August 24, 2019

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

The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O'Meara
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the story of Milicent Patrick, the forgotten woman who worked at Disney Studios on Fantasia and created the last great iconic Universal monster, the Creature from the Black Lagoon. She was also a model and actress. She died twenty years ago, unknown, pushed out of her job at Universal Studios by a jealous department head who resented her success and tried to take credit for her work (and for many years succeeded), and stabbed in the back by cowardly bosses who refused to stand up for her.

It's also the story of Mallory O'Meara, the woman who tracked down Milicent's story and who works in modern-day Hollywood producing horror movies, and who reveals that, sadly, not all that much has changed. Milicent is Mallory's hero, and her search for the details of Milicent's life helps her discover herself.

I've seen some people objecting to these parallel tales. It is true that the author inserts herself more than is usual for a biography, both in telling about her own life and relating the steps she took to track down Milicent's. I didn't mind this at all, not only because it was engagingly written (this is a bit of a detective story as well), but because the author skillfully draws out the parallels between her story and Milicent's, and between the past and the present. Hollywood has taken some baby steps towards better representation of women and people of color, and the #MeToo movement has brought down some harassing assholes (most notably Harvey Weinstein)...and it still isn't enough. It won't be enough until what happened to Milicent is unthinkable, and any department head who tries it will himself get thrown out the door, instead.

On the last page of the book, the author sums up why she wrote it.

Milicent's life was shaped in part by real-life monsters and the obstacles put in her way by a patriarchal culture. But the lives of future artists and creators don't have to be. It's up to female filmmakers to keep making great art. It's up to those who find success to hold the door open for aspiring female filmmakers. It's up to male allies to call out their scumbag male colleagues and make spaces safer for women and marginalized voices. It's up to actors to demand inclusion riders that require diversity on a film's cast and crew with their contracts. It's up to fans to demand films that are more inclusive, both in front of and behind the camera.

Milicent Patrick was a woman before her time. That time is now.


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