Deep Dive: An Interview with Mallory O’Meara, writer of "The Girl from the Black Lagoon"


“The Creature from The Black Lagoon” is arguably the final basic horror movie launched throughout the golden age of Common Studios, the identical distributor that launched the still-beloved black-and-white incarnations of “Dracula,” “Frankenstein,” “The Wolfman,” “The Mummy,” “King Kong” and different indelible imaginings. The film would not work with out the title creature, a prehistoric “lacking hyperlink” between sea and land animals who’s pictured in totality pretty early within the story, in comparison with some well-known film monsters, and who arguably has extra character than any of the people tangling with him within the Amazon jungle.  

Movie historian and filmmaker Mallory O’Meara fell in love with the creature and the movie that surrounds him. She was disturbed to study that whereas the design of the beast was formally credited to Bud Westmore, a member of the Westmore dynasty of Hollywood make-up artists, all of the substantive work was finished by a lady, Milcent Patrick, whose contributions had been successfully erased. O’Meara would go on to spend a number of years researching Patrick’s life, and the result’s The Girl from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Misplaced Legacy of Milicent Patrick, a guide about Patrick and the writer’s usually irritating seek for fundamental information about her life. (You possibly can order it right here.)

When did you first uncover the basic Common monster films, and what was it about “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” that struck a chord with you, or that appeared completely different from the remainder?

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I first began watching the basic Common monster films once I was an adolescent. Creature actually caught out among the many different Common monsters as a result of he’s not the villain. He elicits a lot empathy from the viewers.

How do you go about discovering historic or biographical supplies for any person who’s, for causes of historic erasure, simply a few steps up from a “civilian”? It is simple to search out data on any person like Rick Baker or one of many Westmores, much less so with any person like Milicent Patrick.

Discovering historic supplies for Milicent Patrick was terribly troublesome and I’ve many, many librarians and archivists to thank. I spent practically a 12 months speaking to historians and visiting varied libraries and archives throughout Southern California earlier than I had sufficient materials to even start a proposal for the guide.I discovered all of it due to some actually unbelievable libraries and archives! There’s one particular archive particularly that actually made a distinction for me, however I gained’t spoil which one it’s.

There’s virtually a second guide taking place beneath the primary one, having to do with your individual experiences as a lady writing about and studying about widespread tradition, and exploring how Milicent’s expertise mirrors yours.  

It’s simple to dismiss the story of what occurred to Milicent Patrick as simply “how issues have been” again within the 1950s. But it surely’s not simply “how issues have been.” What occurred to Milicent Patrick continues to be taking place proper now to ladies in each single business, in 2019. I wished to make the guide really feel each extra accessible and extra pressing. One of the best ways I knew the way to illustrate that was by weaving in tales of my very own parallel experiences within the movie business. 

Quite a lot of biographies depart these things within the background or summarize it within the introduction or finish notes whereas leaving it out of the primary story. Why did you determine to include it into the primary textual content and be so clear about all of the completely different steps and levels?

I actually wished readers to see simply how troublesome it was to uncover her story. By exhibiting the trials and tribulations of discovering out what occurred to her and the place she went, I additionally present how enduring the results of Milicent getting her credit score taken away have been. 

It didn’t simply have an effect on her life within the 1950s, it affected her legacy and left 1000’s and 1000’s of potential followers and filmmakers and artists bereft of a job mannequin.

Some of the harrowing (although transient) components of the guide is the part about Milicent’s affair with the Disney animator Paul Fitzpatrick, whose spouse killed herself after she discovered in regards to the relationship. How did this data have an effect on your notion of Milicent, and the way does one go about discovering and confirming one thing like that, once more with the understanding that it is simpler to get that form of data if the topic is already very well-known?

It was crucial to me to place all of Milicent’s story in—all the great and all of the unhealthy. If I edited out components of her life to make her look higher, I’d be implying that ladies are solely value writing about in the event that they stay a life with out errors. Milicent Patrick deserves to have her story advised, it doesn’t matter what. Ladies might be flawed and nonetheless be heroes.

You write about the way in which the story of the movie took form, with completely different forces pushing and pulling to rework the story, notably in relation to how a lot display time the heroine Kay will get, and the way she’s portrayed. How do you assume this dynamic is mirrored in fashionable science fiction and fantasy films, each by way of what finally ends up onscreen and what occurs throughout manufacturing? And do you assume the producer, William Alland, and the director, Jack Arnold, finally made the film higher or worse this regard?

Having a system of checks and balances is sort of all the time one of the best ways to make artwork. It could actually go off the rails if it’s pushed too far in both route – one individual having all of the management, or too many – however I feel it’s important to filmmaking. I feel having a group giving suggestions to Alland and Arnold made the movie higher. If Alland had his means, we’d have a special, much less memorable Creature! 

Are you able to describe the arc that took you from imagining Milicent’s life and expertise, and the conclusion that you just finally got here to after doing all that analysis and forming a clearer image of her?

She’s nonetheless my hero, possibly now greater than ever. By the tip of the analysis and writing, I’ve much more respect for her as an individual and as an artist. Having the ability to see her as a flawed human being, quite than only a mysterious determine, made me relate to her and love her extra. 

There are loads of secondary showbiz characters that you just write about throughout the course of exploring your heroine’s life. Who’re those you discovered most fascinating or memorable?

Scripting this guide made me an enormous fan of architect Julia Morgan, the lady who Milicent’s father, Camille Rossi, labored below at Hearst Fort. She was a magnificently proficient badass. Fortunately, Julia Morgan’s legacy was not hidden, and details about her is available. 

Do you know about The Form of Water earlier than you began writing the guide? At what level throughout the analysis or writing course of did you see it, and what was your response to it, as a Black Lagoon fan?

I began engaged on the guide in December, 2015, which was a very long time earlier than any information about The Form of Water was introduced. I noticed the movie on its opening night time in New York Metropolis whereas I used to be nonetheless writing the guide. Sitting in that theater, I began crying with pleasure throughout the opening credit. That movie is a jewel. Seeing a reimagining of the Creature story with a powerful, feminine most important character made my coronary heart explode.

What recommendation would you give to anybody embarking on a nonfiction guide about an individual whose life just isn’t well-known?

Get a library card! There have been a number of items of knowledge that I used to be shocked to get, and I discovered all of them due to archivists and librarians. I gained’t spoil them for readers of this interview, however what I discovered was merely unbelievable.

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