March 2019

Mallory O’Meara

Unmasking the mother of monsters
Interview by

With The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, horror film producer Mallory O’Meara sets the record straight about the talented and glamorous Milicent Patrick, one of Disney’s first female animators and the only woman to have designed a classic movie monster—the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

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With The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, horror film producer Mallory O’Meara sets the record straight about the talented and glamorous Milicent Patrick, one of Disney’s first female animators and the only woman to have designed a classic movie monster—the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

When you first heard about Milicent Patrick at age 17, the discovery felt “like being struck by lightning.” How long did it take you to understand how important her inspiration would be?

It wasn’t until I started working in the film industry at age 23 that I understood the impact Milicent Patrick had on me. I was plunged into a male-dominated world, and suddenly the knowledge of her went from being inspirational to being crucial to my sanity. She was a constant reminder that I belonged in the world of monster movies.

Getting the tattoo of Milicent Patrick and the Creature from the Black Lagoon must have been one of the best decisions you ever made. Now that tattoo art is featured on the cover of your book. How’s that for a Hollywood ending?

Milicent was a metaphorical talisman during my first years as filmmaker, so it felt right to have her tattooed on my arm as a concrete reminder of everything she represents to me. No matter how far we advance in our chosen careers, we all still need reminders that we are capable and that what we do matters. Milicent Patrick is the embodiment of chasing your dreams in the face of hardship, even if—maybe especially if—your dreams are making strange things that the world has never seen before.

How would you spend a dream day with Milicent? 

One of the many things that Milicent and I have in common is our love of cocktails. My dream day with her would be the two of us at a bar—hopefully a tiki bar—talking over drinks.

Writing this story must have been a research nightmare. Your book contains 177 footnotes, which are informative and often hilarious. How did you decide on your footnote style? And when did you decide to include both your own story and the story of your investigative digging?

[At the time I was writing the book,] I was talking with a friend, and she wanted to know why someone who isn’t a fan of monster movies should read The Lady from the Black Lagoon. Immediately I said, “Because every day I, and thousands of other female filmmakers, go through what Milicent went through.” That was when I realized that including my own story and my own struggles against sexism would help illustrate how important both Milicent and her legacy are. The footnotes came along because that is my voice. I’m nerdy and sarcastic, so including footnotes with extra facts and bad jokes reflected how I actually talk. I’ve worked hard not to swear or say anything silly in this interview!

Milicent’s life and art have influenced countless artists like yourself. What was your experience of seeing the Oscar-winning film The Shape of Water, which was inspired by Milicent’s creation of the Creature?

Besides being a Creature fan, I’m also a massive fan of Guillermo del Toro, so I went to see The Shape of Water opening night. I burst into tears during the opening credits, cried throughout most of the movie and was sobbing so hard by the end of the film that my best friend had to bring me to the bathroom to clean all the mascara off my face. Seeing a film where the Creature was the hero and the protagonist was a woman with agency made my heart explode.

You note that “Women have always been the most important part of monster movies,” and yet horror is the least likely genre in which women work. Why is that, and is this changing?

There is a myth that women are less capable of making action-packed, violent or scary films. Therefore, less women get considered for jobs and hired. Male filmmakers get the jobs and get more experience, and are then considered more often and get even more work. It’s a cycle. It is changing, but slowly. The ratio of public outcry versus the amount of women actually getting hired is still pathetic. That’s why it’s important for fans to pay attention to who is making the films they see and to support the films made by women and gender-balanced crews.

What’s the scariest movie you’ve ever seen? And the scariest book you’ve ever read?

I saw Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining  when I was a kid, and it ruined me. It still scares me as an adult, even though now it’s one of my favorite movies. For books, I have a really high tolerance for scariness. The last book that really terrified me was Stephen King’s It, which I read as a teenager. I gave my copy away afterward to get it out of my bedroom!

Have you gotten any more life-changing tattoos? 

So far, none of the tattoos I have gotten have caused such a monumental shift in my life as the portrait of Milicent has. Although I will say that one of the tattoos I have gotten in the past couple of years holds a clue to what my next book will be.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of The Lady from the Black Lagoon.

Get the Book

The Lady from the Black Lagoon

The Lady from the Black Lagoon

By Mallory O’Meara
Hanover Square
ISBN 9781335937803

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