg claims. Her demands for respect never seem unfounded or over-the-top and she comes off as far smarter than 17-year-old stars of today.
Her stories are all candid, and many times funny. Lake has a snarky attitude that lightens her story and makes the reader feel as if the actress is sitting there telling the story first-hand. She applauds marriage but maintains it should be easier to get out of if it doesn’t work. The story about Veronica having VD that’s cited in the Lenburg book, is one Veronica told to others in a joking manner. She admits the doctor did ask her if she had VD but once it was proved to be her appendix she just kept the story going. Hell, she has a story about visiting a strip club with Gary Cooper and Rita Hayworth! What other classic celeb has a story like that? There’s also a sense of nostalgia in her stories like her theories on how entertainment isn’t as good as it was back in the radio days but what older person writing doesn’t have that mentality?
She does discuss her sex life in rather frank detail and this is the only section in which she names names although they aren’t too prominent. I was most surprised to see director Jean Negulesco cited as one her paramour. Towards the end she goes into hot and heavy detail about her life with a seaman named Andy. These sections read like a tawdry romance novel and really pushed the narrative away from her career at the time. It just appeared like she’d forsaken her career for sex. Lake alludes to a recent biography of Hedy Lamarr that went into torrid detail on her love life which I can only made Lake want to compete for headlines and money.
Despite this Lake remains classy and doesn’t go on any smear campaigns in her book. It’s apparent when she’s holding something back because a particular actor or director was still alive at the time although in a few instances it seems to be due to her need to cope and keep some things to herself. Lake never explains why her and Frederic March hated each other (I’m starting to believe Lenburg’s views that it was due to March’s inability to woo his co-star) because he was still alive. Despite hating him she’s never anything but respectful to him and does praise his work in the film as well as his ability to take the pranks she dished out. She also never expresses any hatred or vitriol to her mother (wonder how long that lasted). Lake’s feelings on her mother are mixed in her words and she maintains her desire to leave home was to carve out a life for herself, not out of spite or mental illness and she questions why people would assume that’s odd. Later on in the book she mentions how her relationship with her mother worked best when they just didn’t talk. She even admits she could lie and say she never promised to pay her mother anything but she did “pledge” to support her and did so until Lake herself fell on hard times (eventually settling her mother’s lawsuit out of court). Lake briefly mentions her relationship with her stepfather describing it as a love born out of knowing he was sick and that “My mother seemed to resent this close relationship I enjoyed with my stepfather” (24).
As for her children, Lake says she was proud of all her pregnancies and loved her children very much. If anything she accuses her mother and husbands of being demanding and upset over her pregnancies. In discussing her relationship with her kids it’s apparent there’s a lot of pain and hostility in her words. Lake says she’s aware of her failings as a mother, that her career came first and yet it’s obvious she’s been told this by her children before. She hopes they stop using her failings as a “crutch” for their failures in life which sadly didn’t appear to happen as her only son was the one who cared for her in her final days and her body laid unclaimed for a while. As the book comes to its final chapters Lake comes off as hardened and removed from her children even more. She again admits to mistakes and regrets but feels her children have taken things too harshly, that their life could have been worse. There is a touching segment towards the end about Veronica’s relationship with only son Michael (there was another son who sadly passed at birth). Michael again was the son who stayed with Veronica in her final days and while the reader is able to see the boy had issues Lake never explains these issues. Why did Michael not live with his father (his sisters did)? This is why a current biography needs to be written, to tell how the children felt and why they were so removed from their mother’s life. Until that story can be told, no true account of Veronica Lake’s life can be seen.
There are flaws with the book outside of the ones I’ve already mentioned. Lake is prone to diverge from the story to mention her views on life today. In certain instances they’re cute like telling stories about running into old crushes. In others she goes on to condemn Shirley Temple Black and Ronald Reagan for entering politics. Her views are also a bit out-of-date for the 2012 audience as she discusses how Vietnam should be escalated and being politically incorrect and racist towards Chinese people (using slang terms and other quotes). The book also includes her childhood slapped right into the middle of the book which makes the reader wonder if these childhood events happened during her career or not.
“I had acquired a reputation for saying what I thought. I hadn’t played the Hollywood game very much, and a certain resentment built about that…I’d adopted a cockiness to cover my obvious inadequacies. And I found that as my confidence increased, I saw little or no reason to change myself and my approach to functioning in Hollywood” (120). I thought this quote summed up the life of Veronica Lake. She was never driven to be a star (despite what her mother says), even refusing to put her hands in Grauman’s Chinese because she didn’t feel like it! Her infamous peekaboo style she felt was both a blessing and a curse which is why she had short hair after her fame passed. As the book reaches its conclusion it’s apparent that Lake hasn’t truly finished battling her demons. She never admits to alcoholism, carefully skirting the line and says she used drink to escape her troubles but was never consumed by it. Based on how her final days turned out I don’t think she won that battle.
Veronica: The Autobiography of Veronica Lake is a tender, wry, and frank look at the life of one of Hollywood’s most troubled, gorgeous, misunderstood, and forgotten (sadly) stars. She met so many bizarre people (include Howard Hughes and Katherine Hepburn in two totally different situations) and led quite a life that’s never been fully explored. The picture section shows this lack of exploration as it only includes two photos of Veronica from her childhood, one photo of daughter Elaine and her later in life, and the rest are Hollywood publicity photos. Veronica is a far cry from Peekaboo and is better written and researched but in the end neither book will satisfy the true fans of Lake. It pains me to no end that Lake has been dumped like this by Hollywood and I continue to beseech authors to research her and do her justice with a true biography, warts and all just make sure it’s researched!
Kristen Lopez View All
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.
Fascinating! I am not a Lake fan at all but this sounds fun and juicy enough to take a close look at. Enjoyable read – thanks!
Aw no love for Lake! It’s people like you that make her forgotten lol jk! It’s far better written than Lenburg’s “She told a lie, SCHIZOPHRENIA” mentality of writing.
Veronica told a tale about her life. Most Hollywood stars made up stories of where they came from. She was the only girl. And had brothers. The boys were put in a home in Far Rockkway.
When she died my mohttp://osmil.es/Mother and aunt went to pay their respects to their sister-in- law.
Veronica’s husband said that he knew who they were. I only wish that I could have gotten to know my cousins. And to prove that we are related.
Hi Jai! That’s very interesting and something I never heard before. Which husband of Veronica’s are you referring to? Feel free to email me if you want to chat some more.
This memoir by Veronica Lake was written with the help of a ghost writer, Donald Bain. The copyright is 1969, it was published in 1971, Lake died in 1973. I think Bain interviewed her or took dictation. From the style I think Lake talked and Bain wrote it down or filled in the blanks.The first half of the book deals with Lake’s early life and movie career. The question everyone has about Lake is the same: How did one of the 40’s most iconic actresses end up living in obscurity? Lake recounts her Hollywood days, failed marriages, and eventual ditching of Hollywood altogether. Alcohol as a curse is pretty apparent, and she’s pretty frank about it. Sadly, a lot of the details of her movie career are glossed over. Her relationship with Alan Ladd, for example, is summed up in a paragraph, even though four of her best known pictures were with him.The second half of the book is a bit bizarre. There are chapters devoted to her life after Hollywood, mostly doing off-Broadway and dinner theatre on the east coast. You get the sense that she was more proud of playing Peter Pan on Cape Cod than any of her film work. She talks a lot about a relationship she had with an alcoholic sailor who drinks himself to death, and about what sounds like a pretty weird, crazy cat lady life in Miami.The book ends with her sounded optimistic about the future. She talks about how her trade is really her life, and how she’ll keep acting. Sadly, she would die in only a few years at age 50.Whatever else anyone can say, Veronica Lake took acting seriously and was proud of her craft. That really shines through in the book. That she was plagued with substance abuse and mental problems, that comes through also. I think this is a frank, honest look back at her life. It’s tragic she couldn’t find the help she needed.
Sounds interesting. I like Veronica Lake, but I know absolutely nothing about her life.
I didn’t know much about her either and as mentioned in the review, neither of the books written on her seem to tell a “definitive” story. Someone really needs to work on a proper bio on her.
I read most of “Peekabook” and totally agree with you I found it to be a book of accusations of who he thought she was instead of giving us actual information about her, he just focused on the publicly bad parts of her life. I couldn’t even finish the book because I was so tired of everything he said about her. Didn’t sound like a fan to me, if he even was. Anyway I have been trying without any luck to get my hands on a copy of her autobiography. I tried ordering it 3 times and each time the seller sent me the wrong book, then I would find out that they didn’t even have a copy to sell. I have given up for the time being, I don’t want to go “chasing the wind” as some say. But I am still determined to read it someday. But it’s good to know that it’s better than the piece of trash “Peekabook”, so I’ll keep searching. Until then, I’ll just keep watching her films, especially “I Married A Witch”.
And what was frustrating is there’s no bibliography so there’s no way to prove ANYTHING he wrote was true. I mean if your going to make claims at least be able to provide evidence to back it up other than the word of a woman with an obvious grudge. I was lucky to have a copy of this in my library. Inter-library loan if you have it might be the cheapest route. I ADORE I Married a Witch, the first Lake film I saw, and you might just be seeing it reviewed on this site for Halloween…just saying.
Her mother without a doubt had a HUGE grunge, and it was stupid of him to go talk to her about anything. Not a very trustworthy source to use even if it is her mother. I did try my local library, but they didn’t have it which is to be expected since my library sucks. Maybe if I lived in a bigger city they might have it, but I’d much rather have my own copy, if possible. Yeah “I Married a Witch” is my favorite film of hers, so I definitely look forward to reading your review. I know it will be one of the films I’ll be watching on Halloween.
Exactly, and regardless he’s only capable of getting one source? For the entire book?! I don’t know any author today bold enough to make a biography limited to one source. I don’t live in a big city, I’m just lucky to have a library with different branches spread out I guess lol. I Married a Witch was the first Lake film I ever saw! It’s hard for me to decide if I love her more in that or Sullivan’s Travels.
I remember taking this book out from my university library so it’s worth checking libraries for it. 🙂
I was able to get a copy from an author friend, so I’m hoping to reread it again.
I’d like to thank the author for this fair and intelligent review. I have read many articles with negative views towards Veronica. People love the dirt, and don’t seem to care if it’s true or not. The biography, co-authored, by her mother, tore Veronica to pieces. While most people take it as the truth, my thoughts were, how can a mother write this? Especially when Veronica goes to great lengths to not blame mother. This relationship is the key to Veronica’s troubles, even if she doesn’t address it in the autobiography.