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Veronica Lake: The Woman Behind the Hair

Being the sexiest woman in the room can be devastatingly simple—it’s all about mystery. About what’s hidden. About what’s left unsaid. For example, which one’s sexier: “You want me,” or “You want me, don’t you?” The question, and the mystery inherent in the open ending, grabs us. The desire to find out is nearly impossible to ignore. Case in point, consider the power of lingerie. Sexy? Check. Mysterious? Heck yeah.

And mystery, dear reader, is how Veronica Lake’s hair made her a major star, influenced an entire country of women, and still influences us today. Yep. Her hair.

But I digress. First, who the heck is Veronica Lake? Unless you’re a fan of old black and white movies or the noir genre, you may never have heard of her. Still, I’ll put money on it that if your hair is on the longish side, you’ve worn it like hers more than once when you wanted to sizzle. So does Reese Witherspoon, Sienna Miller, Kate Hudson, Kate Bosworth, and yes, even Jessica Rabbit in the animated film, “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”

To answer my question, Lake was a 4’11” 1940s bombshell, who seemingly achieved iconic status in the blink of an eye—a hidden eye, that is. She’d done the beauty pageants and the acting classes, but her big break came when, during a screen test, she was asked to portray a drunk. Her elbow slipped off the table, and her beautiful blond hair fell in front of her face. Even though she thought she’d botched it, she finished the scene, then went home and sobbed.

But the producer knew that lock of hair covering her left eye was smoking hot. He gave her a new name, calling her Lake for the blue of her eyes and Veronica because he thought it was classy. Classier than her real name for sure—Constance Ockelman.

Most importantly, he cast her as a nightclub singer in “I Wanted Wings”, and “BLINK!” An entire generation of women did whatever they could to have her hair. The style was nicknamed the “peekaboo style” because it partially hid her face. See how that works? A little mystery. A little of the old “now you see it, now you don’t.”  Intriguing. Mysterious. Magical.

After the blockbuster “I Wanted Wings”, Lake made seven noir films with Alan Ladd, a 5’5” actor who didn’t appreciate her acting as much as he appreciated her height. No more standing on boxes for him.

Lake, notoriously famous for her caustic comments and her diva-like demands, was nonetheless a talented actress and singer. Despite her wicked witchdom, which was legendary, she found she excelled at comedy.

Then came the war. Countless soldiers carried her photo with them into battle as a reminder of what they were fighting for. She was so admired, her pin-up girl status inspired composers Rogers & Hart to write a song about her titled “The Girl I Love to Leave Behind.”

Today, in spite of her lovely face and beautiful voice, she’s mostly remembered for her hair. Life magazine called her hair “a Cinema Property of World Influence” Such an influence, in fact, that when factory women were injured by their hair catching in war-time assembly-line machinery, the government requested she wear her hair up for the war effort. Lake complied by demonstrating her new updo on national television, and women everywhere followed her lead. Eventually she cut her hair off and began her slide down into obscurity. Many believed it was because of the haircut, but the truth is probably closer to her succumbing to mental illness. She died in 1973 of complications arising from alcohol abuse.

Undeniably, Lake’s look is iconic. A slipped elbow, and suddenly, there’s SMOKE!  Intrigue! Mystery! Vamp! Veronica Lake accomplished it all with one little lock of hair falling over her right eye.

So…what’s your secret weapon?

 

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