In Virginia Woolf’s essay, “A Room of One’s Own”, she posits: “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” And while that is without a doubt (at least as far as I’m concerned) absolutely the truth of the matter–for me, at least, it leads to some other questions to consider.
Do you ever ponder those things that aren’t so nebulous and unnamed as “anonymous”? Those concrete “facts” we take for granted because they are historically labeled as truth, in terms of the celebrities and creators and artists noted and named as being responsible for this, that, or the other thing. But… are they actually the individuals responsible for those things? Do you ever stop and wonder to yourself, “ok…but what if that was really a woman, too?”
Thank goodness we have people like Mallory O’Meara to ponder these things, to peel back the layers for a closer look, to dig deep and extract the truths when it seems like maybe, just maybe, there is another truth to be found. One that is, you know, actually true.
Mallory is an author, screenwriter and a film producer for Dark Dunes Productions; she also hosts the literary podcast Reading Glasses alongside filmmaker and actress Brea Grant. Her first book, The Lady From The Black Lagoon, is the chronicle of Mallory’s search for and a biography of Milicent Patrick–the original monster queen and one of Hollywood’s unsung artistic heroes.
Milicent Patrick was an illustrator and artist “who designed the iconic monster from The Creature from the Black Lagoon, but, unfortunately for decades, no one knew much else about her; where she came from, and after she had her career snatched away by a jealous male colleague at Universal Studios, what happened to her. Designing the Creature is what Milicent is best (and still not well) known for, but it was just a small part of her amazing career in film.” Mallory’s book is the incredible true story of Milicent Patrick’s life and legacy*, and we are beyond thrilled that Mallory has taken a few minutes from her insanely busy schedule to chat with us about it!
“*And it’s not just that. It’s an exploration of why her accomplishments still matter today and why her story needs to be told now more than ever. Women are still being erased in Hollywood. This book is for monster fans, movie nerds and Creature lovers, but it’s also for all the women who love horror, for all the women who dream of being filmmakers, for all the women that bust their asses every day making movies” (via)
Haute Macabre: A friend of mine remarked once, when I told them that I had never seen Twin Peaks before, that she was deeply envious and wished she could go back and watch it again for the first time. I was thinking of this when I watched Creature From The Black Lagoon for the first time this past weekend (EDIT: hey all–you can find it streaming for free on archive.org!) This is a movie that obviously hold a large part of your heart, so I am wondering…while I know we want those first discovering the thing we love to experience all its marvels for themselves, there are also those things about we’re just dying for them to know! What are some thoughts you’d share about the film, to someone seeing it for the first time?
Mallory O’Meara: The most exciting thing folks watching Creature From The Black Lagoon for the first time should know is that monster is designed by a woman! He’s the only classical Universal monster that was. My first time re-watching the film, knowing that Milicent Patrick designed him, was so cool!
You note in the book that the true star of Creature from the Black Lagoon is the monster himself. I’d love to know a little bit more about your own history with movie monsters; what is the Gill-man measuring up to in your mind and memory? What is he beating out?
The Creature is in the classic Universal monster pantheon for a reason, even though he came later and is more of a science fiction monster. His design and execution measures up to the greats created by Jack Pierce!
In that vein, my heart leapt and I got a little weepy when, after reading of your love of Fantasia and, in particular, the demon Czernobog in the Night On Bald Mountain sequence, you mention your of your discovery that Milicent worked on that specific creature! Can you talk about what you felt at that moment, IRL?
That moment made me feel like I was the right person to tell her story. It underscored the importance of bringing her legacy to the public knowledge. She’s the true queen of the monsters.
I became thoroughly invested in Milicent’s story through your words and passion and exhaustive research backing it all up, and it impressed further on me how important our stories are, how crucial it is to have these accurate histories available for future seekers and do-ers. So many pieces of her story were obscured, either deliberately or through various twists of fate, and it was quite a puzzle and an adventure in bringing certain things to light, connecting all the dots, and piecing together a more complete picture of this artist and the trajectory of her life. Can you speak to the importance of perseverance when the answers for these stories aren’t immediately within our grasp? And I am curious, was there one piece/place/person in particular that set you on the right path or that pulled it all together for you?
There are so many women’s stories that have never been told, forgotten or purposefully hidden. Knowing how innovative and integral women have been in history and the progress of the world is so important, for both girls growing up and women moving through life. Telling these stories is such an honor and persevering through the hardships is part of the process. There wasn’t one piece of Milicent Patrick’s puzzle that pulled everything together. It was a lot of following breadcrumbs and getting help from so, so many incredible people.
In several instances you share anecdotes of the shitty, biased ways men have behaved toward you during your career; we see that reflected of course, in ALL the ways throughout the course of Mil’s career. What is your advice for young women creatives in the type of atmosphere that hasn’t changed, not really, in the last 50 years?
Don’t put up with the bullshit you think you need to.
You write passionately that, “It’s so difficult to be something if you cannot envision it.” This makes me think of your own history, which you share almost as much of, right alongside Milicent’s. I’ve noticed that many readers (for example, Goodreads reviewers) tend to get crabby regarding what they see as “the writer inserting them into the biography.” I personally enjoy it and I think it adds so much more to the work! In the case of of The Lady From The Black Lagoon, I think it’s a narrative decision that’s essential to the story. I’d love to know your thoughts on this, and what influenced your choice to write it this way?
I needed to give readers a reason to care about Milicent, a woman they have probably never heard of. Her story is relevant because what happened to her is still happening today. The easiest way for me to illustrate that was to share stories of my own life, working in the same industry that she did.
A tremendously vital point that you hone in on is your belief that women are the most important part of horror, because, “by and large, women are the ones the horror happens to. Women have to endure it, fight it, survive it, in the movies and in real life.…Horror films help explore these fears and imagine what it would be like to conquer them women need to see themselves fighting monsters.” But you also say–and I think this is really interesting– that “Everyone deserves to see themselves with terrible power and agency. Everyone deserves the catharsis of seeing themselves crushing a building. Everyone also deserves to see themselves battling the creatures with terrible power and agency.” Both sides are so powerful in terms of visibility! Who are some of your favorite/most beloved monster fighters? Who is a monster that you particularly identify with?
One of my favorite monster fighters is Anne Hathaway’s character in the film Colossal. It’s such a beautiful and brilliant modern monster film and shows how women can defeat monsters, inside of them and out. A monster I particularly identify with is the main character in the film When Animals Dream. She’s a werewolf trying to escape the smallness of her town – both the geography and the minds.
I always try to ask a question that might harvest a bit of “further reading” for our readers. Is there anything that you unearthed or enjoyed during your Milicent Patrick research that might also resonate with someone interested in classic monsters, female artists, feminism, art, horror, history, or any of the above?
If you liked my book, check out Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation by Mindy Johnson and When Women Wrote Hollywood: Essays on Female Screenwriters in the Early Film Industry. There are so many great stories about women in film!