Lady From The Black Lagoon by Mallory O’Meara
Hanover Square Press, ppbk, £13.00
Reviewed by Ian Hunter
No, this isn’t a horror novel, though you might think that from the title, in a way it is horror fact when you consider that the book is sub-titled: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick. But who is Millicent Patrick? you might be thinking. Well, according to author Mallory O’Meara, Milicent Patrick didn’t get the credit for coming up with the design of the monster in “The Creature from the Black Lagoon”. Film fans (or anoraks) like me are familiar with iconic make-up artist Jack Pierce who created Boris Karloff’s look in the 1931 “Frankenstein”, but I had never heard of Milicent Patrick. And no wonder, explains O’Meara drawing parallels with the way that she has been treated by the film industry some 70 years later – sexism and misogyny still thrive in the 21st century.
Patrick was an occasional model and actress, worked for Disney as an animator on films like “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia” and eventually ended up as a designer working in the make-up department run by Bud Westmore at Universal Studios (the charismatic Westmore having taken over from Jack Pierce in 1946 after Pierce was sacked by the studio).
Horror film fans will be familiar with some of the other titles that Patrick worked on such as “It Came From Outer Space,” “This Island Earth,” “Abbott and Costello Meet Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” and “The Mole People.” and things might have been a whole lot different if Patrick hadn’t become involved in “The Creature of the Black Lagoon” as the original concept revolved around the original script which was called “The Sea Monster” which could be described as un underwater King Kong; but Patrick studied fish, and prehistoric creatures and created a missing link look for the monster, something which came from the depths. The design was a great success, and she was asked to travel the country to promote the film as “The Beauty who Created the Beast”, but then…and then…and then…? Well, I’m not going to spoil the fun and reveal the events and circumstances that O’Meara has unearthed to find out what happened to Patrick and why she has been erased from monster-making history, you’ll just have to read the book if you want the answers.
Patrick’s story isn’t straightforward, and O’Meara’s telling of it certainly isn’t straightforward either as she intertwines Patrick’s life with her own as well as including some snippets of Hollywood history and gossip. It’s an interesting way to tackle the subject, perhaps the ultimate form of author intrusion by inserting your own autobiography into the biography of someone else that you are writing.
Although told in a way that might not be everyone’s cup of tea, O’Meara has revealed the true story of the birth of one of the later Universal monsters and a creature look that continues to live and inspire others, from the pages of the Hellboy comics and films; Guillermo del Toro’s “The Shape of Water” and even more recently in Netflix’s “Sweetheart”.