Salena Moran & Evan Penrod | Staff Writers
In celebrating the life of legendary director George A. Romero, family, friends and fans gathered to honor his unprecedented contributions to the horror genre on the 50th anniversary of his work on Pittsburgh’s first feature film, Night of the Living Dead (1968).
With inspiration and a limited budget for an independent film, Romero’s project turned heads in Hollywood, making Pittsburgh a landmark for films as well as the start of the horror/zombie genre. He also overcame the racial and cultural boundaries of filmmaking at the start of his career during the civil rights movement by casting an African-American man (Duane Jones) in a strong leading role.
Romero passed away last summer from lung cancer, but his legacy endures. On Monday Oct. 1, Romero’s widow, Suzanne Descrocher, distinguished guests and an intimate crowd gathered outside the Byham Theater on 6th Street (where Night of the Living Dead first premiered on that exact date in 1968) in remembrance of the late director.
Lori Cardille, daughter of Pittsburgh broadcast personality “Chilly” Billy Cardille and star of Romero’s third film Day of the Dead (1985), emceed the event.
“I was so fortunate. We became family and that’s the thing that George always did for all of us, and I know you all feel that too. That’s who he was. That’s how he was to his actors, to the crew. He trusted us. We trusted him. We loved him and became part of his family, and he extended that all out to you and to the world,” Cardille said.
Descrocher shared very inspirational words and memories of her husband George’s film artistry, the city of Pittsburgh and hopes of creating a museum dedicated to horror movies and history.
“Pittsburgh has been so loving, caring and supportive,” Descrocher said. “It is so important that we remember George and his movies, but it is more important that we move forward and move ahead and have a future. Today, I am announcing the George A. Romero Foundation … we want to support genre films, independent films, and filmmakers … ”
The memorial also showcased thoughtful remarks from Romero’s friends Russell and Gary Streiner, University of Pittsburgh film studies professor Adam Lowenstein, University of Pittsburgh Director of African American Poetry and Poetics Dawn Lundy Martin and Steve Tolin, founder of TolinFX for makeup effects.
Mayor Bill Peduto even made a special appearance, officially declaring Oct. 1 George A. Romero Day in honor of the director’s visionary life work beginning in the Pittsburgh area.
“He [George] set loose his imaginative storytelling in Pittsburgh, whereas long on vision and short on cash, he enlisted his friends and family to make a movie that crashed into the film world … George A. Romero’s legacy continues to foster new creative business and draws students to our city from around the world. He left no doubt that he loved and respected Pittsburgh. The feeling is mutual,” said Mayor Peduto.
All throughout October, George A. Romero’s influence lives on in museums, movie theaters and city-wide symposiums – all paying homage to his talents and highlighting Pittsburgh in the pop culture scene. A special red carpet black tie event, live presentation by the cast and crew and a screening of Night of the Living Dead will be held Saturday, Oct. 6 at 8 p.m. at the Byham Theater.
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