Veronica Lake was born in Brooklyn, New York on November 14, 1922 as Constance Frances Marie Ockleman. Her father worked for an oil company as a ship employee.
When Connie was only 12, tragedy struck when her father died in an explosion on an oil ship. One year later her mother married Anthony Keane and Connie took his last name as her own. In 1934, when her stepfather was diagnosed with tuberculosis, the family moved to Saranac Lake, where Connie Keane enjoyed the outdoor life and flourished in the activities of boating on the lakes, skating, skiing, swimming, biking around Moody pond and hiking up Mt Baker. The family made their home in 1935 at 1 Watson Place, (now 27 Seneca Street) then they moved to 1 Riverside Drive,(now Lake Kiwassa Road). Both Connie and Anthony benefited from the Adirondack experience and in 1936 the family left the Adirondacks and moved to Miami, FL., however, the memories of those carefree Saranac Lake days would always remain deeply rooted in her mind.
Two years later, Connie graduated from high school in Miami. Her natural beauty and charm and a definite talent for acting prompted her mother and step-father to move to Beverly Hills, California, where they enrolled her in the well known Bliss Hayden School of Acting in Hollywood. Connie had previously been diagnosed as a classic schizophrenic and her parents saw acting as a form of treatment for her condition. She showed remarkable abilities and didn't have to wait long for a part to come her way. After several bit parts she changed her name to Veronica Lake.
Her films included: ‘This Gun for Hire’, ‘The Hour Before Dawn’, ‘Hold That Blonde’, and ‘Out of this World’ among others. Veronica was soon a big name star and her success in acting seemed unstoppable. By the early 1950's however, Lake's career had hit the skids. Still suffering from schizophrenia, and in a state of paranoia, she turned to drinking heavily to relieve herself from the burden. This only added to her deteriorating mental state and, with the stress of three broken marriages, a domineering stage mother, a manic depressive personality, and a self destructive addiction to liquor she pushed herself over the edge. After 1952, she would make only two more films, both grade B horror flicks. The beautiful super star with the peekaboo hair do, who entertained and inspired so many, never received the professional help which would have saved her from the mental suffering and she would endure it alone. She eventually frequented cheap hotels in New York City and worked as a bartender where she obtained a steady supply of booze. She never revealed her true identity and even her co-workers were in the dark about her glamorous past. By the late 1960's she had reached rock bottom, holing up in her apartment out of paranoid fears that the FBI was following her and tapping her phone. This fear may have some basis in fact, as in July of 1943, while working for Paramount Studios, she had received an extortion threat. It was addressed to her under her married name at the time, Mrs. John S. Detlie. As this case can still be found in the FBI files, they most likely tapped her phone for a time. Those who knew her in the 60's said that the once great beauty had turned into a worn out mess, with rotting teeth, unwashed hair, and the pasty complexion of a bloated alcoholic. Saranac Lake native, James Quigley, recalls an encounter with her while she was working at a popular New York City bar at #1 Fifth Avenue in the 60's. He introduced himself as a Saranac Laker and Veronica seemed happy to meet someone from her old hometown. Jim said "I went to the bar at #1 Fifth Avenue, a very chic and popular bar for New Yorkers. Veronica was tending bar and when I told her I was from Saranac Lake she cried, kissed me and continuted to work. What a moment!"
In the early 1970s Veronica made a brief return to the spotlight with the publication of her autobiography, which earned her enough cash to relocate to the British Isles. She married for a fourth time- to an English sea captain, a commercial fisherman known as "Captain Bob" but that soon ended in divorce. In early 1973, her body and mind ravaged by alcoholism, she returned to the states.
Veronica's biography and other sources state that she went to visit friends in Vermont, however, this is inaccurate. For one thing, she had no friends in Vermont, and for another, she didn't go directly to Vermont but instead came to Saranac Lake, the place where Connie Kean had spent the happiest years of her childhood, the village she had never forgotten, the place that had remained in her memories throughout her glamorous but tortured career. The memories of her happy, youthful days in the mountains contrasted with the now painful reality of her mental and physical suffering and she wanted to relive the good days. She wanted to be healed, just as her stepfather had been many years ago but it was too late for her. She was beyond help. Connie Keane had come home to die.
According to the Saranac Lake doctors who treated her, she was already "pretty far along" with an acute case of hepatitis and she was not long in Saranac Lake before she was admitted to Will Rogers Hospital. According to her doctor in Vermont, Warren Beeken, Saranac Lake did not have the resources to treat her as well as the Medical Center in Burlington, so on June 26, 1973 she was transferred to the Fletcher Allen Hospital. Her presence in the hospital was not publicized- because, according to her publicist William Roos- "Frankly, I didn't think she was going to die". He was not aware of the extreme state of her medical condition. According to Dr. Beeken, her case of hepatitis had persisted for some time before she entered the Fletcher Allen Hospital, and her condition had deteriorated rapidly.
Word of her true identity quickly spread throughout the facility, and the hospital staff visited her room to pay their respects. She visibly brightened due to the attention, signing autographs for the nurses and speaking confidently of future plans. According to one nurse who attended her in her final days, "She was very cheerful and friendly, happy and looking forward to the future, and still retained a shadow of her former beauty." Yet, she was also utterly and completely alone- with no guests or phone calls, a sad state for one once so well known. Dr. Beeken looked in on her one last time on the evening on July 6, when acute renal failure had set in. Early on the morning of July 7, 1973, Constance Frances Marie Ockleman passed away, alone and forgotten at age of 50.
Hearing of his mother's death, her son Michael, who lived in Hawaii, asked his father, Lake's 3rd ex-husband, Andre de Toth, for money to fly to Vermont, but his request was denied. Michael had to take a loan out to fly to Vermont to claim the body from the Corbin Palmer funeral home, located near the Fletcher Allen hospital. She was then cremated but her ashes were stored at the funeral home untill payment could be made. Her sparsely attended Manhattan memorial service was paid for by a friend, veteran ghostwriter Donald Bain, who penned Lake's incomplete autobiography. Not even her ashes made the event; as they were still stored at the funeral home in a squabble over money. Her ashes remained there until March 1976, when two friends volunteered to bring Lake's ashes to Florida. Bain sent the funeral home $200 to cover the back storage fees, and the ashes were shipped to the Park Avenue residence of a friend, William Roos. Roos and Dick Toman supposedly took the ashes south for their ceremonial deposit in the water off Miami but it appears that this isn't the end of the story. It is claimed that the ashes somehow found their way to a curio shop in the Catskills, a place called 'Langley's Mystery Spot', in Phoenicia, N.Y. Even in death, it appears that Connie can't rest.