Mildred Rossi was born in El Paso, Texas, but moved with her family to San Francisco when her father was named the construction manager of San Simeon, the proposed mansion and homestead of publisher William Randolph Hearst. Camille Rossi, Mildred’s father, was working under Julia Morgan, the first female architect licensed in California. Morgan was an obvious and strong inspiration to young Mildred. Another strong female figure in Mildred’s life was Hearst’s wife Millicent. During the course of their working relationship, Julia Morgan and Camille Rossi butt heads, causing Morgan to have Rossi removed from the on-going project. The Rossi family moved to Glendale, California. Mildred, now a budding artist, took her talents to the Chouniard Art Institute in Los Angeles.
24-year old Mildred got a job at the Walt Disney Studios as a member of the all-female ink-and-paint department. Within a year, she was moved to the Animation department, becoming one of the first female animators. During her brief time with Disney, she animated the character of “Chernabog” in the 1940 classic Fantasia. She also worked on Dumbo before her departure in 1941.
Taking the name “Millicent” (an homage to Millicent Hearst), she began working as a promotional model, thanks to her striking good looks. A chance meeting with an agent led her to a job at Universal Studios. Here, she put her artistic talents to work. Under the tutelage of Bud Westmore, head of Universal’s Make-Up and Special Effects department, Millicent created make-up designs for the pirate swashbuckler Against All Flags, the drama Sign of the Pagan and the comedy Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as well as designing the iconic Metaluna mutant for the sci-fi classic This Island Earth. In 1953, Millicent created and designed the Gill Man featured in The Creature from the Black Lagoon. In the early 1950s, it was unheard-of for a woman to have such responsibility and recognition. So, Bud Westmore took full credit for the Creature design, citing Millicent’s contributions as merely “assistance.” After a promotional tour for the film, Millicent was released from her Universal contract at Westmore’s insistence. He was jealous of her talents. Millicent never worked in a “behind-the-scenes” capacity again, concentrating on small, on-screen roles instead. In the 70s, Forrest Ackerman, publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and a close friend of Millicent’s, printed a story rightfully crediting Millicent for sole creation of the Creature costume. Subsequent research and a 2019 book corroborated the story.
While working at Disney Studios, Millicent began a relationship with married Paul Fitzpatrick. When Paul’s wife took her own life, Millicent and Paul wed, only to split a few years later. Millicent, however, took the name “Patrick” as her surname. In 1950, she had a brief affair with voice actor Frank Graham, best known for his narration of Disney’s The Three Caballeros and the Bugs Bunny cartoon Baseball Bugs. After their break-up, Graham committed suicide. He was found in his garage, dead from carbon-monoxide poisoning. He was clutching a photo of Millicent. In 1963, after a series of cancellations and postponements, Millicent married her fourth husband, voice actor Lee Trent. The couple divorced after six years, but remained linked romantically for years.
In the late 1980s, Millicent was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and later, she developed breast cancer. She passed away in hospice care in February 1998 at the age of 82.