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Published: 30 January 2021

By Andy Ross

The Lady of The Black Lagoon

The Creature from the Black Lagoon is set in the Amazon rainforest and relates the story of the finding of a half-fish/ half-man by geologists looking for the fabled "missing link" between marine and land life. 

In 1954 the film was shown in 3D to audiences, and has become a classic of mid-century film-making. The creature of the title has spawned (pun completely intended!) multiple copies and become an icon in its own right but the person who created it was written out of the its story by Bud Westmore, the head of the make-up department at Universal, through jealousy. That forgotten heroine was Milicent Patrick.

Milicent worked in Walt Disney's all-women ink and paint department in 1939 and quickly moved on to the Animation and Effects department, becoming one of the first women animators. Leaving that job in 1941 Milicent took up modelling and in 1947 started to work again in the film industry, this time mainly behind the scenes in studio productions. Moving on to the make-up department she worked on various films before creating the creature for the Black Lagoon film. While undertaking a press tour as "The Beauty who lives with The Beast", so-titled to ensure that her role in the creation of the creature was downplayed, Milicent was sacked from the production and never worked in behind the scenes again, and her name was forgotten.

A book, published in 2019, has reclaimed Milicent's legacy. Entitled "The Lady from The Black Lagoon" it uncovers the lost story of her work and life, and reveals that this pioneer for women in the male-dominated industry was admired and loved as she helped lead the way for others. The book will be available in the studio library but, because the studios are closed at present, it is by Mallory O'Meara as ISBN 0781335010131. 

Footnote: The inspiration for the original film was the discovery of a second coelacanth, the primeval fish that was once thought to be the missing link. This fish has inspired artists for nearly a century including Walter Oltmann, a South African artist who is intrigued by fossils, birth and death. In the collection in the studio is one of his pieces: an embroidery of a coelacanth.