Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Bring me the ashes of Veronica Lake

Just because Veronica Lake is one of my favorite female movie stars from the 1940s, I found fascinating this convoluted tale about the authenticity (or lack thereof) of a collection of ashes that are purported to be Ms. Lake's mortal remains.

If you don't know who Veronica Lake was — and unless you're either on the hoary side of middle age or, like myself, one who spent far too many hours of precious youth camped out in front of the television set watching old movies, you probably don't — you should drop by the classics section of your local DVD outlet and check out Sullivan's Travels or This Gun For Hire. (Regrettably, two of Lake's best films, the war drama So Proudly We Hail and the Raymond Chandler-scripted film noir The Blue Dahlia, aren't yet available on DVD.)

Lake possessed a fragile, ethereal yet cuddly quality that was truly compelling on screen (aided by the fact that she stood four-foot-eleven and couldn't have carried more than 100 pounds on a surprisingly curvaceous frame for so petite a woman), and a keen but rarely exploited sense of comic timing. Today, she's probably best remembered not for her acting ability but for her trademark hairstyle: wavy blonde locks brushed down over her right eye, creating a "peek-a-boo" effect. (During World War II, the U.S. government asked her to rearrange her tresses, for fear that women wearing the Lake 'do would injure themselves while working on assembly lines, due to decreased visibility.) In L.A. Confidential, Kim Basinger played a prostitute whose marketing gimmick was imitating the appearance of Veronica Lake.

If you happen to be touring the Catskills anytime soon, drop by Homer and Langley's Mystery Spot, the antique shop in Phoenicia, New York where the supposed ashes of Veronica Lake reside. Maybe the proprietors will give you a peek. (I'd always heard that Lake's ashes were scattered off the Florida coast near Miami. But what do I know?)

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