Veronica Lake — Nothing To Hide (1941) 🇺🇸
When Paramount’s publicists first saw Veronica Lake they went around with a “peace — it’s Wonderful!” look in their eyes. You better get used to pronouncing her name. She’s here to stay.
When you see her on the screen, as you will as Sally in I Wanted Wings, you see a long tumble of wheat-blond hair, half-obscuring her right eye, a childish yet age-old swagger to slim shoulders, slight figure, the whole thing as seductive as Eve. This is the youngster, just twenty-one, that Paramount studios, inspired by Producer Arthur Hornblow, Jr., slipped into one of the plum roles of the year, that of the luscious lovely who causes the crash of an Army bomber, the conflict between two Army flyers for her love in this newest epic of aviation.
The role is strictly that of a five-letter word, commencing with “b” and Veronica Lake, who plays it, is the first to admit it, pronouncing it succinctly. She’s a great one, this kid. Likes Shakespeare — on the level; talks about the hide-bound qualities of the “older generation,” those golf-loving buddies in their thirties and forties; has a waist so slim it could be spanned by the two hands of a big-fisted fellow: eighteen -and -one -half inches. And she exudes femininity.
This appeal of the sex probably won her Sally. Against a background of Adams like Ray Milland, William Holden, Wayne Morris and barrel-chested Brian Donlevy, she will unwind her wiles. (On the credit to womanhood side of the ledger we have Constance Moore as heroine.) It may have been, too, that Mr. Hornblow saw the glimmerings of talent, real acting ability, in the little Lake when he saw the film test that won her a Paramount contract.
The test was made for another film company, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It was made, too, under circumstances that may have contributed largely to the genuineness of the emotion that was recorded on the gelatine. The night before it was made Veronica’s father became desperately ill, so ill that Veronica and her mother sat at his bedside until dawn, expecting him to die at any moment.
When morning came, physically spent, emotionally taut, Veronica was in no mood to go out and make faces for a film camera. The tragedies of real life had superimposed themselves over make-believe. But she went. Her test did not win a term contract at Metro, but it showed her two things. One was that she, as a novice, was able to “carry on” over personal distress in the best “show must go on” tradition of the theater.
The other, and it sounds corny, of course, was that the great heart of Hollywood, and it has one, although it may beat in another direction at times, could reach out and embrace her. “Not one of my old friends offered to do anything to help mother and me when father was ill,” Veronica tells. “But casual acquaintances, people I had just met on the lot, phoned to ask if there wasn’t something, big or little, that they could do to help us. That made me want to be a part of a Hollywood that could be so kind.” There is a chance that Veronica will become an important segment of Hollywood. Five minutes after Mr. Hornblow saw the ill-fated Metro test he sent for her, cast her in the aviation film, and in two jiffies she was on her way to location at San Antonio, Texas. Now the studio is talking about her future roles. This is remarkably fast progress for a youngster whose previous film work was in exactly three films.
Veronica admits that to catch her image in the films — Sorority House with Anne Shirley, a Jones’ Family episode, and Forty Little Mothers — one has to sit, pop-eyed, without blinking, so as not to miss her fleeting appearances. But she is not unschooled in theatrics. She learned her dramatic A-B-C’s in “little theater,” the Bliss-Hayden outfit, and she was with them for a year and a half.
When Veronica first hove onto the Paramount horizon the boys and girls of the praise department went around with a “Peace — it’s wonderful!” look in their eyes. They looked at her wheat-blond hair, rippling down to her shoulders, sliding over her eyes, and saw that it was untouched by the hair-dyer. They looked at the gentle, high rise of her bosom and sighed. So did Wardrobe. There would be no endless padding necessary to make this little muchacha curve in the right place.
Her hips, too, were slim and rightly curved, and her legs straight as exclamation points. The praisers sighed again. Peace, this was wonderful! No overstuffed thighs to give negative retouchers the willies, no high-riding stomach to be slimmed down by the fine art of the fellows who wield camels hair brushes in the dark rooms, no bow-legs.
“This girl has nothing to hide,” the praisers muttered to each other. “And she’s not married, either. No husband to keep in the dark. No children for us to be mum about, and ignore. Gad, what a relief!” For once here was a star-to-be who didn’t need the protective coloring, the gorgeous panoply, the excessive verbiage (like this) of their craft.
That’s what they thought... until the third of October, 1940. That was the day that the lady of the Lake name decided to give up the holy state of maidenhood and get married. At Santa Ana, California, Veronica married John Detlie, art director.
“For a few weeks we kept it a secret,” the bride confesses. “Then the columnists began to mention it, even to the place where we were married. You see I had used my right name in applying for the marriage license — we applied for it on a lunch hour — and as I had made my first three films under my own name, Constance Keane, the newspaper people whom I know put two and two together and found out our secret.”
Of course it was a big blow for the moment to the publicity department that the “nothing to hide” girl now had a skeleton in the shape of a husband skulking around in her closet. But not for long. There was still nothing to hide, they decided, for with the news broadcast young Mrs. Detlie was only too anxious to talk about her new status, about the story-book qualities of her romance (and they are), about her entrancing new mate. It was good stuff to counteract the usual ugly whisperings in Hollywood — that a biggie was romantically interested in Veronica’s future to the acute discomfort of his wife. This, we hasten to report, is untrue. Across the white of the lunch table, the little Lake loses some of the sultriness of her screen Sally. The cereal-colored hair, faintly tan, perfectly natural, is caught up in a fine-meshed black silk snood, and the slim figure is clad in a gray woolen shirtmaker dress. Faint freckles, a little cloud of them, cross her nose, and as the talk grows more serious her mouth veers to the left, a little, and her chin follows.
She is saying, and she means it, that she is thrilled today. A song, words by Ned Washington, music by Maestro Victor Young, called Born to Love has been written for her and she is to sing it. She hasn’t had any voice lessons but she knows enough about music to realize that it is fashioned for her range, and she’s delighted. “Every day something wonderful happens to me,”
Veronica is five foot three, with an assortment of the best curves in Hollywood. You’ll see her in I Wanted Wings. She’s not in circulation, having recently wed she says, and no one wants to heave a plate at her for there’s not a trace of Pollyanna in the way she says it.
If you want to start classifying the “wonderful” days in Veronica’s life, the best way is to start with her private life romance. “It was just like a story,” Veronica boasts, and so would we if it had happened to us. “It all started at Metro when I worked in the Eddie Cantor picture Forty Little Mothers. I always ate in the commissary at the studio, but I never bothered to eye the stars. In fact,” she says, with a touch of pride in her voice, “I never even troubled to look at Robert Taylor.
“This bothered my husband to distraction. He is an art director out there — has been for five years — and he later told me that he had never seen a girl with less interest in the celebrities who were scattered about her; not to mention his own presence. I kept my nose in a book or gave entire attention to my food and he never had a chance to strike up an acquaintance with me. I honestly paid no attention to him.
“The poor man grew so anxious to meet me — and I know this sounds boastful — that he wangled my phone number and street address from someone at Metro and he telephoned me. I didn’t bother to go out with him. Didn’t care about it. I didn’t know, then, that he was the sender of the gardenia and orchid corsages that I was receiving regularly.
“He tells me now that he was so anxious to meet me that he took to driving slowly by the apartment house in Beverly Hills, where I lived, waiting to see if I’d come out. He was practically pining away, and I went about with my nose stuck high in the air, paying him no attention. Paying no one any attention. I had always been rather ‘choosey’ about the people I knew and those I wanted to know.
“One day I wore John’s corsage to the studio and as I walked under one of the bridges that connects two of the lot buildings I felt a paper clip bounce off my shoulder and I looked up into the smiling face of John who was already to greet me. Wasn’t I wearing his corsage? Did I know it was his corsage? I did not. I gave him a cold glare and stalked on.
“With that John was simply undone,” Veronica continued. “He rushed to the phone and got Mother on the wire. ‘Look, Mrs. Keane,’ he said, ‘I’ve simply got to meet your daughter. Will you and she come to lunch at the studio tomorrow and we can be formally introduced?’
“Mother is not in the least bound by tradition. She has none of the stuffy old ideas that bind so many people of today — the kind of people who think that just because a few of the girls and boys of today are wild that the entire generation should be stamped as ‘incorrigible.’ She said ‘yes’ she would, and the next day we did.
“It turned Out that John was a darling and we had the same ideas about things. For instance, when I am tired and want to relax or am confused about what I should do, a little simple relaxation, like swinging back and forth, but fast, in a child’s swing, or coasting down the ‘chutes’ at the beach concessions, revives me immediately. And he’s exactly the same way.
“Of course when John started to propose (he kept proposing for six months’ before I said ‘yes’), mother didn’t have a chance to veto matrimony because it was she who arranged our meeting.”
Tieing Veronica down to matrimony was something else again. It wasn’t that she did not love John; she did. But the bugaboo of many another incipient marriage in the professions reared its head. She had her career to think of. It was a very new career, a year old, and she had worked hard for it. Her first thought was to become well-established as a cinema player before she conquered other worlds; particularly one as important as the matrimonial world.
“It was going away to Texas that got me,” she confesses, and gladly. “The company went to San Antonio to the Army flying field down there, and a great wave of need for John came over me. I knew the answer then. It was John I wanted more than career. But I think we are going to be able to arrange it so that I can have both.
“Jealousies which sometime come up in marriages in our profession won’t interfere, because we are in different branches of the business. There is a greater chance for jealousy to creep into marriage, I think, when actors and actresses marry. John wants to be a film director, and, looking at the success that Mitchell Leisen has made by going from art director to film director, I think it’s a wonderful idea. Think of the advantage he would have, pictorially, in making good films. He’d know art and design and women’s clothes.”
Yes, that’s the way she talks at twentyone, last November 14th. She has everything sized up, boxed, catalogued, pigeon-holed. Her blue-gray eyes, with their large pupils, are direct as she looks out of them, expounding her theories. She laughs, frequently; confesses that her husband calls her “Mousie,” her father’s nickname for her is “Scotch-and-soda” (because she’s part Scotch-Irish, Danish on her mother’s side); and that she gets back at John by calling him “Mutt.”
“We have made up our minds to counterattack gossip before it has a chance to attack us,” she says. “We are not going to read the gossip columns, and, with the exception of my first film, John is not going to see any of my pictures. When I worked with Anne Shirley in Sorority House she told me that was the plan followed by John Payne and herself and it was working wonderfully well. They never saw each other’s films and did not read the film gossip sheets. That sounded good to me, and John likes the idea, too.”
It’ll be a great idea if it works. Veronica, who was christened Constance Frances Marie, may make it work. There is a stubborn thrust to her chin, which probably signifies determination. And her clear ideas of marriage — she doesn’t want children for several years, not until she sees how the world situation clarifies itself; nor does she want to build a home until she sees what the conscription registration does for her thirty-one year old husband (she may have to establish a home near his training camp) — are quite devoid of flimsy illusions.
The little Lake — five feet three inches — is an only child, and she was born at Lake Placid, New York, to Mr. and Mrs. H.A. Keane. Her father was, and is, although ill health has forced his partial retirement, a commercial artist. Veronica is a convent-bred child, the Villa Maria in Montreal, Canada, and she undertook a pre-medical course for a year and a half at Montreal’s fine McGill University.
“When I was a little girl I wanted to become a doctor,” she says. “I guess I wanted to be a surgeon because I cut up my paper dolls, hacked off their legs and arms, and then glued them back on, with a great deal of delight. And I loved to play ‘hospital’ with the other children. Mother made me a little white nurse’s costume, long skirt, with a red cross sewed on it and I made a great fuss about it.”
Like many childhood dreams, hers was dispelled. Another interest took its place, and it was not the theater. Veronica’s only theatrical experience before her “little theater” days took place when she was thirteen and was cast by the Adirondack Players in some sort of musical version of Poor Little Rich Girl. It wasn’t the Duse quality in Veronica that made them select her. “No, they merely wanted a girl who was small enough to look young and like Shirley Temple, but old enough to remember lines,” is her frank remark.
Winters in Florida and California, particularly the latter, brought Veronica closer to films, but it wasn’t until she was offered a part in an RKO picture when she accompanied another girl to an interview that she began “o think seriously about a film career. When she did, she realistically faced facts. She realized she knew nothing about acting and, unlike most potential glamor girls, she knew she should learn dramatic technique before she launched her career. With that reasoning came her entrance into the Bliss-Hayden group.
Source: Modern Screen Magazine, February 1941