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Zombie movie horrors dim amid warm feelings for cast, crew

October 7, 2018

PITTSBURGH (AP) — It was a lovely night for a “Dead” resurrection.

Fifty years after George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” made its world premiere at the Fulton Theater on Sixth Street, Downtown, there was an anniversary party. On hand Saturday night at what is now the Byham Theater, there were hundreds of fans, some of whom just happened to star in the film all those years ago.

Proceeds from the black-tie-but-seriously-just-come-as-you-are event will benefit the George A. Romero Foundation, which helps back independent and genre filmmakers, among others. Romero spent most of his filmmaker career in Pittsburgh but was living in Toronto at the time of his death in 2017.

“You know how people say ‘it takes a village,’ but in this case, it takes a city -- Pittsburgh,” said Suzanne DesRocher Romero, Mr. Romero’s widow.

The evening included anecdotes from some of the original cast members, as well as a screening of a pristine, black-and-white print of the film. It was a relaxed affair, with those in the crowd occasionally shouting at the screen and applauding for particularly iconic lines.

Sitting side by side on the stage before the screening, “NOTLD” siblings Judith O’Dea and Russ Streiner talked about the impact it had on their lives. “You’ve given me a lifeline, you’ve given me a legacy,” said O’Dea, who now lives in Arizona.

Streiner, who was also a producer on the film, told the story of how he rounded up his extended family — his brother, Gary, was the sound man on the project -— and they all went to the premiere.

Early in the film, a graveyard zombie attacks Johnny, Streiner’s character. As they wrestle, Johnny loses his horn-rimmed glasses.

Dressed in a tuxedo and black Nikes, Streiner laughed and recalled “Out in the darkened theater, my grandmother’s voice yells ‘Russell, he broke your glasses!’”

About a dozen others took the stage for brief recollections, including Judith Ridley, whose character was the height of late 1960s casual hip. “I was Judy: I had some very bad wardrobe choices.”

Kyra Schon (Karen Cooper) was the real-life daughter of Karl Hardman, whose company produced “NOTLD” with Romero’s Image Ten. Hardman pulled double duty, playing an insufferable hothead named Harry, who is married to Helen (played by Marilyn Eastman, his real-life partner).

The Coopers are a doomed family, especially after little Karen turns into a ghoul and chows down on her father’s arm. That “arm,” she said Saturday, was a leftover meatball sandwich from the crew’s lunch. They covered it with chocolate sauce, which looked like blood but in fact tasted pretty good.

Eastman had planned to attend the event but had to send her regrets from Florida. She is still recovering from a broken hip and made a video that was screened before the film.

After a few remarks and funny anecdotes, as well as a shout out to “my girlfriend, Judy O’Dea,” Eastman signed off. But wait, she said, there was one last thing .

Turns out Hardman was right, “doggonit,” when Harry kept yelling that the basement was the safest place. “I think we should all offer him an apology.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2E3Imc4

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Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com

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