Profiles in Women’s History: Milicent Patrick

Posted by on Mar 30, 2021 in People and Culture

In honor of Women’s History Month, btw is taking a closer look at the lives and contributions of lesser-known women. This week, we take a closer look at the achievements of Milicent Patrick, whose accomplishments in the film industry have been historically underrecognized.

The Paint Girl

An animator, makeup artist, costume designer, and fascinating figure, Milicent Patrick is now best known for being the forgotten credit behind the title monster from The Creature From the Black Lagoon. But her story doesn’t start there.

Mildred Elizabeth Fulvia di Rossi was born in 1915 in El Paso, Texas. Her father, Camille Charles Rossi, was a structural engineer who helped construct the Hearst Castle. Mildred received three scholarships to Chouinard Art Institute (which later became CalArts). She went on to work for Disney’s ink and paint department, which was staffed entirely by women. This work required her (and the other “Paint Girls”) to trace the animators’ drawings with incredible precision onto thousands of pieces of celluloid, lit from underneath by a bulb. In a full day’s work, one hundred “Paint Girls” working together could produce about one minute of screen time. She also worked as a color animator on the Disney films “Fantasia” and “Dumbo.” Mildred claimed to be Disney’s first female animator, and while that wasn’t quite true, certainly she and her colleagues played an important role in the early success of the company.

During her time working at Disney, Mildred changed her name to Mil Patrick and eventually to Milicent Patrick.

“The Beauty Who Created the Beast”

After Disney, Patrick continued to draw but also worked as a model. In 1947, she began receiving uncredited bit parts in low-budget films. It was while working as an extra that she met Bud Westmore, the head of Universal’s makeup department. In 1952, Patrick was hired as makeup designer for the 1954 film Creature From the Black Lagoon.

Two women talking during movie in theater
Milicent Patrick played an important role in early movies. Credit: John Eder/Stone/Getty Images

In case you haven’t seen Creature From the Black Lagoon, the title creature is referred to as “Gill-man” and is considered the last of Universal Pictures’ great classic monsters. Universal decided to capitalize on Patrick’s role and sent her on a publicity tour for the movie, called “The Beauty Who Created the Beast.” But this infuriated her boss, Bud Westmore. When she returned from the month-long tour, he fired her and removed her name from the film’s credits, replacing it with his own. As a result, her contributions to the classic movie have never been recognized.

Patrick died in 1998 at a hospice care center in Roseville, California. She was 82 years old.

Remembering a Legend

In 2019, filmmaker Mallory O’Meara wrote a book entitled The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, in which she reveals the truth about Patrick’s role in the creation of the iconic film and details the sexism that she herself faces today as a female filmmaker. This book is responsible for bringing much of Patrick’s forgotten story to light, and allows her to receive the recognition she deserves.

Dig Deeper Patrick’s influence extends to the present day. What 2017 Oscar-winning movie features a creature based on Gill-man?