Milicent Patrick was one of the most remarkable women working in Hollywood. After being one of Disney’s earliest female animators, she moved her talents onscreen, working primarily as a background extra in many films. She should best be known as the designer of the titular monster in the movie Creature from the Black Lagoon. Yet her contributions have gone largely unknown, stripped from cinema history by a male colleague with an ego. Her life went so underreported that when filmmaker Mallory O’Meara set out to write a biography of Patrick, she wasn’t even sure that she was deceased.
Still, O’Meara persevered, combing libraries, archives, and anywhere else she thought she could find information that would shine light on one of her greatest career influences. The result is a stunning portrait of Hollywood eccentricity. A childhood in world famous Hearst Castle. Cutting edge special effects work for Disney. A design career cut short by a vindictive studio boss. These years are as fascinating as they are tragic.
After her career in Hollywood, a lot of Patrick’s life becomes hazy. There isn’t a lot of documentation or verifiable information. Patrick mostly moved out of the spotlight. However, O’Meara does a fantastic job of offering some theories. She bridges as many gaps as she can, going so far as tracking down and interviewing Patrick’s niece, which offers a trove of previously unpublished knowledge. Still, with so little previous focus on Patrick’s life, there are moments when the narrative feels thin.
That doesn’t matter.
O’Meara’s devotion to Patrick is palpable. Anyone who gets a tattoo of their research subject on their arm might be ‘too close’ to the topic. In this case, that totally works. With all of the gaps in Patrick’s life, she needed someone with an overabundance of love to dig deep and find what answers are available. The result is probably the most complete biographical portrait of Patrick that will ever be available. It’s uplifting to realize that this book represents Patrick finally getting a glimmer of the praise and recognition she deserved in life.
Beyond discussing researching Patrick’s life and career, O’Meara writes extensively about women in the film industry and her own experiences. These sections are particularly effective when juxtaposed against the ‘old’ Hollywood system. Time might have progressed, but many of the attitudes and actions have not.
It’s what makes this book so fascinating and frustrating. The same scrutiny and issues Patrick dealt with in the 1950s are still occurring today. Fortunately, there are individuals like O’Meara working now, highlighting injustices and showcasing credit when it’s due.
Title: The Lady from the Black Lagoon
Author: Mallory O’Meara
Publisher: Hanover Square Press
Publication Date: 03/05/2019
Classification: Nonfiction, Biography, Entertainment
Note: I received a free ARC of this book through NetGalley.