Review: The Lady From the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O’Meara

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.

The Lady From the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O’Meara. Published by Hanover Square Press, March 2019. Hardback edition, 336 pages.

If you couldn’t tell… I’m kind of a big fan of the movie Creature From the Black Lagoon. I remember seeing it when I was little and instantly falling in love with the Creature. Out of all the classic Universal Monsters, he was by far my number 1 monster. I even have a small collection of collectible merchandise – statues, busts, toys, autographs, posters- for the Creature and his movie. Back in mid 2018 a friend of mine told me how he saw something about a book coming out in early 2019 about the woman who designed the Creature. I was like, WHA-?? A women designed the Creature? How did I not know about this? Why was she not in the credits? I instantly hopped on google and looked up info about this book. I read a brief interview with the author and read the plot blurb. 😮 To say I was super excited about this book is a huge understatement! I started counting down the days until the March 2019 release date. It felt like waiting for-EV-er! And then…. all of a sudden, it was March 2019 and the book was out! I immediately rushed to the bookstore as soon as it opened (Yes. I AM that big of a book nerd) and bought my copy. I couldn’t wait to dive in to this book.

I flew through The Lady, reading it extremely quick (and I’m not the quickest reader). Wow! What a book! Words fail at expressing how fascinating this book is. You just have to trust me. This is a very, very good book. A very captivating story about the life of a very captivating woman. The book covers much more then just The Creature From the Black Lagoon era. It actually covers Milicent’s entire life, starting with background on her parents and how they met, and follows her life, as best as the author can, all the way up to her death.

While telling the life story of Milicent Patrick, you see the story of the author, Mallory, as she painstakingly tries to uncover the hidden and forgotten story of this amazing woman. Mallory starts at the very beginning of her journey, when she first finds a small little blurb, with a picture of Mil, that just casually mentions how Milicent created the Creature. Like me, Mallory was blown away by this fact and couldn’t understand why this wasn’t a known fact everywhere. What begins as a small curiosity becomes an obsession down the rabbit hole as Mallory slowly pieces together the life and times of Milicent. This book is one part biography and one part detective story. I found the detective side of the story just as interesting as the biography. It was very cool “watching” Mallory get from one clue to the other and what kinds of methods and steps she took in order to find these clues when time and again it felt like she had run in to a dead end.

I loved Mallory O’Meara’s writing style. Very open and candid, easy to listen to. In fact, Mallory felt like a kindred spirit to me, we have so much in common. We are both very tattooed ladies who are huge fans of horror and pop culture. The type to geek out over some dusty old movie letter from the 50s. I completely felt a connection to her words and thoughts about not a lot of women (historically) in horror. A lot of her thoughts and complaints are thoughts and complaints I have said myself in the past. Mallory talked openly about feeling like the odd one out when she talked about how in her horror profession (she is a producer for horror movies) when sometimes there just aren’t any other women around. I don’t professionally work in horror, but I am a huge fan who goes to many horror events like conventions or special late night classic horror movie screenings… I too have looked around at the horror crowd surrounding me and have wondered, “Where are the women?”. I have also felt marginalized in the horror world just because I’m a girl. I know I’m not the ONLY female who loves horror, so why is it so difficult to find the other women in horror, professional or just hardcore fans like me. Why is horror just automatically assumed to be a guy thing? Ok, ok, I’m getting a little off track, but this whole feeling of women feeling marginalized is really the whole heart of this book. Milicent dealt with it. Mallory deals with it. Many women deal with it. Not just in the job, but in every day life. It’s so stupid and unfair and makes me frustrated and angry. This book, while telling the life of Milicent and the journey of Mallory, shines a big bright spotlight on how F’d up things were and still are when it comes to gender equality.

As I said above… this book is really good. I didn’t have any complaints about it. I did, however, wish that there had been more pictures. Sometimes when Mallory is talking about going through old files or family items, she would talk about some killer picture she had in her hands, but she didn’t show it. It wasn’t a big deal, but I drove me a little nuts because I’m such a curious person (with a touch of OCD) and I was dying to see the picture Mallory had just mentioned! Also, Milicent was an amazing artist, and the few pictures of her drawings were beautiful. I would have loved to have seen more of her work.

I loved this book. It’s a 5+ from me. It’s just that simple. Go read it.


One thought on “Review: The Lady From the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O’Meara

  1. I don’t love horror and I haven’t seen The Creature From the Black Lagoon, but I still agree with everything you said about this book. I thought it was a fascinating story and I really appreciated that the author did enough research that we got to learn about Milicent as a person, as well as about her career. Sometimes I found the way the memoir blended with the biography to be a little rough, but it does also feel important to me to know how bad things still are for women in horror today. I hope that continues to improve for people working on movies and at fan events too!

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