- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 13, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — With her peek-a-boo blond hairdo and sultry looks, Veronica Lake was the “it-girl” of the 1940s silver screen. When she died penniless three decades later, her ashes sat anonymously in a funeral home for nearly three years before they were scattered off the Florida coast.

Or were they?

Far from the Hollywood hills and many miles north of Miami, Miss Lake’s reputed remains have resurfaced in a Catskills antique store. The quirky little shop plans a homage to the late star on Saturday, with a look-alike contest, peek-a-boo cookies — and a spoonful of the actress’ purported ashes taking center stage.

While questions about the ashes’ authenticity hang over the event like Miss Lake’s signature hairstyle, the boutique’s owner is convinced they are the real thing.

“It’s a strange little footnote to a fascinating legacy,” said Laura Levine, owner of Homer and Langley’s Mystery Spot in Phoenicia, N.Y. “I’m a huge fan of Veronica Lake. I just think she’s brilliant, gorgeous, incredibly talented and underappreciated.”

Miss Lake was once one of Hollywood’s brightest lights, a contemporary of Oscar winners Ingrid Bergman and Joan Crawford, a co-star with Alan Ladd in the film noirs “This Gun for Hire” and “The Glass Key,” and with Joel McCrea in Preston Sturges’ “Sullivan’s Travels.”

Her hairstyle, with long locks cascading over her right eye, was so popular that U.S. officials asked her to change it during World War II, fearing the ‘do might cause workplace accidents among women on assembly lines.

Kim Basinger’s Oscar-winning call girl character in 1998’s “L.A. Confidential” was based on Miss Lake.

But when the actress died in her early 50s on July 7, 1973, she was an entertainment footnote. She was working as a New York cocktail waitress, drinking heavily and married to her fourth husband, a commercial fisherman known as “Captain Bob.”

Her sparsely attended Manhattan, N.Y., memorial service was paid for by a friend, veteran ghostwriter Donald Bain, who penned Miss Lake’s autobiography. Not even her ashes made the event; they were stored at a Burlington, Vt., funeral home in a squabble over money, as best Mr. Bain can remember.

The remains remained there until March 1976, when two friends volunteered to bring Miss Lake’s ashes to Florida. Mr. Bain sent the funeral home $200 to cover the back storage fees, and the ashes were shipped to the Park Avenue residence of Lake confidante William Roos.

Mr. Roos and pal Dick Toman took the ashes south for their ceremonial deposit in the water off Miami, just as Miss Lake had once requested.

Mission accomplished. Or so Mr. Bain thought.

The years passed, Mr. Toman died, Mr. Roos fell out of touch with Mr. Bain — and then, 28 years later, Miss Lake’s ashes reappeared, along with an odd story of ownership.

According to Miss Lake’s current keeper, Larry Brill, off-Broadway producer Ben Bagley saw the urn with Miss Lake’s ashes while visiting Mr. Roos and became enamored of the attractive container. Mr. Roos, for reasons unexplained, later sent along the ashes to Mr. Bagley without the urn, said Mr. Brill.

A disappointed Mr. Bagley promptly poured the remains into a manila envelope and mailed them to Mr. Brill in about 1979. The amount was so small that it was clearly not all of her remains, suggesting that Mr. Roos might have saved some of the ashes as a keepsake.

“I have no reason not to believe the ashes are Veronica Lake,” said Mr. Brill, 65, a graphic designer and Lake fan. “Benny’s not going to dump some stranger’s ashes in an envelope.”

Mr. Brill, who spends his weekends in the Catskills, brought the ashes to Ms. Levine’s store this past summer. They quickly found a place among the shop’s garden gnomes, vintage clothing and paint-by-number art, and inspired the October tribute.

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