James Bartlett talks to Mallory O’Meara whose book The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Millicent Patrick introduces us to Milicent Patrick, who created the Creature from the 1954 film Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Even if you’re not a film fan, you would surely recognize Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. Their characters have been remade, rebooted and reimagined for decades – sometimes with mixed results – but there’s another Universal Studios monster who only appeared on the silver screen three times in the 1950s, but has never been forgotten.
1954 saw the 3-D release of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and its gilled, human-like underwater beast (known as Gill-Man) is arguably still as famous and just as recognizable as the others are today.
Gill-Man became an icon of classic horror monsters too, but for some reason it has resisted many remake attempts over the years (Guillermo Del Toro, a huge admirer, paid tribute in the Oscar-winning smash hit The Shape of Water).
But more than any of that, The Creature from the Black Lagoon has an interesting and, until recently, rather secret story – something that Mallory O’Meara explores in her book The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Millicent Patrick.
Millicent Patrick, a former Disney animator and pioneer make-up artist and special effects designer, was the creative genius behind the design for Gill-Man.
But even though she was sent on tour as “The Beauty Who Created The Beast,” her jealous department head ensured she was sidelined, uncredited and eventually fired from the project. After all, a mere woman couldn’t be getting the credit, surely?
O’Meara, a young, up-and-coming horror fan, podcaster and producer – and fan of “Black Lagoon” – has tried to change all that, weaving in her own story of frustration and sexism in Hollywood with that of Patrick’s.
An examination of both Patrick’s skills, the role of women in front and behind the camera within the horror genre, it was also a condemnation of how little things have changed in Tinsel Town – something bought to the fore most recently when former super-producer Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for one count of criminal sexual assault in the first degree and one count of rape in the third degree.
O’Meara was recently on a book tour in Los Angeles for the paperback release, and she snatched some time to give a quick interview.
She grew up in New England and lived in New York before coming to her current home in Los Angeles, but her last name – like her blue hair – is very memorable.
“Yes,” she says. “My family is Irish on my father’s side, and I finally got to visit Ireland in the fall (Spring) of 2018,” she adds. “It was absolutely wonderful, and my favorite memory was just driving around the countryside! It was so beautiful.”
An online search will show that there was quite a response to her book – mostly positive, but also negative – though O’Meara says happily that “the most notable thing about my audience and their response to my book since it came out last year has been how inspired people have been by Millicent Patrick. People draw a lot of strength and insight from her story.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, O’Meara says that if she could go back in time she wouldn’t want to visit the set of “Black Lagoon” or try and see behind-the-scenes of another horror film: she would try to meet and talk to Patrick, who died over 20 years ago at a hospital in Roseville, California.
As for her life in Southern California, O’Meara says that a perfect day would be spent reading with her cats, but that seems to be a rare treat since she has plenty of projects going on at the moment – and in the future.
She shares duties on the weekly literary podcast “Reading Glasses” with filmmaker and actor Brea Grant, and is always looking to add to her producing resume. Her last co-producing effort, Yamasong: March of the Hollows, a stop-motion fantasy animation about a girl and tortoise warrior on a quest to save their world, was released in 2017.
As for her favorite (recent) movies, Oscar-winner Parasite is on her list, as well as last year’s low-budget releases The Wind, a supernatural story set in the 19th century, and After Midnight, another gritty effort about a monster stalking down a human. Sounds familiar?
Her next book is titled Girly Drinks: A Women’s History of Drinking Through the Ages.
Full details are under wraps right now, but she admits to being someone who came to cocktails late (drinking beer and other drinks she didn’t really like just to appear “cool” and fit in during those tough teenage years), and then being disappointed (but not surprised) to find that books about the role women played in the history of alcohol were thin on the ground.
Even ones that did look at some of the historical figures – from rum runners to distillers to entrepreneurs – were written by men, so she felt it was time for a women’s history actually written by a woman.
Though St. Patrick’s Day was marked by cancellations around the world, O’Meara admitted that she was to celebrate in due moderation with an Irish adult beverage or two.
“I like both Guinness and Irish whiskey!” she laughs.
Currently based in Los Angeles, James Bartlett is a story analyst for the Sundance Institute, the Nicholl Fellowships, the UCLA Professional Screenwriting Program, the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards and National Geographic Films. He also reads for several UK regions, is the US consultant for Euroscript, and lectures across the UK and Ireland.
James is available for private consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org