There are a lot of reasons why the 1954 monster movie Creature From The Black Lagoon is a classic, not the least of which is the Creature itself. Sadly, the real-life origins of that iconic character were made even murkier than his fictional home by sexism. In The Lady From The Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters And The Lost Legacy Of Milicent Patrick (hardcover, Kindle), writer Mallory O’Meara — herself a screenwriter and movie producer — explores the influential life of the titular special effects pioneer.
Photo Credit: Allan Amato
To start, what is The Lady From The Black Lagoon about?
The Lady From The Black Lagoonis a biography of artist Milicent Patrick, the woman who designed the Creature from Creature From The Black Lagoon. The Creature was just the latest project in her incredible career designing and animating for film. But thanks to a male colleague, her legacy has been obfuscated for decades.
Where did you get the idea for The Lady From The Black Lagoon, and what made you think this would not only be a good subject for a book, but that you were the best person to write it?
No one had ever told Milicent’s story or even found out what happened to her after she designed the Creature. She has been my hero since I was a teenager and I desperately wanted to know more about her. I work in the same industry she did, giving me a lot of great perspective and insight that I used to write about her.
Non-fiction books can take a number of different approaches. Some are super detailed, some are scholarly, and some are more light-hearted while still being informative. In figuring out what approach to take with The Lady From The Black Lagoon, did you look at any similar books, and if so, which ones, why them, and how did they influence The Lady From The Black Lagoon?
I read a lot of biographies, some of which were fantastic, like Ruth Franklin’s Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life. I really wanted to absorb the stories that women writers were telling about women. The biggest influence they had was that reading them made me realize that I couldn’t make The Lady From The Black Lagoona nine hundred page, incredibly detailed tome. With someone that most of the world had never heard of before, I needed to make the book very accessible.
Now, this is not the first instance of a man taking credit for a woman’s work. The movie Big Eyescomes to mind. In deciding how’d you approach The Lady From The Black Lagoon, did you look at any other accounts of similar incidents?
As a woman working in the film industry, I didn’t need to research similar incidents. I live them all the time.
Sadly, Milicent Patrick is no longer with us, and the same is true for most of the other people who worked on Creature From The Black Lagoon. But were you able to talk to any women who currently do creature effects for movies and television; did you talk to anyone who credits Milicent with inspiring them?
The end of the book has many quotes from female artists about how Milicent and her work inspired them.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Lady From The Black Lagoon, what similar non-fiction book would you suggest they read next and why that?
If you like my work, I would check out Girl Squads by Sam Maggs.