Film History: The Uncredited Life of Milicent Patrick
While researching The History from The Creature of The Black Lagoon, I came across the impressive life of Milicent Patrick. Patrick is the designer behind The Gill-man’s costume in the film. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of her accomplishments. In 1915, Milicent Patrick was born in El Paso, Texas.
During her lifetime she was an animator, actress, model, costume designer, children’s book illustrator, makeup artist and special effects makeup artist. And despite her impressive resume, she’s gone largely uncelebrated in Hollywood over the years. In 1939, she became one of the first female animators for Disney. While at Disney she worked as a color animator on Fantasia and worked on the film Dumbo (among other movies) but left the company in 1941.
After her time at Disney, she worked for Universal Studios and is known as the first woman to work in a special effects department. She contributed to designs of the globs from It Came From Outer Space, Mr. Hyde from Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and she created the masks in The Mole People. She also worked on designs for characters in Sign of the Pagan, and Against All Flags.
During the press tour for The Creature from The Black Lagoon, Patrick had been knighted ‘The Beauty who Created the Beast.’ However, make-up artist Bud-Westmore downplayed her role and changed her title to ‘The Beauty Who Lives With the Beast.’ The Gill-man’s costume is incredibly impressive. It’s a full body suit that needed to function both above and below the water. Even to a modern viewer, it’s beautiful. But at the time, it would have been almost mind-blowing to audiences. Especially as Creature (1954) was released in 3D. It’s still a stunning film to watch. Famously, The Gill-man’s gills actually move as he breathes.
Unfortunately, after the press tour Milicent Patrick was let go from Universal. Again, due to the insecurities and politics surrounding Bud Westmore. Westmore was able to wrongfully take credit for the design for over 50 years.
Patrick acted in many films and television series in the 40s, 50s and 60s. Including, The Restless Gun (1958), It’s a Great Life (1955), and The Women of Pitcairn Island (1956). When you looked at her IMDB page, you realize she was uncredited in the majority of her roles. A running theme in her life.
Milicent Patrick lived to be 82 years old and died in 1998. For more information on her life, check out the book The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick by Mallory O’Meara. I haven’t read it, and it has mixed reviews but it seems to be the text that revealed the many accomplishments of Patrick for the first time.
For more history from The Creature from The Black Lagoon franchise, listen to Episode 104 of the Lunatics Radio Hour podcast.