George Romero’s widow to attend ‘Living Dead’ showing at Byham Theater
The “Night of the Living Dead” 50th anniversary celebration will be more than a milestone recognizing a groundbreaking independent horror film that had its roots in Pittsburgh and western Pennsylvania.
The Oct. 6 event at the Byham Theater downtown also will reunite a group of actors and production staff that helped to bring George A. Romero’s vision to life in 1968, for a reunion celebrating his life.
A special guest, Romero’s widow, Suzanne Desrocher Romero, now living in Toronto, will attend the celebration to unveil details of The George A. Romero Foundation, an initiative being established in his memory to extend his legacy, passion and creative spirit to new generations of filmmakers.
Suzanne Romero said that Pittsburgh and his alma mater Carnegie Mellon University – then known as Carnegie Tech – were both very special to her husband.
Path began in Pittsburgh
“Pittsburgh is where he began his path. He met like-minded friends and together they forged a path,” she said. “George had a quiet strength and perseverance like no other and a fun leadership quality. George loved his ‘film family’ and worked with them throughout his Pittsburgh phase.”
Last summer Romero spoke on her husband’s behalf when he was posthumously awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, just three months after his death in July 2017. A contingent of friends and fans from Pittsburgh attended the ceremony.
“It was a very emotional experience for me,” she said. “I guess the most satisfying thing was that finally a genre director – a horror director – was recognized by the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It gave him and his work a mainstream legitimacy.”
‘Film family’ members
Two members of Romero’s “film family,” Russ Streiner and John Russo, will be among those attending the anniversary celebration.
Streiner recalled meeting the filmmaker when Romero first came to Pittsburgh from New York in 1958 to attend Carnegie Tech.
“He was working on a film he was shooting in 16mm titled, “Expostulations,” said Streiner, who grew up on the North Side. “He asked me if I was willing to be in his film. When I agreed and showed up, I was a live stage actor that knew nothing about filmmaking.”
Streiner and Romero ended up becoming friends and starting a business, The Latent Image, to shoot commercials, movies and business films. They had a store front on the South Side before relocating to downtown Pittsburgh.
Russo, from Clairton, co-wrote the “Night of the Living Dead” screenplay with Romero, who directed it, and he also worked at Latent Image.
Streiner was a producer for the film, and both Russo and
Streiner had roles in the movie, which was filmed near Evans City in Butler County. The opening scene of the ghoul uprising was shot at Evans City Cemetery.
‘They’re coming to get you’
It was Streiner in the role of Johnny who delivered one of the famous lines in the movie, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.” In 1990, he founded the Pittsburgh Film Office.
Streiner said 50 years later, “Night of the Living Dead” continues to win over new fans.
“It’s as timeless today as it was in 1968,” he said. “When I talk with college audiences about its history, 20 to 25 percent of the students are seeing the movie for the first time. That’s what keeps it going.”
Guests at the 50th anniversary party will watch a state-of-the-art restored version of “Night of the Living Dead,” created by the Museum of Modern Art.
Russo said the newly enhanced film is beautiful. “Now the world is seeing it the way it’s meant to be,” he said.
Romero’s wife referred to her husband as “a prolific writer that loved, loved, loved to write.” Although he created 17 features, there are at least 50 of his scripts that were never produced, she said.
Despite the attention it received, “Night of the Living Dead” was not Romero’s favorite film, according to his wife.
“That was definitely ‘Martin’ (1978),” she said, of his first collaboration with special effects artist Tom Savini, also of Pittsburgh and CMU. Romero added: “He thought ‘Night of the Living Dead’ was the creepiest.”
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.