Have you ever wondered who are the minds behind the most fearsome and awesome movie characters?
Earlier this year Universal announced the release of a whole set of movies belonging to a new franchise they called "Dark Universe." The idea was to create new and fresh remakes of those classic monster stories that left a deep mark in cinema's history, and they were expecting those new stories to become huge classics as well. When the company announced their plans on the Dark Universe, they said which actors would embody these beloved characters and told the release dates of the movies as well. However, their first release, The Mummy, wasn't an encouraging opening for this new franchise, as it was a huge flop. Perhaps they were aiming at bringing all these amazing monsters and characters that shaped cinema back to life with new technology. However, what many of these remakes often forget is the whole work behind the creation of these icons, the way in which their respective films delivered great and concise stories, as well as the relevance they had in their time.
These monsters were so visually appealing since there was artistry and craft in their development and creation that sometimes we just take them for granted without thinking in the people behind them. Have you ever stopped to think after watching a movie who are the whole people behind it? Honestly, I don’t. Aside from the director and actors, I don’t really pay too much attention to the team working on my favorite films. Now imagine working at these films and knowing not many will ever know what you’ve done, and besides that, not being properly recognized. That’s the story of Milicent Patrick, an extremely talented woman who gave so much to the cinema world and whose story isn’t even well documented.
To start with, no one really knows when she was born. Some say around 1915, while others claim it wasn’t until the thirties. Anyway, what we know is that she was the first woman animator at Disney, and after working for a while in the company, she decided to try her luck as an actress in some movies and commercials, as well as a costume and makeup designer. Nevertheless, in most of these jobs she didn't receive the credit she deserved. Until she was hired by Universal Studios, she grew professionally and became relevant within the company, although not precisely for the right reasons. She created the Xenomorph creatures as well as other makeup effects in the 1953 film It Came from Outer Space, the characterization in Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the mutant of the 1954 movie This Island Earth, and the Gill Man of Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Our story focuses mainly on the last film, since the Gill Man became one of the company's most iconic monsters. Patrick started the production under the lead of Bud Westmore, the chief director of the makeup and characterization team, and the man who’s been credited as the inventor and creator of most of the monsters made between the forties and sixties, but was he really the sole mind behind them? According to some versions, it was Millicent Patrick the one who handed the first sketch for the monster and the one who came with the final image. Others claim that it was indeed Westmore the creative mind behind it and that she was a mere artist following the directions of her boss. What we know for sure is that this movie proved to be both the consolidation and end of her career as a film designer.
According to some stories, the people from Universal saw a lot of potential in Patrick, not only because of her amazing talent, but also as a great marketing opportunity for the film. She was a gorgeous and charismatic woman who had a natural social magnet, so they knew that was something they could use in their favor. She was presented as “the Beauty who created the Beast” and would be one of the main features of the national press tour of the film. Naturally, Westmore wasn't really okay with this, since he thought she was stealing his thunder. So, the story says that although she would thank and credit him and the rest of the team during interviews, Westmore wanted the spotlight for himself. This would become an obsession for him and would constantly give many statements and interviews taking all the credits for himself and claiming that Patrick was only doing her job, which was to follow his directions. Moreover, he did his best to look for a penalization against her for being credited for something that, according to him, wasn’t hers. This didn’t proceed of course, since it was all a machination made by the company, so his last move was to threaten them with not working for them in any project with her involved. This eventually became the final blow for Milicent Patrick and her promising career.
Perhaps we'll never know who was the real mind behind the monster. Maybe it was only one of them, or –most likely– it was a joint effort where all parts worked so hard that Westmore's ego ended up being hurt, while Patrick faced the whole situation with an apologetic attitude. Still, he managed to blacklist her in the industry where she was practicing her main passion and career. As I mentioned, she was quite talented in many disciplines, had a very acute sense of musicality, and a great ability for acting. However, even before getting involved in the industry, she decided to follow the activity she loved the most as a professional career, so she decided to study art and design, which wasn’t something quite common at the time.
This was a time when women were getting more independence and would start looking for a career and a profession to sustain themselves, but even when things were changing, most of the industries in the world and society itself weren’t that keen on making that leap. Many believe that Patrick’s short career was just an example of how the industry didn't let go of their old habits that easily and how a character like Westmore could have absolute power over a woman who was simply doing her job. After being “forced” to leave the company, she worked for about a decade taking minor acting jobs in movies and advertisements, but afterward her story became a mystery. There were some who claimed she had died in the seventies, and others who assure they saw her or talked to her in the late eighties. What's true is that she went for a low-profile life and ended up being as obscure and unknown for the public as her achievements. Not only was she vanished for getting the attention on something she did make an effort to create, but she was denied the chance to continue doing what she loved the most, since most companies shut their doors for her. Of course, for Westmore, the story was quite different. He made about 400 movies and continued working until his death in 1973. So, once again, we’re dealing with a story where a powerful man’s ego is hurt, and he makes a fit about it to take back at the woman who dared to stand out.
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