Sunday, April 2, 2023

The Classic Film Collective: The Lady from the Black Lagoon

 This was originally published in the former The Classic Film Collective Patreon.

The Lady from the Black Lagoon
Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick
by Mallory O'Meara
Paperback ISBN: 9781335010131
Hanover Square Press
336 pages

If you're looking for a good read for October, look no further than Mallory O'Meara's book on Milicent Patrick, the artist who designed the creature in the Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). For many years Bud Westmore, one of the famous Westmore brothers who dominated the makeup scene in Hollywood, took credit for designing the creature. However, movie monsters were often the work of several artists including makeup designers, makeup artists, sculptors, etc. With Creature from the Black Lagoon, Universal was dipping a toe into the world of science fiction and the creature had to be just right. Westmore, impressed with Patrick's artistic eye, hired her as part of his team. And when it came time to promote the final film, Universal sent Milicent Patrick on a nationwide tour. Westmore was furious that she was getting all of the attention. Wielding the power he had in Hollywood thanks to his name and the deeply entrenched patriarchy, he fired Milicent Patrick upon her return, essentially ending her special effects career. O'Meara takes the charge to undo this terrible wrong with her excellent book, revealing Westmore's pettiness and Milicent Patrick's genius while shedding light on an industry that has thrived on suppressing female talent behind the scenes.

“What matters is that Milicent was bringing art and monsters to life on-screen and that she was one of the first women to do so. She was blazing trails in a male-dominated industry, an industry that is still dominated by men.” — Mallory O'Meara

O'Meara's book is part biography, part memoir and part feminist manifesto. Not only are we taken on a journey through Milicent Patrick's life and career but we also see the lengths O'Meara had to go to uncover information about this little known artist from Hollywood history and what her research revealed about what women have to deal with while working in genre film. Patrick, who was born Mildred Rossi, was the daughter of an architect who helped design Hearst Castle and the surrounding estate. In fact, she later changed her name to Milicent as a nod to one of her earliest inspirations, Milicent Hearst. Patrick inherited her father's artistic eye and attended art school to hone her craft. She was one of the first female animators working at Disney. There she animated sequences in Dumbo and Fantasia, specializing in color techniques, before moving on to a long but relatively unsuccessful career as an actress. As a proud card carrying SAG member, Milicent Patrick was a background actress in many B-movies. She would often draw on set, catching the eye of fellow actors and of Bud Westmore. When Westmore hired her as a makeup designer (different from a makeup artists), she created looks for the pirate film Against All Flags (1952) and the barbarian makeup for Sign of the Pagan (1954). Working in genre film, she helped design the Xenomorph from It Came from Outer Space (1953), the Metaluna Mutant in This Island Earth (1955), and masks for Abbott and Costello spoofs. Her greatest and best known work would be the design for the Creature from the Black Lagoon which is still considered one of the best monster movies of all time.

As the reader learns about Milicent Patrick's extraordinary yet short lived career as a makeup designer and monster creator, O'Meara offers a rightfully scathing look at an industry that continues to mistreat women. The narrative shifts back and forth between Milicent Patrick's story, the author's own journey as a producer in the horror film industry and her work researching for the book. O'Meara's a fantastic storyteller but sometimes great moments are revealed a bit too early before they can really pack a punch. Yet O'Meara's voice is still strong. She's not afraid to tell you what she thinks, to question the research and to really dig for the truth. It's a powerful read.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Leave me a comment! If it is a long one, make sure you save a draft of it elsewhere just in case Google gobbles it up and spits it out.

Popular Posts

 Twitter   Instagram   Facebook