Tuesday, July 18, 2017

R.I.P. George A. Romero

I went to the Beverly Center mall in 2004 with my friend Matthew after work one afternoon. We weren't going to buy anything--we had no money--but wandering around the mall was a good way to kill a couple of hours, look at girls, and talk. Up on the third floor was a movie theater--a fairly crappy one I think I only ever saw one film at in all the years I lived in Los Angeles. But eventually we went up there, and I saw a familiar face walking around.

"Is that George Romero?" I asked.


"George A. Romero. He's the director of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD."

"Uh, how the heck would I know?" (Matthew tended not to use profanity)

I watched the old guy a moment. The same super-thick glasses, the same tan vest, longish grey hair. Yeah, I was pretty sure it was him.

The man basically had a costume that made him recognizable.
So I went up. "Mr. Romero?"

He turned. He didn't acknowledge that that was him.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

"Just visiting. Seeing a movie." He had an assistant with him, standing impotently by (after all, Romero towered over a skinny-fat kid like me), jarred that someone knew who his boss was.

"I wondered if you saw the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD."

He nodded. "Sure."

"And what did you think?" I was genuinely curious. It was a pretty good film, but it was no 1978 version.

He paused, shrugged, and said, "Why would you care what I think?"

I don't know if that meant he hated it and didn't wish to say so, or had been asked that question too many times, or what. But that's my big George Romero memroy--actually running into him in a mall.

Romero is the creator of the modern zombie mythos--now a billion dollar industry. Director of CREEPSHOW, THE CRAZIES, NOTLD, DAWN, and DAY OF THE DEAD (all remade in the past decade or so?), I saw Romero speak once, on Fantasy in a series of lectures at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Hollywood, where he spoke about his career and influences.  And you know, he stayed afterward and signed autographs for everyone who wanted one.

 He'd always sign "Stay scared, George Romero."  I've got it on a couple DVDs and a poster, and saw him recently at a San Diego show where he was promoting a comic book series about, you guessed it, the living dead.

As recently as this year, I went to a comic-con panel and asked if Romero would be ever recognized, (during his lifetime or after) as the creator of the modern zombie.  The panelist said, "Fuck yeah!  He totally is!" which was exuberant, but didn't answer my question.
Well, now the man is gone, and it's hard not to make some kind of comment about that fact and his greatest creation.

There was not much media coverage of his death (at least to me)--he was seventy-seven, died of lung cancer, and it's too bad. If not for the unfortunate snafu causing NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD to be declared in the public domain, he might have had some kind of recognition (and dollar signs) as the father of the ghoul/flesh-eater zombie, and I always wondered if he'd be one of those guys only appreciated after he was gone.

Maybe I'll find out now.

Here's George signing my CREEPSHOW poster.  He laughed when I told him I was too young to see it, but my mom rented it because it looked like a comic book movie.
Stay cool, George.  We'll stay scared.

Rish Outfield

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