12th GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
“The Beauty Who Created the Beast”
Born Mildred Elizabeth Fulvia Rossi, Milicent Patrick was born sometime between 1915 and the 1930s (reports vary wildly) in El Paso, Texas. Milicent was a multi-talented woman (an actor, costumer, designer, illustrator and animator) whose name you may never have heard, but whose work you are certainly aware of. Indeed, much of Milicent’s life remains a mystery, partly due to her desire to avoid the spotlight, giving several conflicting stories to would-be biographers as to her background and real life.
An actress of film and television, Milicent was also a sketch artist and animator of some repute, whose talents came to the attention of George Hamilton “Bud” Westmore, make-up department head for Universal Studios. He hired her services as a make-up illustrator on an Errol Flynn movie, but her talents would soon see her graduate to more prestigious role. Milicent designed the look of Mr. Hyde in the studio’s horror/comedy crossover Abbott and Costello meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953, dir Charles Lamont), and the Metaluna Mutant Monster in 1955’s This Island Earth (dir Joseph M Newman and Jack Arnold).
However, it is for the creation of an even greater Creature that Milicent is – or at least should be – remembered for…
The Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) is perhaps the most famous of Universal’s 1950s, and perhaps the last of their pantheon of classic Universal Monsters. Overseen by producer William Alland, Director Jack Arnold made use of a thrilling and poignant screenplay by Harry Essex and Arthur A Ross, and added 3D polarized light technology to add extra thrills and scares for audiences, Creature follows the classic Universal template quite closely – terrifying and reviled at first, the monster soon finds its way into our hearts. Perhaps moreso than any of Universal’s earlier legends, the Creature makes us question who is the true monster – this evolutionary throwback was merely minding his own business, deep in the Amazon, when an expedition of egotistical scientists discover him and immediately want to capture him.
Despite the most easily retrievable records stating otherwise, it is widely believed (and indeed there is much pictorial evidence to back up claims) that Milicent was the most significant person behind the design of the “Gill Man” Creature from the movie, involved in its design from the initial sketching right the way through to applying the prosthetics to the actors who played the Creature in the movie.
Milicent was commissioned to undertake a tour to promote the March 1954 release of the movie, with Universal happy that her creative input and her stunning looks would bring the movie (and, in turn, the studio) nothing but attention and success. However, while she was on tour, make-up department head Westmore started a vicious smear campaign against Milicent.
While it was clear that the pair had worked together on the Creature’s design, Bud refused to share credit with a mere woman, and sent a series of letters and memos to the Universal front office denying Milicent’s involvement in the creation of the creature. Westmore complained that he felt Milicent was getting undue attention that he was more deserving of, and that he would penalize her by never hiring her services again. While Universal chiefs inwardly recognised Bud’s behaviour to be childish and vicious, they were in a bind – he was head of the department responsible for creating the fantastic creatures they relied upon to wow audiences. Milicent’s name was removed from the screen credits, her tour was renamed (from “The Beauty who Created the Beasts” to “Beauty Who Lives With the Beasts”) and Bud made good on his promise to never hire her again.
This brought an untimely end to a promising career for Milicent – who knows what other wonderful creatures she would have designed for the studio’s movies given a chance. Indeed, Milicent’s entire career was filled with injustices and sad circumstances. She appeared in onscreen roles in over a dozen movies during the 1950s for which she received no onscreen credit, and her ultimate fate even is unknown – she is believed to have died on February 24, 1998 in Los Angeles, although the Screen Actors Guild currently has her listed as “missing” – and no verifiable record of her life, death, or her whereabouts exist beyond the early 1980s.
Despite the situation with Westmore, Milicent remained humble and affable – she always credited her department head for the opportunities that she was given and never gave the impression she felt embittered – indeed she was apologetic that he ever felt that she had stepped on his toes. Bud Westmore never found it in him to reciprocate her efforts.
Gill Man would live on, as the film’s cultural impact would be felt for years afterwards. The success of both the monster and the film spawned a sequel (Revenge Of The Creature, 1955) notable for, amongst other things, the first onscreen role for one Clint Eastwood. Marilyn Monroe commented on how the creature “just wanted to be loved” in The Seven Year Itch (1955, dir Billy Wilder) and numerous remakes have been planned by Universal since, including one scheduled to be produced by John Landis and directed by Joe Dante in the early 1980s, and another attempted incarnation in the 1990s to be directed by none other than John Carpenter.
Gill Man’s longevity and standing in the pantheon of Universal greats owes much to the creature’s design – it is both terrifying and relatable, human and alien. With big expressive eyes and an almost smiling mouth, it ultimately reminds audiences not of a repulsive monster but of a child snatched from its environment, bewildered and afraid. After the Monster from James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) it is perhaps the most sympathetic creature of its (or any other) era.
"It would still frighten you, but because how human it was, not the other way around." - William Alland, Producer of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON
For that, we have the wonderful talents of Milicent Patrick to thank.
REFERENCES & FURTHER READING
Biscotti, Steven (2016) Is Milicent Patrick “The Beauty Who Created The Beast”?
Di Fate, Vincent (2011) The Fantastic Mystery of Milicent Patrick
Kelly (2015) Monday Monster Makers – “The Beauty Who Created The Beast” Milicent Patrick
Mancini, Mark (2015) 10 Aquatic Facts about ‘Creature From the Black Lagoon’