Sunday morning, October 22, 2017…the sun shone brightly over Evans City Cemetery. Unusually hot for an autumn day near Pittsburgh, yet perfect for friends, family, and fans to honor the life of George A. Romero. Some came as far as Los Angeles and the United Kingdom…and fittingly, from just down the road in Evans City, Pennsylvania.
A previous public memorial for Romero, who passed away July 16 at age 77, was held in Toronto, Canada on July 24. This time it was a homecoming for the spirit of Romero, who made Pittsburgh his home throughout much of his career. The Evans City Cemetery was the filming location for the iconic opening scene of Night of the Living Dead (1968).
The following excerpts are from some of the heartfelt tributes at the service from folks who worked with Romero and admired him. Their words say it best:
John Russo (co-writer, Night of the Living Dead): “George made his mark on the world…and the world is a poorer place without George Romero.”
Russell Streiner (co-producer, Night of the Living Dead): “Right here (Evans City Cemetery) is a significant part of film history. With George and the rest of his wily band of filmmakers, this is where it all started. George Romero has touched thousands with his work, creating, and sensitivity.”
John Amplas (actor, Martin, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead): “We had a bond for 41 years. That has enriched me as a person. This is a celebration of his life. I want to celebrate someone that I love. I never met anyone who didn’t find him entirely accepting of who they were. We are all family and love. He cared about us and I loved him”
Eugene Clark (actor, Land of the Dead): “George was so generous if you had your interpretation of the character. The cool thing about George is you just liked being around him.”
Lori Cardille (actress, Day of the Dead): “George was Pittsburgh. A friend. A mentor. A good man. George will live on the screen forever.”
Howard Sherman (actor, Day of the Dead): “I’ve played Hamlet, Macbeth, Prospero…in the final analysis…the very, very, very finest work of my career was playing a zombie. Shakespeare, in his own time…the single most popular play that he wrote was ”Titus Andronicus”, a play in which there are multiple decapitations, blood, a rape on stage, bloody stumps, blood galore…and the Elizabethan audiences just loved it. The people came for the blood, they came for the gore…and much deeper, profounder aspects of the human condition were being planted into their consciousness…and I think George had an aspect of that genius”
Mark Tierno (actor/production assistant, Creepshow, Day of the Dead): “I always felt it was a collaboration. We were working together. He respected me as an actor…as a person.”
Gary Klar (actor, Day of the Dead): “I’m very humbled to be here. He gave us the courage to create. Thank you, George. We all love you.”
The music which played at the restored chapel (the same structure seen in Night of the Living Dead) was the soundtrack of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Richard Ricci, who appeared as a zombie in NOTLD, mentioned it was George’s favorite music. Ricci added, “It’s about flying and we all loved flying…the way he lived his life…a sweeping, big manner.” George A. Romero’s widow, Suzanne Romero, concluded, “He loved you very, very much. Let’s hope we can keep his life and legacy as sweet as it always will be forever. Stay Scared!”
Two days before the memorial, on Friday evening October 20th, the official Pittsburgh premiere of the restored 4K print of Night of the Living Dead took place at the Manor Theatre (the New York City premiere occurred October 13th at the Film Forum). John Russo, Gary Streiner, Russell Streiner, and Richard Ricci introduced the film to a packed house on two screens. The guests explained the legal issues throughout the past fifty years involving the copyright problems. The audience applauded unanimously as they learned the new 4K restoration (restored by the Museum of Modern Art and the Film Foundation) is now properly copyrighted. Russell Streiner shared, “NOTLD changed my life. The real credit for NOTLD goes to the fans.” John Russo added, “We had horror films in mind. We wanted to give fans their money’s worth…stay true to the plot…and characters that followed through.” Richard Ricci explained how it was “A film that dripped from its time (1968).” Gary Streiner, sound engineer on NOTLD, summed it up best as he proclaimed, “It’s no longer that grainy little black and white film from Pittsburgh, thanks to the Museum of Modern Art. This IS art.”
The non-stop celebration of Romero’s life included the Living Dead Weekend presented by the Living Dead Museum in Evans City, PA. Museum manager Kevin Kriess organized an incredible cast reunion from Day of the Dead (1985) featuring John Amplas, Lori Cardille, Antone DiLeo, Gary Klar, Debra Gordon, Mark Tierno, Jeff Monahan, Michael Tomaso, and Howard ‘Bub’ Sherman. Must see film location tours were expertly conducted by Lawrence DeVincentz. The Evans City area not only featured locations for NOTLD, but also Romero’s The Crazies (1973).
A definite highlight was a screening of Day of the Dead at the historic Strand Theatre in nearby Zelienople with the invited cast on stage for Q & A. John Amplas explained how Lori Cardille’s role was one of the first strong female horror leads, adding, “Her role was a pivotal jump in our consciousness on how to treat each other.” Lori Cardille reflected how she never liked horror movies as a kid but is now a fan. Her father, “Chilly Billy” Cardille was a popular Pittsburgh based television horror host for many years. She told the audience, “Because of you all it’s such an honor…without you we wouldn’t be here.”
The memorial organizer, Gary Streiner, reflected on George A. Romero’s legacy over the weekend, “We wanted to make films and Hollywood wasn’t going to give us the opportunity. So we did it on our own. What can I say? We lost a spirit. I can’t formulate words to express my loss” Appreciation, love, and admiration for George A. Romero’s life will carry on forever. Echoing his own words, let us all “Stay Scared!”