My Buddy George Romero
On July 16, 2017, George A. Romero passed away after a battle with lung cancer.
On the 5th anniversary of his death, I have some thoughts I'd like to share about George, along with some cool trade ads
It was five years ago today that I lost George Romero. You lost him as well. We all did, and yes, it is true, that old saying which people love to banty about, "but we have all of his wonderful films." Very accurate, but I wanted the guy to stay on the planet forever. Why? It just made me feel better knowing he was here with us.
Perhaps it was George's personality, how he gave interviews, his responses, and his attitude towards movies, both as a creator and a fan. Those things made me feel closer to a man whom I had never met and would never meet.
For me, it all started in 1979. Not with Dawn of the Dead, but with the videocassette of Night of the Living Dead, and the night my Dad slid it into our top loading Magnavox VCR MODEL # VK8222BR01 (the one with the simulated but very real-looking wood grain.)
I was six years old, and my brother was 5, but perhaps the most crucial detail about this introduction to Romero and Night was that we lived right across the street from a cemetery. Not just any cemetery but the now world-famous Resurrection Cemetery in Justice, Illinois (as featured on Unsolved Mysteries and a chapter in every haunting of America book written since 1980.) For some reason still not fully explained, my Dad decided my brother and I were ready for the real deal, so he popped the tape into the VCR and let it rip.
I was getting into this movie, and as my brother and I watched, my Dad was waiting rather silently for his moment. His moment turned out to be when the cemetery ghoul attacks Johnnie while Barbra recoils in horror. At this moment, my Dad pointed to the sliding glass patio doors that faced the cemetery and, with his arm stiffly pointed towards the graveyard across the street, bellowed, "Look, there they are. They're coming!"
My brother, as I recall, began to cry. My Dad assured us that no zombies were shuffling towards our house to bang on our patio doors with bricks. I remember realizing how creepy it was to watch this movie that could be happening right across the street. My Dad had had his laugh, but more importantly, his introduction of Night of the Living Dead to us almost immediately cemented my love for horror films. It began my fascination to learn everything I could about Romero and everybody responsible for Night of the Living Dead.
Fast forward to 1987 and the publication of Paul R. Gagne's The Zombies that Ate Pittsburgh. I was about to be a freshman in high school and couldn't afford anything as expensive as a new book, but as luck would have it, the first week of June 1987, a copy showed up at my public library. Once this came to my attention, I promptly stole it from the Chicago Public Library. There, I said it. Thirty-five years ago, I stole a book from a library because I couldn't afford it. But what a book!
I must have read that book 30 times that summer of 1987. My buddy, John, had copied Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead onto a blank VHS tape in SLP mode. We watched that 6-hour tape repeatedly (full disclosure here, the copy John made was from his factory VHS tapes of all three films and not a bootleg. Putting the movies onto one tape made it easier to watch all three in one sitting.) It was my George Romero Summer, and I poured over each chapter of the book and practically committed every sentence to memory.
As the years went on, I followed Romero's career like most of us. I had favorites and others that I was entertained by, but nothing had a more significant impact on me as much as his work from 1968-1986. Of course, that damn book had a much more substantial effect on me and fueled my respect and admiration for George Romero. After looking over that tome time and again, I felt like I knew Romero a bit. I will attribute this to Paul R. Gagne's fantastic idea to end each chapter of the book (each chapter represents a Romero film from concept to conclusion) with George's thoughts on each of his movies. Those passages written by Romero spoke volumes about how he felt about his films. You can't get a more personal experience than that. There is no doubt that how I felt about George Romero came from his own words in Paul R. Gagne's book.
It had seemed to me that George Romero was just like me. He was a regular guy who loved watching movies and wanted to make some of his own—a blue-collar guy, or what we call a meat and potatoes guy here in Chicago. What was not to admire about a guy like that? No bullshit and didn't entertain bullshit from anyone else.
Of course, I realize that my admiration for Romero and who I thought he was was one-sided, but I was and am still ok with that. I didn't know George Romero. All my years of attending horror movie conventions, I never got in line to get George's autograph or snap a photo with him. There were several opportunities, but I never did, even when my friends grabbed spots in a line that often stretched clear out the door of the convention hall and shuffled along like zombies until they had their moment with him. There was no rhyme or reason for me not getting in line. It was just something I never did.
On July 16, 2017, I was shocked to read via The New York Times that my buddy George A. Romero had died. I felt like someone had gut-punched me. True, Romero was no spring chicken, but his age had never really factored into the version of him I had created in my head. Neither did those damn cigarettes that George always had in his hand during any TV appearance or interview back in the day. Lung cancer had felled him. A filmmaker who was 18 stories tall and commanded legions of the dead was done in by cigarettes. It just didn't seem possible, but it happened.
That is the thing about our movie idols. We expect that they will live forever. As we assume, we will live forever, but that is not how real life works. Over time we come to grips with our mortality but not the mortality of the guys and gals who create film because they don't know what else to do.
Five years later. Five years after George Romero passed away. We still have his movies, to be sure. We now have more movies than we had before, and that is not a bad thing. I still have that war-torn copy of The Zombies that Ate Pittsburgh. I've used it as a reference book more times than I could list, and once in a great while, I read it cover-to-cover again. My buddy George Romero is in that book, even if he no longer walks among us. I know where to find him when I need him.
BONUS: For your enjoyment, I give you the May 1983 Laurel Entertainment Inc. Trade ad spread titled: Announcing our Program of Theatrical Motion Pictures. This is a rare nugget of Romero history I am happy to share. The pdf is but a mere 9 pages but chock full of awesomeness. The Stand, Creepshow 2, Day of the Dead, and a Marvel comic book movie were announced way back in 1983!
DOWNLOAD IT HERE