Vintage fantasy in C minor
5 Février 2005
A long time ago, I bought several art books filled up with glamour photos of Hollywood movie stars from the 40's and the 50's. Beautiful pictures in the particular esthetic touch of the era, highly contrasted black and white style.
All the actors and actresses from these old days were in these books. Most of them are still famous, people remember their names, they became part of the american and maybe worldwide culture. These names travelled through the decades to reach us. Burt Lancaster, Gary Cooper, Richard Widmark, Humphrey Bogart, Rita Hayworth, Ava Gardner, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman. And many others.
But there was one actress I didn't know. And she was amazingly beautiful. Her name was Veronica Lake.
I didn't remember seeing any movie with her. The curious thing I noticed at first was the funny asymetric hairstyle on most of the pictures. Strange, but at the same time familiar. Iconic of the 40's. I had seen it before, but I could not exactly remember where. Probably in some old photo shoot, maybe some advertizing or painting from the era, or some vintage magazine.
I learnt later that Veronica Lake actually invented this hair style. It was called the "peek-a-boo bang" because one eye, and almost half of the face, was hidden behind a falling curl of hair.
Her short and meteoritic career took place during the first half of the 40's. The peak year was probably 1942, when she starred in several movies and was elected "top female box office star of the year" by Life Magazine.
She became hugely popular in the United States. The GI's at war, far away, needed some beautiful faces to remind them of their country, and to keep the morale up.
It is rumored that studios often paired her with male actor Alan Ladd because they were both short.
Every girl around this time copied her hairstyle. It actually became a national problem. During the war, millions of women were working in factories to replace enlisted men. Such a hairstyle was dangerous when handling heavy machinery that needed both eyes wide open, and no long hair that could get stuck everywhere. The US government officially asked Veronica Lake to change her hairstyle and publicize it. She agreed.
Starting from the end of the 40's, for no precise reason, her career declined quickly. People said that she had a tough character and was difficult to work with. The studios offered her bad roles in bad movies made by bad directors. She almost disappeared from public view for a decade.
She got many problems. Her mother sued her for money. She got married and divorced many times. She lost a child. She filed for bankrupcy. The Tax Department seized anything she had. She probably suffered from untreated schizophrenia. She drank heavily.
Ten years later, in 1962, a journalist discovered that the peek-a-boo bang girl was working as a bartender in a New York hotel. She tried to come back, but it didn't really work. She wrote her autobiography the year I was born, 1969.
She died in 1973, ruined and forgotten. She was only 53 years old.
She was cremated, as she had requested. During three years, her ashes stayed on a shelf because nobody would pay to disperse them off Miami as she wanted. She was unlucky even until after her death.
One day you are the queen, the star, the icon of your country, everyone loves you and want to be like you. The next day, you are a piece of useless forgotten trash haunting the streets and smelling bad alcohol.
Good bye, Veronica Lake. You were so beautiful. Tonight, in your honor, I will watch my first movie in which you star, "This gun for hire" (1942). Others will follow. And once again, I love Netflix.