You know you have a winning column on your hands when writing the next installment keeps you excited all month long! As I reported in last month’s edition of Cooking with the Stars, each month (as close to the beginning of the month as possible) I will be cooking and reviewing a recipe personally created or eaten by a classic film star. I am so thrilled to be back with another delightful dish, created by a star that made perfect sense for me to include this month. For starters, Veronica Lake ranks among my top ten favorite classic film actresses any day. Her spunky attitude and peek-a-boo bang captured my heart from day one when I watched her in I Married A Witch (1941). From there I couldn’t help but admire her exceptional talent and photogenic quality, especially in her most popular noir pictures costarring Alan Ladd, which brings me to my next reason for making Veronica’s peppers my recipe of the month of November. As you might know, November is better known as #Noirvember in the Old Hollywood community. The movie monsters and haunted houses of October are replaced with cigarette smoke and dimly lit streetlights as the fandom takes the time to pay tribute to one of the finest genres in film. For this reason, I couldn’t help but highlight my most beloved noir actress in this fashion, and if all of that wasn’t reason enough, November 14th would have marked Veronica’s 96th birthday! Read on to find out all about Veronica’s life and to learn how to make her enticing entrée!
Veronica Lake was born under the name of Constance Frances Marie Ockelman on November 14th, 1922 in Brooklyn, New York. Her father, Harry Eugene Ockelman, worked for an oil company aboard a ship and died in an industrial explosion when Constance was only ten. Her mother, also named Constance Frances, married newspaper staff artist Anthony Keane the following year and Lake began using his surname. The new family then lived in Saranac Lake, New York where young Constance attended high school and was known for her beauty as well as her troubled childhood. Her mother had already begun to notice her daughter’s unstable mental health, and by this point, Conastance had reportedly been diagnosed as schizophrenic. Lake claimed that she attended McGill University for a year and studied to become a surgeon, but later recanted this version of her education and admitted that it was a goal left unachieved. Instead the Keanes moved to Beverly Hills in 1938, where Veronica was instantly signed to MGM and began attending the Bliss-Hayden School of Acting. She garnered bit parts in films like Dancing Co-Ed (1939) with Lana Turner, Young as You Feel (1940), and Forty Little Mothers (1940), the first film in which Veronica wore her hair down. This new hairdo attracted assistant director Fred Wilcox, who filmed one of her theatrical performances and showed it to an agent, who then revealed the footage to renowned producer Arthur Hornblow Jr. By a stroke of luck, Hornblow had already been searching for an unknown to play the role of a nightclub singer in I Wanted Wings (1940).
Veronica got the part, and it was during filming that she developed her signature look. According to Veronica herself, her long blonde hair accidentally fell over her right eye during a take, creating the iconic peek-a-boo effect. “I was playing a sympathetic drunk, I had my arm on a table. It slipped, and my hair — it was always baby fine and had this natural break — fell over my face. It became my trademark and purely by accident,” she later told the press. The success led Hornblow to change Constance’s name to Veronica Lake, a moniker which he claimed was inspired by her eyes, which were “calm and clear like a blue lake”. Veronica still maintained her dreams of becoming a surgeon even after her first success in the movies, but decided to hold onto her job as an actress as long as she could, marrying art director John S. Detlie in 1940 and hiding her first pregnancy so she could star in one of the finest works of her career, Sullivan’s Travels (1941). It received mixed critical reception but quickly cemented Veronica Lake as one of the most marvelous discoveries of the year. From there, Paramount decided to use her petite 4’11” stature to their advantage and cast her opposite the talented Alan Ladd who, standing at 5’6″, was usually too short in comparison to his leading ladies. The two went on to collaborate in some of the biggest smash hits of their respective filmographies in This Gun For Hire (1942), The Glass Key (1942), and The Blue Dahlia (1946) and have since become one of the most well-known onscreen couples in film noir history.
The second world war marked the beginning of the end of Veronica’s career. Thousands of women working in factories emulated her long and cascading hairstyle, and injuries were caused after their tresses got caught in the machinery. In response, she starred in “Safety Styles“, a public service announcement in which her hair was pinned into a chic updo, which rendered her nearly unrecognizable by the public. At the same time, Veronica’s unpredictable behavior and alcoholism burned bridge after bridge in Hollywood, with both leading men Joel McCrea and Fredric March refusing to work with her again. Her work in pictures fizzled out in the late forties as a result of these factors, and she would make only one more successful picture: the cult classic horror Flesh Feast (1970), released three years before her passing at age fifty on July 7, 1973 of acute hepatitis and acute kidney injury. As per her wishes, the majority of her ashes were scattered off the coast of the Virgin Islands, but in a twist of events as exceptional as her life, some of Lake’s ashes were reportedly found in a New York antique store thirty years later in 2004. Forgotten by many, Veronica remains as alluring and vibrant as ever in her wide array of phenomenal pictures and in the hearts of fans who adore her to this day.
Below you’ll find Veronica Lake’s recipe for Stuffed Peppers! I found this recipe on an amazing Veronica Lake Facebook fan page, Blonde Mystique – A Veronica Lake Repositorium. According to the page, it was first published in a movie magazine during World War II.
Veronica Lake’s Stuffed Peppers
- 6 green bell peppers
- 1 cup uncooked rice
- 2 small cans tomato sauce (I only needed one small can)
- ½ pound diced mushrooms
- Pimento cheese (preferably sliced if you can find it, but I used ½ pound of spread)
- Boil rice in salted water. Drain and wash rice in cold water.
- Add tomato sauce and fresh mushrooms which have been sauteed in ham drippings. (I used butter!)
- Stuff six peppers and top with sliced pimiento cheese.
- Bake for half an hour. (I baked mine at 350° F.)
Making these peppers was a breeze, as opposed to last month’s Boris Karloff Steak and Kidney Pie which took over four hours! I will admit here that I’ve made Veronica’s peppers once before, as I’m slowly but surely working my way through testing out some recipes for a possible cookbook in the future. Because of this, I made these notes after my first experience about what I could improve:
“Would be perfect with some seasonings and shredded chicken in the mixture, then layered with the pimento cheese rather than simply placing it on top.”
When I made the peppers this time around, I went ahead and made half according to the original recipe for authenticity, but I also made three more with the layered cheese and shredded spiced chicken to see if my hunch was right, and it sure was! While I really underestimated how delicious the recipe was as it is, the addition of chicken, cheese, and spices (I used cumin, chili powder, and a touch of cayenne) made this one of the best Old Hollywood recipes that I’ve ever tried for my blog. In my book, these peppers receive four out of five Vincents as is, and an astounding five out of five Vincents with chicken, more cheese, and spices!
With the quick cooking time and short list of ingredients, this could easily be a new weeknight dinner staple in my kitchen! I hope you try this dish and allow it to be a staple in your home too, and if you enjoyed my take on Veronica Lake and her delectable dish, please check back next month for another recipe and another classic movie star write-up!