We're celebrating the Universal Monsters franchise from here to Halloween (and beyond), but before we unveil the next round of releases, we'd like to share the story of an important contributor to the franchise: Milicent Patrick. Among other inhuman items, we just released our first Universal Monster 1/6 figure — her legendary CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON design — and figured this is a perfect time to pay her a tribute...
The darkly beautiful world of the Universal Monsters is built on twisted, indelible outsider icons. But the minds behind the monsters were every bit as unique, and too often went uncredited. Of these forgotten creators, the most shining example may be the trailblazing Milicent Patrick.
Born in 1915 in El Paso, TX as Mildred Elizabeth Fulvia di Rossi, she and her family were quickly relocated to California when her father became one of the primary contractors on the legendary Hearst Castle. After he was fired, the family settled south in Glendale, where "Mil" began studying art via multiple hard-earned creative scholarships.
In 1939, her talent was recognized by Walt Disney Studios, where she was hired as one of the company's "Ink & Paint Girls," working uncredited and segregated in a separate building from the male artists. But Patrick quickly ascended to become one of Disney's first proper female animators, doing a great deal of work on Dumbo, with her most unforgettable Disney creation being the demonic Chernabog — Slavic for “black god” — from the Night on Bald Mountain sequence in Fantasia.
Patrick left Disney after only two years in the midst of a strike, and embarked on a career as an actress and model. But in the late '40s, Universal Studios effects man Bud Westmore saw her sketches and drafted her into his makeup department, where she became the first woman to work in a Hollywood studio's special effects shop. There, she co-designed The Mole People, a much-loved iteration of Mr. Hyde, and the bizarre Metaluna Mutant from This Island Earth. In 1952, she began sketching what would become her most famous creation: the Gill-man from The Creature from The Black Lagoon.
Realizing they had a surefire success on their hands, Universal promoted the film — and her role in its creation — by sending her on a press tour as “The Beauty Who Created the Beast.” Though that description was accurate, Westmore was so vindictively jealous of the credit she received that he had her fired from Universal entirely. Patrick would go on to play small roles on screen, but her career as a professional visionary was over.
She passed away in 1998 in Roseville, California, quietly ending a legacy that is just now coming to light.
For more on unjustly unheralded innovator Milicent Patrick, pick up @malloryomeara's 2019 book The Lady From the Black Lagoon.