CineSavant Column

Tuesday March 5, 2019


Last Sunday The L.A. Times reviewed Mallory O’Meara’s book The Lady From The Black Lagoon, making the case that designer Millicent Patrick was the original designer of the beautifully-conceived Gill Man from the 1954 movie. Universal Makeup Department head Bud Westmore took all the credit until it was revealed that the post-war Universal monsters were sculpted and constructed by other expert craftsmen like Chris Mueller and Jack Kevan; but in the last ten years or so Ms. Patrick has been nominated as the actual designer on the basis of some testimony. Although Universal monster authority Tom Weaver’s book displays photos of an earlier, rejected prototype Gill Man that nobody liked, no photos or intermediate designs by Ms. Patrick have turned up. As it is, even though Tom pegs Patrick’s association with the Gill Man through the memory of just one crew member, he doesn’t want to nix the possibility that she was the designer. And Tom says that O’Meara’s book has some great new photos.

All the photos we have of her are publicity poses to accompany her tour to promote Creature from the Black Lagoon, and don’t necessarily represent her work — in some photos she’s painting a mask, but it’s just for show — she’s wearing a swank outfit. She doesn’t appear in any workshop pictures assembling the costume, but that’s understandable as she was a designer, and in the early 1950s it’s likely that a lady special designer would be given her own space away from the boy’s club. Article writer Liz Hand isn’t very complimentary about book, saying that O’Meara makes unsubstantiated claims while mentioning other sources without saying what they contained. A sometime model, Ms. Patrick had quite a fiery background and put in some appearances as an actress. Without more documentation we still don’t know what to believe, even though O’Meara wants the lady to be acknowledged as a pioneering monster maker cheated out of proper recognition. The details divulged in the book review paint Patrick as a strong self-promoter, so what was keeping her from claiming credit after the fact?

My Column entry on movie marquees (March 2) found some enthusiastic readers. Skip Huston of Decatur, Illinois, sent in some photos of his Avon Theater, which was built in 1916. Skip has owned the successful first-run independent house for twenty years years; he added 2-screen ‘Twins’ annex in 2004. He gets attention here because he put together a video for use in his theaters, that he credits with helping to curb cell phone use and unruly behavior problems. It’s pretty aggressive, take a look: Avon Theater – Two Strikes and You’re Out! But I want to know what Cinnamon Toast Popcorn tastes like.

Credit OFCS colleague Phil Hall with the best graphic of the day: it’s self-explanatory, but the joke captions are piling up online, my favorite so far being “Rodan by RodanWest.”

And news just in … Scream Factory has announced three more Universal ’50s fantasy films for June: the campy Monster on the Campus, the rather good The Monolith Monsters, and the long-awaited top title This Island Earth. I’m hoping this release is a good one so I can retire the fan-generated widescreen DVD of TIE that I watch at least once a year. It would also be nice if the new release buries memories of the MST3K fiasco.

Thanks for reading! — Glenn Erickson