George A. Romero's Loved Ones Remember the Magic Behind the Horror Maestro

The 'Night of the Living Dead' director was feted with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, followed by a fond farewell from his widow and daughter as well as the movie's writer and producer.
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Three months after the death of George Romero, friends and family gathered to honor him with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Wednesday followed by a memorial event at the historic Alex Theatre in Glendale. Friends, family and associates gathered to raise a glass in honor of Romero, who died July 16 at the age of 77.

On hand were Night of the Living Dead co-writer and zombie extra Jack Russo and producer zombie victim (cum zombie) Russell Streiner, who sat for a Q&A with former Famous Monsters of Filmland editor, David Weiner. Afterward Romero’s widow, Suzanne Desrocher-Romero and daughter Tina thanked the audience for coming.

“Our relationship was magic,” Suzanne tells The Hollywood Reporter about her 13-years as partner and later wife to the horror movie legend. “We spent a lot of time together, we did a lot of traveling. We played games. We loved Shakespeare. We’d go to theater and concerts. We lived life to the fullest. We were always doing something, going to festivals, going to conventions.”

A New York City native, Romero was raised in the Bronx and graduated Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh where he eventually settled. Working on shorts and commercials, his break came in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead, a film that didn’t invent the zombie movie but reinvented what had become a moribund genre since the 1940s. Shot on a shoestring budget of $114,000 it spawned a revival that has snowballed over the decades. In the aftermath of his initial success, Romero's career remained limited to producing and directing sequels and other horror movies.

Russo and Streiner remembered him as the natural leader of their fledgling film company, Image Ten Productions. He had worked as a production assistant on the Hitchcock classic, North by Northwest and had a firmer grasp of the medium than they. “He was the most gracious creative person that I’ve worked with ever,” Russo said of his old friend. “I never met anybody who didn’t instantly like George, such warmth and charm and wit and humor and zaniness on top of it.”

He recalled their first meeting when Romero came strolling down the street in a sombrero with bandoliers filled with bullets and wearing two pistols and a droopy black moustache. “The reason he was dressed that way was one of his favorite movies at the time was Viva Zapata! a great film starring Marlon Brando.”

Night of the Living Dead fans will remember Streiner as the guy who taunts his sister in the graveyard before becoming the zombies’ first victim in the opening scene. The black 1967 Pontiac LeMans he drove was parked outside in the theatre’s courtyard, camera ready for selfies. An actor at the time of their meeting, he was backstage in his dressing room when Romero walked in wearing a black cape with red satin lining and spouting lines from Cyrano de Bergerac.

After the Q&A was a screening of Creepshow, Romero’s 1982 omnibus of terror starring era icons like Hal Holbrook, Leslie Nielsen and Adrienne Barbeau with a cameo by Stephen King, the film’s screenwriter. As the credits rolled cake was served with the movie’s one-sheet rendered in icing on top of it.

“I just wished he was here to accept his one,” Suzanne said of the evening’s honors as well as the Walk of Fame ceremony earlier in the day, imagining what he might say were he alive. “He had a beautiful sense of humor and he was an eloquent speaker. He could have done it many ways, he could have done light and frivolous. He would have been humble and modest. I think that’s how he would have been. I was very proud and I certainly think it’s the right thing for him to have a star.”

“Its sad that he’s gone, but he’s not gone,” Russo told the crowd. “We keep his movies alive and his memory alive.”