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The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick

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The Lady from the Black Lagoon uncovers the life and work of Milicent Patrick—one of Disney’s first female animators and the only woman in history to create one of Hollywood’s classic movie monsters.

As a teenager, Mallory O’Meara was thrilled to discover that one of her favorite movies, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, featured a monster designed by a woman, Milicent Patrick. But for someone who should have been hailed as a pioneer in the genre there was little information available. For, as O’Meara soon discovered, Patrick’s contribution had been claimed by a jealous male colleague, her career had been cut short and she soon after had disappeared from film history. No one even knew if she was still alive.

As a young woman working in the horror film industry, O’Meara set out to right the wrong, and in the process discovered the full, fascinating story of an ambitious, artistic woman ahead of her time. Patrick’s contribution to special effects proved to be just the latest chapter in a remarkable, unconventional life, from her youth growing up in the shadow of Hearst Castle, to her career as one of Disney’s first female animators. And at last, O’Meara discovered what really had happened to Patrick after The Creature’s success, and where she went.

A true-life detective story and a celebration of a forgotten feminist trailblazer, Mallory O’Meara’s The Lady from the Black Lagoon establishes Patrick in her rightful place in film history while calling out a Hollywood culture where little has changed since.

368 pages, Hardcover

First published March 5, 2019

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Mallory O'Meara

7 books1,284 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,226 reviews
Profile Image for Jessica.
425 reviews25 followers
February 15, 2019
Despite the title, I would not call this a book about the Lady from the Black Lagoon. This is a memoir about O’Meara researching Milicent Patrick’s previously unknown life with a lot of filler to make this into a full-length book. With a few exceptions, the first 85% of this book doesn’t have much about Milicent Patrick. Instead we learn about her father’s background, William Randolph Hearst and his architect Julia Morgan, Nelbert Chouinard, the Westmores, a history of special effects and makeup in film, monster suits that are not the Creature’s, critiques on various 1950’s horror movies, gender inequality, current political and social movements, and privilege ad nauseam. Throughout the book she chided those who focused on Milicent’s appearance when she did exactly the same, repeating how attractive she was and calling her a “babe.”

There is a dark side to the person who has been obsessed over for this book. Her family estranged themselves from her and two people committed suicide as a result of her actions. There are many allegations that Milicent Patrick didn’t visually create the Creature from the Black Lagoon and O’Meara does a poor job of discrediting these claims, writing that she either doesn’t believe them or that men who worked on the set wouldn’t remember a woman in a notable position because of the fact that she’s a woman. This does nothing to help her credibility as an author. She writes so much of how the horror genre is saturated with misogynist able-bodied white men that I wonder what she finds appealing about it. O’Meara is not a terrible writer, did a good job researching, and a small chunk of this book was actually interesting, hence the two stars. However, words and phrases repeatedly used are immature and very much geared towards millennials or those who are not offended by hashtags in print. To me this feels more like a blog post than a finished, published piece of work.

I feel that this book could be improved immensely by only focusing on Milicent’s life and O’Meara’s research journey. If there had not been unnecessary background on other individuals and so many personal opinions, I would have given this book at least four stars.

I was given a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Jon Nakapalau.
5,116 reviews728 followers
March 15, 2023
Have you ever heard of Milicent Patrick? She worked at Disney as one of the first female animators - then went to Universal and designed The Creature From The Black Lagoon...but her boss took credit for everything and had her fired. Mallory O'Meara finds Milicent Patrick for us - and tells her heartbreaking story - the beauty who never got credit for creating the most original beast ever - highest recommendation.
Profile Image for Joe Valdez.
499 reviews857 followers
December 23, 2022
Beware! The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Legacy of Milicent Patrick is a five-star subject given two-star writing treatment. Published in 2019, this is a debut book from Mallory O'Meara, who effectively translates her passion for late animator, actor and special effects makeup designer Milicent Patrick--creator of the iconic Gill Man from The Creature From the Black Lagoon--into a noble cause. I just wish I'd been able to fall in love with the writing as much as the subject.

Patrick was the daughter of Camile Rossi, a chief construction engineer of Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Milicent was a scribbler, always doodling. She studied at the Chouniard Institute for three years, focusing on illustration and drawing. A frequent visitor of the L.A. art school was Walt Disney, who was looking to build an animation studio staffed by artists who understood how to draw for action. Patrick went to work for Disney in 1939 in the Ink and Paint Department, staffed entirely by women doing meticulous and delicate work of cel inking, regarded by men then and now as women's work, not real animation.

Patrick worked on Fantasia, animating one of Disney's greatest monsters, the Chernabog. Layoffs led her into modeling and acting, but Patrick was forever sketching portraits and her artistic skill caught the eye of Bud Westmore, head of the makeup department at Universal Pictures. Patrick's designs brought the beasts of such classic films as It Came From Outer Space, This Island Earth and most notably The Creature From the Black Lagoon to life. Universal even sent Patrick on a national promotional tour to help hype the Gill Man, but Westmore's jealously prompted him to fire Patrick and take credit for her work.

Patrick never worked in makeup design again and never complained about being run out of the industry by Westmore either. She passed away in 1998 just as the Internet and in particular the Internet Movie Database were beginning to offer "corrected credits" for many films whose contributors never received their due, either because of arcane union rules, blacklisting or simply the way the film industry regarded crew members until very recently. Now, Westmore's very short Wikipedia page states that he stole credit for designing Gill Man from Milicent Patrick. I hope he's rolling over in his grave.

It is a credit to The Lady from the Black Lagoon and Mallory O'Meara that I now know any of this. It's impossible to ignore how poorly her book is written, though. She admits that she encountered skepticism that Patrick's work warranted enough material for a book and those warnings were right. O'Meara gets around her lack of material by commenting about her career, her experiences in the film industry, her tattoo of Milicent Patrick. She pads the book with chatty, pedestrian, flat, blog-style writing that often does everything it can not to focus on Milicent Patrick.

The 1940s were turbulent years for the world, for the country and for Milicent. World War II was raging and the anxiety of technological progress loomed over America. The war cast a dark shadow over everything, even Hollywood and sunny California. Fear and uncertainty were ubiquitous. While the world was swirling in turmoil, Milicent stepped out into it for the first time.

Besides illustration, one of Milicent's great talents was looking beautiful and poised in front of a still or video camera. Believe me, this is a talent. It is not an easy thing to charm a lens. Being aware of every part of your face and body, keeping every muscle poised, tightened and angled
just so is a sort of creative magic that leaves me in awe.

I mean, call your area Poison Control hotline and ask for Mr. Yuk, right? Ugh.

I'm thrilled that O'Meara wrote The Lady from the Black Lagoon--Milicent Patrick was ready for her long deserved closeup on public radio and television as a pioneering woman in the field of special effects makeup design--but would caution film geeks beware how substandard and padded the writing is. Googling two or three articles about Patrick from professional journalists to learn about her life and contributions would be my recommendation, but it's debatable any of those articles would exist without O'Meara's research and her book, so, I do give her props.

Word count: 101,130 words
Profile Image for Margaret Sankey.
Author 9 books208 followers
March 29, 2019
I wanted to love this book about a pathbreaking woman and her resounding legacy as a film effects and creature designer (whose legacy includes some explanations for the in-jokes in The Shape of Water, among other things). However, my own hard-won and often denigrated professional background is in research and history, and I know from bitter experience that when you reconstruct the life of an under-valued, marginalized and under-documented person, you have to do it right and set up subsequent researchers for success. O'Meara is a brilliant artist in film, but an amateurish, sloppy and infuriating researcher. Her publisher gave her a green light without any indication she could even call a library reference desk instead of hounding tour guides at Hearst Castle until they told her there was an archive and archivist, and to make an appointment. She didn't know newspaper databases existed. The only footnotes are snarky rimshot comments, so when she attributes feelings to people, we have no idea if it is her projection, or actually in a primary source. She used personal family papers and there are no organization systems or plans to donate them to an archive. I threw this book across the room repeatedly for gee-whizzing and aw shucksing the absolute rock botto basics of competence in my own profession and undermining the efforts of anyone else to do a better job.
Profile Image for Ross Blocher.
432 reviews1,389 followers
July 6, 2019
The Lady from the Black Lagoon tells the fascinating story of Milicent Patrick, the designer of the iconic Creature (he of the eponymous Black Lagoon). Milicent's is a name that deserves to be recognized by fans of film, horror and art, and Mallory O'Meara has done a great service by uncovering details of Milicent's rich and multi-faceted life. I'll share a more detailed review after the book is released, but I guarantee this is a rewarding, eye-opening and entertaining read. Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Emily K..
168 reviews18 followers
June 13, 2020
Update: I'm pretty disappointed that Library Journal named this as one of their Best Arts Books of 2019.

I wanted to like this book, but the book I read and the book of my expectations were wildly different creatures. My expectations said, "Biography of a lost Hollywood monster designer." The book said, "hybrid memoir/non-fiction about a young horror producer seeking the tale of a lost Hollywood monster designer, with digressions." And I don't want to blame O'Meara, whose enthusiasm for the topic is clear, her research appears thorough, her writing is occasionally witty, but I want to blame whomstsoever edited and marketed this book. It's easier to sell a biography of a woman lost to history to content-hungry feminists and allies than it is to sell a memoir by an independent movie producer. A more canny editor could've seen the similarities between Milicent Patrick's life and the life of Julia Morgan, two women whose tales are lost in the Black Lagoon of patriarchy, and asked the author to tease out more untold stories of Hollywood women. A more canny editor could've said let's sell this as a short, poppy biography of a lost Hollywood monster designer. A more canny editor could've asked the author to include some of the items from her research, rather than tell the tale of doing that research. Someone referred to it as "a chronicle of O'Meara's search for the life of Milicent Patrick," which is maybe the most accurate description, because most of it consists of visiting historic sites, archives, and speaking with relatives, which is indeed how research is done. As a librarian it kinda bummed me out how ill informed O'Meara was about libraries, but grateful that she used them. What bummed me out was that she didn't attempt to understand why an archive would need requests for copies of material--because donors often stipulate restrictions about what can and cannot be reproduced from their archives, or because items may or may not be available due to copyright--and instead sees it as an opportunity to make a joke about archivists being ghouls. Archivists are like the biggest nerds there are, c'mon, Mallory. Same with the weird shade about Mormonism, they have deep genealogical archives because of certain beliefs, but those beliefs turn into punchlines rather than potential moments of understanding. While I appreciate the insight this book gave me into some lives I was previously unaware of, I wish the author had spent more time questioning her assumptions. My favorite moments were when she was writing about Milicent Patrick's life after Hollywood, about how she spent her time living to the fullest, Hollywood or not. I wanted to like this book and did at times, while at other times felt like it was leading me away from its strengths, and am ultimately left wanting simultaneously more and less.
Profile Image for Paul.
Author 116 books8,877 followers
November 23, 2018
The Lady from the Black Lagoon is a celebration of the life and shamefully overlooked work of Milicent Patrick. It's also an unflinching, from-the-front-lines recounting of Hollywood's toxic patriarchal culture, a history of all manner of monsters. You'll be infuriated at the legacy of continuing injustice but inspired by the talent, will, and spirit of Milicent Patrick and Mallory O'Meara.
Profile Image for Justin Tate.
Author 7 books971 followers
December 27, 2022
Inspiring all around. I love reading about the lives of ambitious people who persevered through difficult times. And with this book you get two in one. Milicent is the central focus for having designed the iconic monster costume from Creature from the Black Lagoon, despite a man's vehement attempts to cover up the truth and take all the credit.

Mallory O'Meara, the biographer, also becomes a central character, however. It soon becomes clear that, even if Milicent herself is a minor historical figure in the grand scheme of things, what she means to O'Meara is major. That relentless enthusiasm carries the reader through many slow and fast moments of a life that, in the hands of any other writer, might seem insignificant.

I imagine most folks have never heard of Milicent, and that includes fans of the iconic film. We simply don't recognize behind the scenes talent nearly enough. Beyond the story of Milicent, a major takeaway for me was that all art is important. There is also a fabulous greater discussion around representation that I loved.

Overall: highly recommended--even to those who are not Black Lagoon fans!
Profile Image for Clara.
220 reviews12 followers
November 11, 2020
I really wanted to like this book. The story of Milicent Patrick the designer of the Creature from the Black Lagoon is absolutely fascinating. Unfortunately the writing style did not really work for me. There are a lot of asides or breathless foreshadowing that makes this seem like a bunch of blog posts rather than a book. The amount of research that the author did and the story she has uncovered is impressive, but this book felt like it needed stronger editorial intervention. Her account of going on a research trip is peppered full of asides about how she made her sick friend go with her even though he was supposed to be studying for his nursing exam and how she listens to too many true crime podcasts. These asides really detracted from the main point of the chapter.

My problems with the book are mostly twofold: First, O'Meara seems intent on taking Patrick's very particular story and universalizing it for the Me Too era. Even though Patrick does not report any sexual harassment, her career in Hollywood was very gendered. However O'Meara does not present any evidence that Patrick thought about the discrimination that she received in these terms. Putting contemporary interests and concerns on one woman's very unusual and very interesting career (from Disney animator to bit player to makeup designer to society wife) seemed to be doing Patrick and the writer's own research a great disservice. Millicent Patrick seemed less interested in shattering glass ceilings than finding routes around them and having a career on her own terms. It makes her a slippery and enigmatic figure but not a Joan of Arc. O'Meara's equation of Patrick's marginalization with the very real abuse suffered by women in Hollywood today doesn't allow Patrick to speak for herself as an individual historical figure (the point of a biography). Rather it makes her a stand-in for all women in Hollywood and I am not convinced that this is what she is. Had she lived she might have seen herself as a member of the Me Too movement, but as she never left written record, we will probably never know and probably shouldn't assume that we can make this determination for her. We don't know her and neither does O'Meara.

Second, as another reviewer mentioned above, O'Meara often castigates Patrick's male colleagues for objectifying her or dwelling only on her physical appearance. Yet she herself does the same thing. She repeatedly uses the word "stunning" to describe Patrick at every turn. This kind of goes back to my original point that this book needed a better editor, because she could have varied the word choice a bit, but it also has the unintended consequence of suggesting that Milicent Patrick is interesting not because of her accomplishments or her life but because she did so while also looking like "a goth Jessica Rabbit."

I ended up finishing this book because I really wanted to know what happened to Milicent Patrick, but I wish the execution of this book was better than it was.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
1,747 reviews6,673 followers
March 18, 2019

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The Creature from the Black Lagoon is a horror film that was released in 1954. It features a scaled and gilled monster which was created based on the design sketches of Milicent Patrick, an artist with Universal Studios. To date, the “gill-man” is considered one of the most iconic monsters of 1950's cinema and it continues to influence costume and design in and out of the horror genre. But Milicent Patrick's name was quickly disconnected from her contribution after she started to receive public credit. Afterall, she was a woman. Heaven forbid.

Screenwriter, podcast host, film producer and author Mallory O'Meara pays well-deserved tribute to her hero while spotlighting the persistent misogynistic culture that caused Milicent Patrick's contributions to be dismissed in the first place. From past to present, O'Meara explores the Hollywood film industry, the horror genre, and what it feels like to be “the only female in a male-dominated space.” She discusses women's anger, the sexualization of female characters in horror (monsters included), and why it's important for women to also have creative control in this field. Women recognizing women. I'm all about that. Check it out.

My favorite quote:
“Monster stories are powerful. They explore prejudice, rejection, anger and every imaginable negative aspect of living in society. However, only half of society is reflected in the ranks of the people who create these monsters. Almost every single iconic monster in film is male and was designed by a man: the Wolfman, Frankenstein, Dracula, King Kong. The emotions and problems that all of them represent are also experienced by women, but women are more likely to see themselves as merely the victims of these monsters. Women rarely get to explore on-screen what it's like to be a giant pissed-off creature. ... Women don't get to stomp around like Godzilla. Someone will just ask if you're on your period.”

Audiobook narrated by the author, Mallory O'Meara.
Profile Image for Scott.
1,800 reviews132 followers
January 13, 2020
Mallory O'Meara's The Lady from the Black Lagoon is both a great rabble-rousing biography and a social science text. The author has an axe to grind, but I think it actually works as a strength rather than a drawback. There are some things that have upset her, and the reader will likely share in that feeling.

O'Meara work spotlights the little-known life and talent of Milicent Patrick. Patrick grew up post-WWI / during the Great Depression, mostly in California, with an overbearing architect father. (His forgotten claim to fame was the noted 'Hearst Castle' mansion and estate.) Once Patrick was able to break away to make her own life she put herself through art school and became possibly the first woman (if not the first, at least one of the first) hired / working as an artist at the Disney animation office during their celebrated early years (films like Dumbo, Fantasia, and Bambi). She also worked as a background actress on several 40's and 50's films and TV shows as well as a popular spokesmodel.

The 'Lost Legacy' part of the book -- Patrick, working at Universal Studios during the early 50's as an artist, designed the look of the scaly 'Gill Man,' the title character from the sci-fi / horror classic The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The studio then sent her on a national media blitz tour (newspaper, radio, and TV interviews in many cities) where she briefly became the talk of the entertainment industry for a combination of her artistic talent, poise, and looks. What could possibly go wrong?

O'Meara details how a jealous and likely chauvinistic colleague (a supervisor, making the situation worse) torpedoed Patrick's career to the point where she did not continue as a professional artist. She then also shares her own moments with sexual harassment and sexism in the entertainment industry, and notes how not much may have changed in the 60+ years since Patrick's experience.

Along the way O'Meara also details her research and preparation that was required - acting almost like a investigative journalist at times- which reveals the focused work needed to assemble a book.

I like when an author can fairly set out to right wrongs and deliver a little justice, even in postscript. O'Meara's book tries to properly set the record straight and give this woman on the fringe her due.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,981 reviews1,991 followers
October 25, 2019
Rating: 3* of five
Milicent’s incredible life should have earned her an honored place in film history. But few even recognize her name. There’s still time to change that.

It's not that this is a bad book...it's that it's not a good biography. If you're marketing a book as a bio, make it one. The digressions, the disquisitions, the divagations all got in the way of Milicent Patrick's life. Of course it's clearly true that Patrick left little to no footprint to report on. A lot of that is down to sexism and professional jealousy. So don't market this as a bio of someone whose life story is so minimally documented. Make it a chapter in a polemic about women in the film industry being denied their proper credit.

Here's another example:
There are few women with as great an influence on Southern California’s reputation as a hub of twentieth-century American art than Nelbert Chouinard. She was, as they say, one bad motherfucker.

The Disney Studio probably wouldn't exist without the hearty help and unstinting financial generosity of Nelbert Chouinard of the Chouinard Art Institute, today called CalArts. Follow those links...Chouinard's legacy is immense, her biography paltry. It is a travesty. Here's a subject for O'Meara's talents as a researcher and tone as a writer...women buried by Time and Patriarchy. Polemical listicles, capsule bios, indignation at the self-evident, undeniable injustice of it.

The writing is so...let me be kind...unpretentious that it loses authority, which makes a difference in biography. Edmund Morris was playful about parts of Teddy Roosevelt's life and personality (see Theodore Rex particularly) without losing an overall voice that conveyed how deeply serious he was and how well he knew his subject. Do you get that sense about O'Meara's writing, using this representative squib on Milicent's mother's travails moving her family from South to North America?
If you have ever looked with pity at a mother consoling a crying baby on a flight, imagine Elise traveling by car, train and ship through four countries with a baby, two small children and no disposable diapers or air conditioning.

It's okay, it's about a person whose life was stolen from her by her gender role in a world even more unfair than out stinkingly unequal one, and I just don't think it's a whole entire book's worth of biography. There are too many side bios of William Randolph Hearst and Julia Morgan and La Chouinard and...well, you get my drift.

It's a solid B. Good effort, properly identified topic and subject, unfocused and scattershot while being entertaining.
Profile Image for James Hold.
Author 153 books40 followers
October 23, 2019
I'd heard of Millicent Patrick back in the 80s from reading different monster magazines. I'd also heard what an asshole Bud Westmore was, that he was the least talented of the three brothers and was more of an accountant than an artist. So none of that was anything new. What I was looking ahead to was a more detailed account of her experiences. Instead Mallory O'Meara concentrates more on herself and her feminist agenda than Ms Patrick. It would have been better had she concentrated on the life of the artist and let the feminism speak for itself, between the lines. This book could be edited to a third of its length without suffering loss. But on the bright side maybe this will inspire someone to write a better book about her.
Profile Image for Noel.
350 reviews
April 30, 2019
DNF. This would have been a great story of Millicent but the author kept inserting her feminist goth persona into the story. Millicent 👍🏻 Author 👎🏻
Profile Image for Steve Wiggins.
Author 9 books60 followers
August 18, 2019
There is incredible insight in this book. Mallory O’Meara has sketched a world where sexism, racism, and monsters mingle and only one of them comes out looking decent. The Lady from the Black Lagoon is part biography, part autobiography, part mystery, and wholly fascinating. One of my favorite movies growing up was Creature from the Black Lagoon. I had a soft spot for the Universal monsters, and they really created the genre that we now call horror movies. As I noted elsewhere (Sects and Violence in the Ancient World) I never really considered gender and monsters. To me, monsters seemed sad and sympathetic. O’Meara understands that.

Milicent Patrick designed monsters in Hollywood in an era when very few women worked in creative capacities in the movie industry. This was not by choice, but because men ran the show and couldn’t see any place for women in it. The daughter of a controlling father who eventually fell fowl of even the other men with whom he worked, Patrick had to leave home to pursue a creative life. The move estranged her from her family, making this a poignant story. Sent on a tour before the release of Creature from the Black Lagoon, Patrick became a media sensation for a little while in the 1950s. Some of the sexism of society was beginning to crack then, although it still remains standing today. When she returned home to Los Angeles her male boss fired her because he wanted the credit for the design to be his.

O’Meara tells the story with wit, feeling, and verve. Her own struggles not only finding information, but being on the receiving end of sexist behavior at the workplace, make for compelling reading. And I learned a lot not only about how monsters are made, but also of the Hearst mansion and how men repeatedly make so many ill-founded assumptions. Monsters, in my experience, are all about tearing down tottering structures that will fall anyway. What we need to rebuild is a society where everybody’s included. Until that happens the real monsters will remain far scarier than will the fictional ones we all assume aren’t true.
Profile Image for Zack Orsborn.
Author 8 books6 followers
April 8, 2019
This is seriously one of the worst books I've ever read. Please do not write a nonfiction book when you have barely any details. Also, how many times can you say "badass"? Don't waste your time on this one. It's very repetitive and filled with a ton of assumptions.
February 26, 2019
I had never heard the name Milicent Patrick until last year when this book began to appear on lists for upcoming releases.  I was immediately intrigued by the idea that a woman in 1950's Hollywood was responsible for creating the legendary monster (often called Gill Man) in Creature from the Black Lagoon.  

The Lady from the Black Lagoon is part biography and part detective story, covering the life of Milicent Patrick as well as Mallory O'Meara's journey to unearth clues about Patrick's film legacy.

O'Meara is up front about the fact that there isn't a lot of solid proof of Patrick's contibutions to special effects in film since most artists/designers were not credited during that era.  

With little to go on, O'Meara did an impressive amount of research to piece together Patrick's fascinating life:  she grew up near the grounds of "Hearst Castle" (her father was an architect for William Randolph Hearst's grand home in San Simeon), her early romantic life was filled with tragedy, and she became one of Walt Disney's first female animators.  

Milicent eventually began working in the makeup department at Universal Studios, led by Bud Westmore.  She worked on several of their horror movies and in an unusual publicity move, Universal sent her on a promotional tour for the upcoming release of Creature from the Black Lagoon to discuss the creature and its design. She was asked to credit only Bud Westmore for its creation and she agreed. People became enamored with Milicent; she had charm and an unusual profession that they were fascinated by.
When Milicent returned to California, she was shocked to find she'd been fired by Bud Westmore.  It appeared that Bud was unhappy Universal sent Milicent on a press tour and that his name was being ignored while she was in the spotlight.  With Westmore against Milicent, she'd never work in special effects again.

Milicent Patrick was estranged from most of her family, didn't have children, and most of her friends had also passed on by the time O'Meara began research for her book.  These factors made it extremely tough to put together a complete biography so a lot of the text is pure speculation.  
Some readers may be uncomfortable with few solid facts, gaps in time, and speculation on events and emotions.

I enjoyed this book as it gave a voice to both Milicent Patrick and Mallory O'Meara.  O'Meara's writing is conversational, witty, and extremely inviting.  She tells us when and why she became interested in Milicent Patrick and the importance of Patrick's legacy.

This isn't a traditional biography; it also contains a memoir with the author's personal history and opinions and a look at the history of misogyny in the film industry.  

O'Meara was inspired by Milicent Patrick's professional accomplishments which are a rarity in the film industry, especially in the 1950's.  She researched Patrick in order to get a better understanding of her role model, to acknowledge the accomplishments Hollywood didn't credit, and to inspire females everywhere.

 O'Meara's last line sums up her journey perfectly:

"Milicent Patrick's legacy isn't just a body of influential work. It's also an invitation."

The Lady from the Black Lagoon covers several genres:  film/history, feminism, non-fiction, biography, memoir, and humor (O'Meara's footnotes and occasional non-chalant use of the word 'motherfucker' made me smile).

Thanks to Hanover Square Press for sending me an advanced readers copy and Goodreads for hosting the ARC giveaway!

The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick will be released on March 5, 2019*.

(I love the release date is March 5th because that's also the day in 1954 that Creature from the Black Lagoon was released!)

For more reviews, visit www.rootsandreads.wordpress.com
Profile Image for Laurie  (barksbooks).
1,753 reviews701 followers
April 17, 2019
I read this over the course of a few days, took no notes so will have no review because I've read two books since and my brain can't hold on to all of that information. The Lady From The Black Lagoon is a super interesting story once you get past the pages about Patrick's dad (those bits made my eyes glaze a bit). Milicent Patrick was an artist whose name was buried under the thumb of her manly superiors who took credit for her work. Both infuriating and fascinating. Milicent Patrick certainly had an interesting life. This book felt very honest and I appreciated that. Worth a read, for sure.

This is not a "real" review but it is my quick and honest thoughts after having read every word of the book. If you don't like it skip along to the next review or, better yet, go write your own review!
Profile Image for Christopher.
226 reviews190 followers
March 23, 2019
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.

But honestly?

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.

Note: I received a free ARC of this book through NetGalley.
Profile Image for Michelle.
241 reviews58 followers
March 10, 2021
I have sat on this all day trying to decide how to sum up how awesome this book is. Not only does it chronicles the good, the bad and the ugly of a women we know little about but should be a household name. But it also chronicles both why Milicent means so much to the author and enough of the authors life that we feel that we love and understand both women.
Mallory O'Meara succeeds in giving us a well researched book that is full of heart, anger, frustration and facts about the world both back then and in the present. Yet it is done in a way that you feel like you are having a conversation with a friend. Not being taught in a classroom setting.
Well done Mallory O'Mera. Well done.
Profile Image for Sandie.
1,079 reviews
March 7, 2019
I began reading Mallory O’Mara’s THE LADY FROM THE BLACK LAGOON with high hopes. It purported to be the story of Milicent Patrick, a woman who in the early 1950’s became the first woman hired in the Universal Studios make up department to create special effects for their “horror” movies. Patrick was primarily responsible for the creation of the “gill man” creature mask/makeup used for the movie Creature from the Black Lagoon. The “studio big wigs” were so impressed with her creation (it also didn’t hurt that she was a beautiful woman) they sent her on a press tour to promote the movie and her warm reception and the adulation she received greatly angered her boss “Bud Westmore”. Seems Westmore was a little weasel who liked to take personal credit for all his underlings’ accomplishments and proceeded to see to it that Patrick was fired.

Overall, it appears that Milicent Patrick was a bad luck lady…..when it came to her career as well as the men she chose to date and marry. That portion of the book is fairly informative and interesting. What I had a problem with was author O’Meara’s insistence in placing herself in this story as she compares the problems Patrick faced in “white male dominated” Hollywood of the 50’s and 60’s and those she purports to be facing today…over 60 years later. She repeatedly launches into a diatribe covering her own experiences in Hollywood and feels the need to liberally pepper these harangues with four letter epithets.

There was so much personal information about the author----from her unusual hair color and her unusual tattoos to her friends, her career and her personal views and opinions that I came away from my reading wondering if this was the biography of Milicent Patrick OR the autobiography of Mallory O’Mara.
Profile Image for Michael Hicks.
Author 36 books442 followers
February 15, 2019
My review of The Lady from the Black Lagoon can be found at High Fever Books.

In the 1950s, a young artist and background performer of various film roles designed what is easily the most visually arresting of the Universal horror movie monster. Employed in the special effects shop at Universal Studios, Milicent Patrick created the Gill Man for the 1954 film, Creature from the Black Lagoon. While her creation would become one of the most recognizable and iconic movie monsters in cinema, Patrick would unfortunately become lost to history as her supervisor’s jealousy, rampant sexism in the film industry, and a total lack of proper crediting of filmmaker’s roles in 1950s, all worked together to obscure and all but eliminate her legacy.

Thankfully, film producer, author, Milicent Patrick fan, and Creature from the Black Lagoon obsessive, Mallory O’Meara has stepped in to unearth Patrick’s forgotten history and set the record straight with her wonderful The Lady from the Black Lagoon. Given the unfortunate state of obscurity Patrick fell into, O’Meara certainly had her work cut out for her. Luckily, she’s a dogged investigator and was able to piece together Patrick’s puzzling history through a whole lot of archival research, industry contacts, and interviews. Over the course of her writing, O’Meara notes the various confluences that have randomly, surprisingly, and unknowingly linked her to Patrick over the course of her life. There’s a certain sense of destiny at work in these moments that are quite charming and really make you root for O’Meara’s efforts to uncover and reveal Milicent’s buried history.

The Lady from the Black Lagoon is meticulously assembled and presents a candid and honest representation of O’Meara’s personal hero without being slavish or overly fannish. And make no mistake, O’Meara is most certainly a fan, one who even sports a tattoo on her arm of Patrick and the Creature. She is wholly devoted, though, to teaching us about Patrick’s life, warts and all. I knew hardly anything at all about Milicent Patrick going into this book, but it’s safe to say I’m certainly a fan now, too.

Patrick is a vitally important figure in film history, and not just because of what she’s created, but what she could represent for future generations of women in the arts. Patrick is the first and only woman to have ever designed an iconic movie monster. Think about that. In almost 65 years of cinema, there has not been another notable creature designed by a woman. And over those same 65 years, men and history have sought to completely eliminate Patrick’s role in designing the Creature, giving sole credit to her manager, Bud Westmore, who ran the special effects shop at which she was employed.

Throughout the course of The Lady from the Black Lagoon, O’Meara writes with firey passion at the injustices perpetrated upon Milicent Patrick. She’s angry, and rightfully so. Hell, I’m mad right now just thinking about all the various issues raised over the course of this book’s 300-plus pages. And if you have any kind of a conscious or sense of fairness, this book will justifiably piss you off, too.

While uncovering the history of Patrick’s legacy is clearly a passion project for O’Meara, The Lady’s focus is not limited solely to the special effects artist. O’Meara’s research places Patrick within the context of her time, but the author smartly compares those issues of 1950s sexism and male domination over Hollywood to the present day, within the scope of the #MeToo era. It’s sad and disgusting just how little has changed in six decades, and how fully sexist, male elitism still thrives within Tinseltown. O’Meara doesn’t bother hiding her anger and these injustices, and more power to her. She, too, has been objectified countless times, as has every other woman working in Hollywood. At one point she relates a personal story of, as a producer for Dark Dunes Productions, having cast a male actor to voice a character for one of their films. Upon meeting O’Meara and seeing her green-dyed hair, he immediately volunteers to help dye her pubic hair. Incidents like these are not rare in Hollywood, and O’Meara reports that every single woman she knows in the film industry has many, many, many stories like hers.

The toxic environment that defined the 1950s era of filmmaking is alive and well in present day, and 65 years later, O’Meara has found far too many similarities between her own experiences and those that utterly destroyed Patrick’s career. As O’Meara writes in her introduction, “It’s not just her story. It’s mine, too.” Sadly, it’s the story of every woman in Hollywood then and now, present-day, right now, right this fucking minute. The jealous claims to fame that Bud Westmore latched on to and used to ruin Patrick’s career and her future in special effects are hardly a thing of the past. In 2017 and 2018 we saw first-hand women finally speaking out, publicly and openly, about the sexist state of their industry, the decades of abuse they’ve had to endure from repulsive figures like Harvey fucking Weinstein. It’s a serious issue that demands exploration and rectification, as well a reclamation for the histories of women that were ruined solely to appease or protect powerful men.

How many other women have played vital roles behind the scenes in Hollywood, only to have their contributions covered up or credited to their male counterparts? How many women around the world have been denied representation, denied even the idea that they, too, could create horror icons or work in the special effects industry? The fact that all of the most well-known special effects artists are men “didn’t seem strange to me,” O’Meara writes. “It was status quo. … I had never seen myself reflected in the world of horror filmmaking. The possibility of it never crossed my mind.” When she began writing The Lady from the Black Lagoon in 2016, 96% of that year’s films were directed by men, only a four percent difference from the 100% of male directed films of 1954 when Creature from the Black Lagoon was released. “It’s harder for women to get into Hollywood than it is for us to get to space,” she writes, nothing that sixty women have been to space between 1983 to now, but that only one woman, Kathryn Bigelow, has ever won an Oscar for Best Director in 2010. Their roles in front of the camera are little better, with the vast majority of speaking roles going to men, with the film leads being men, with the action heroes being men, with the monsters being men, and the artists creating the monsters being men. Characters like Ellen Ripley and Buffy Summers are not the norm; they are outliers and few and far between at that. When women are able to break through the male domination of Hollywood, they are routinely questioned on how they landed any given job, with the automatic assumption being that they slept with their boss rather than worked hard and were actually fucking talented. No, even then, the automatic default for a woman in Hollywood is to be reduced to nothing more than a sex object. It’s goddamned repulsive and infuriating.

The Lady from the Black Lagoon is a necessary read and a vital contribution to our society’s (sadly) on-going discussion on issues of representation and equality. It’s a much deserved biography of an important, and overlooked, woman and her contributions, but it’s also a hell of a lot more than just an accounting of Milicent Patrick’s history. O’Meara takes note of the historical injustices that beset Patrick and explicitly shows us how little we’ve progressed societally and with women in film, and by tackling these issues of rampant sexism in cinema, she’s raised the bar in terms of awareness and combating these issues with her outspokenness. Speaking as a man, if there are any male readers out there bemoaning all this, my only advice to you is to simply shut the hell up and listen, because you should be learning from these women and their experiences and working hard at being better.

[Note: I received an advance reading copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley.]
Profile Image for Simone.
1,477 reviews46 followers
April 8, 2019
Oh man, I wanted to love this book so badly. I am here for pretty much any book that seeks to rescue a compelling woman, especially one that was pretty screwed over by the patriarchy, from the dustbin of history. I am also a recent fan of O'Meara's podcast, Reading Glasses. Combine that with my love of film and Hollywood, and I went into this book thinking I would love every second.

Sadly, there's really not enough here for a full-length book. Or I guess what's frustrating is that there might have been, it's just that O'Meara isn't a strong enough researcher to pull it off. Which, fair, that's not her job or her training! She was essentially doing this as a side project to her real job as a film producer just because she wanted to share Millicent's story. Which I totally admire. I wish this had been a shorter book that really focused on Millicent's story. Instead, because O'Meara's not a strong enough researcher to bring in more data she's forced to pad the book with more accessible stories and personal anecdotes, sort of like a term paper you put off writing til the last minute and then realizing there's not enough to fill the full 20 pages. There's essentially an entire chapter about William Randolph Hurst which is only tangentially related to Millicent Patrick. For reasons that I would very much like explained to me in further detail, despite living full time in Los Angeles and spending several years working on this book, O'Meara only has one afternoon to visit the USC Cinematic Arts Library archive collection to review boxes of material before it closes for the summer. It's like the Mission Impossible version of archival research. Maybe it was a book contract timing issue (the library restricts the collection to those with research interest and not just for fans, so maybe that was part of the problem), but she couldn't have gone back in a few months for a more through reading?

All of the above is especially frustrating because it seems like it could have been avoided. I think pitching and selling this book as a feminist memoir that touches on Millicent Patrick would have been a stronger book. O'Meara writes most passionately about what Millicent meant to her, and about the way she thinks horror films are important social texts for women. I don't disagree, and I think it would have been a stronger, more compelling, cohesive book, especially if it had been shorter. I know O'Meara really wanted to tell Millicent's story and lift her up for future generations, and I wish she would have thought that her own story and experiences would have been enough to do that.
Profile Image for Britany.
992 reviews434 followers
June 22, 2019
I bought this book as a gift for my dad as he is a huge movie buff and the Creature from the black lagoon is a "classic" to him. I thought this would be a good (new) perspective and provide some interesting behind the scenes info. While it does do that, it's a little heavy handed at times.

I listened to the audio (read by the narrator- which is my favorite thing) and followed along with the book. I love O'Meara's snarky comments and the footnotes and photos she includes in the print version of the book are not to be missed. This gave me a true sense of Milicent Patrick. I appreciated learning about someone I had never heard about before. I appreciated the amount of work O'Meara crafted while writing and researching this book. Her language is "in your face" and vulgar at times (which I can understand why this didn't resonate with my dad), but I appreciate the relevant nature of her comments. I could sense her passion for this woman and her life and felt the emotion she unpacked with every page. This book is about a specific woman artist who created monsters, while O'Meara does cover some industry wide issues, most of the novel focuses on Milicent's story and the juxtaposition of the Shape of Water, which was a nod to the Creature film.

If you're interested in this topic and can tolerate some aggressive language, then pick this one up.
Profile Image for Deb Wasylk.
33 reviews
March 19, 2019
Didn't enjoy this at all. Author spent a lot of time talking about herself not Milicent.
Profile Image for Moonkiszt.
2,168 reviews214 followers
April 9, 2020
This is by no means just the life story of Milicent Patrick. It is a journey - the dissection of what it took to write about the life story of Milicent Patrick and all the nifty nuggets the author prised from the tightly closed lips of the Creature from the Black Lagoon! (Milicent's creation, by the way, not Bud Westmore's).

I, raised in California, was thrilled to hear of all the spots where nuggets were found: Hearst Castle, burbs in towns I'd lived in, entertainment hubs in which I spent many memorable childhood moments! Fun to revisit. And California people I knew of, Julia Morgan, one of my heroes for rising up in a difficult-for-women industry. Loved it.

Also, lots of talk about tattoos, and speaking out when boundaries are crossed - and I felt it was a good place to talk about all the ways in which Milicent was held back - must like Hedy LaMarr - both smart women with potential to thrive that withered in the social environment of the day. If it has great boobs, it can't think big thoughts or have real talent - these are not mutually exclusive attributes. That stink stills fogs our world and needs to be called out every time it is present. I didn't expect to come across the #metoo line of thinking this in this book, but once I was in it, I appreciated the author using her voice to stand up for Milicent - because Milicent didn't. She needed an advocate, and I appreciated the effort to which the author went - to the very last days of Milicent's life.

It was like Mallory to let me ride along on her road trip up and down Hwy 101 and into places I knew of, driven by and movies I'd grown up watching. I'm no horror maven - monsters were my Dad's thing. I'd watch from around the back of his chair where I hid, or tucked in his teenaged arm. As a teenager myself, horror didn't thrill, I was all about Grease and American Graffiti. But that's the thing - this wasn't a book about horror or that genre. This was about a celebrating a woman whose talents were used over and over, but credit for that work handed over to her supervisors.

Hmm. Like that never happens. right?

4 stars for the road trip!
Profile Image for SundayAtDusk.
685 reviews26 followers
November 24, 2018
This book is part biography, part memoir and part crusade against the misogyny found in the monster movie world. (And the author is not even talking about the fans, where there is, without a doubt, no shortage of men who hate women.) While one definitely wants to wholeheartedly support Mallory O'Meara's crusade, I don't think the way she wrote her book worked well. Reading about Milicent Patrick's life was like reading in slow motion, everything slowly stretched way out until the end; where one was left with the feeling that her story would have been better suited for a long magazine article, not an entire book. Plus, there was too much speculation and projection going on, since not that much is known about Milicent Patrick's thoughts and feelings.

Ms. O'Meara does not speculate and project arrogantly, mind you, but it soon gets old reading about what the subject of a biography might have thought or felt. Talking about old, however, maybe some readers will simply be too old for this book. The way the author tells readers who individuals like William Randolph Hearst and the Lone Ranger were, in case they didn't know, makes it seem like she strictly had a reading audience of her own age group, or younger, in mind. Often her language and humorous comments seem far more suited for younger readers, too. In addition, the way the author gushes about Milicent Patrick, as well as shares her feelings about what she thought when she discovered less positive aspects of her life, makes her seem like a fangirl. Fangirls belong to younger generations.

(Note: I received a free ARC of this book from Amazon Vine and a free e-ARC from NetGalley. The Vine book arrived between the time I requested the book from NetGalley and the time my request was finally accepted.)
Profile Image for Audra (ouija.reads).
741 reviews258 followers
September 17, 2021
Wow, this book!! Mallory O'Meara, can I shake your hand? What a freaking triumph.

I have to admit that, in watching classic monster movies (or any horror film really), I rarely stop to think about who created that monster design or who was in charge of that gory special effect. Though we do pay attention to who writes and directs movies, accolades don't always filter down to the rest of the creatives involved. (Tom Savini, a true practical effects legend, is an exception in the horror movie sphere.) So I, for one, was shocked and delighted to learn that my favorite classic movie monster—the Creature—was designed by a woman. And right after that shock and delight, I was confused. Why isn't this a more well-known fact? And after that, I was mad: how come she's the only one?

What I loved most about this book was how it explored Milicent Patrick's history through the lens of the author's own experience. Besides just walking us through the relevant points of Patrick's personal and professional history, O'Meara takes us behind the proverbial curtain, sharing her own journey and struggle in finding all that information.

I also appreciated hearing about O'Meara's experience working in the film industry now. Though it's demoralizing to hear how, in some ways, little has changed for women in Hollywood, it is an important step that people like O'Meara are willing to share their stories and work toward a better and more inclusive future. I hope that this book will inspire girls and women who are interested in all aspects of horror film, whether it be special effects or directing or anything in between.
Profile Image for Karen.
124 reviews80 followers
February 7, 2019
I absolutely respect and appreciate all the research Mallory O'Meara clearly did for this book. She also put so much love and dedication in this book, and it is evident on each page.

This book traces the life of Milicent Patrick, a woman who worked for both Disney (as an animator) and Universal (as a makeup artist). She literally designed the makeup and costume for the Creature in The Creature of the Black Lagoon, but her work was obscured by men unwilling to give credit to a woman.

A stellar read that explores feminism in Hollywood and hopefully lets more people learn about this amazing woman.
Profile Image for Amanda Van Parys.
581 reviews54 followers
May 7, 2019
I really enjoyed this. I'm not a fan of Hollywood monsters or horror, but I am a fan of badass women who bulldozed their way into places where they aren't/weren't traditionally accepted. This book will make you proud for what Milicent accomplished and sad for the way she'd been paved over by history. Hopefully O'Meara's work will keep the memory of Milicent Patrick alive and open the door to discover other women path-makers like her in the depths of un-credited Hollywood.
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