George Romero archives acquired by University Library System

Romero on the set of "Dawn of the Dead"

The University Library System has acquired the archives of the late filmmaking pioneer George A. Romero, which will serve as the foundation to create a resource for the study of horror and science fiction.

Romero, who died in 2017, was born in the Bronx and came to Pittsburgh in the late 1950s to attend Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) where he studied graphic arts.

He began his career making commercials and shorts including some sequences for “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Then in 1967, he and some friends shot “Night of the Living Dead,” mostly in Evans City, Pa., on a shoestring budget of around $100,000 . Released in 1968, it became a cult classic and revolutionized independent film and the zombie genre.

The collection is composed of three separate archives belonging to his widow Suzanne Desrocher-Romero, daughter Tina Romero and business partner and friend Peter Grunwald. Romero’s archives will soon be accessible to allow scholars, students, filmmakers and fans worldwide to trace his projects from inception to completion.

“On behalf of the George Romero Estate and the George A. Romero Foundation, we are pleased that George’s archive is where it belongs — at the esteemed University of Pittsburgh University Library System and the great city of Pittsburgh,” Desrocher-Romero told PittWire. “We are excited to help contribute to the advancement of George’s legacy as an icon and a filmmaker.”

The collection of personal and professional materials from George Romero spans the past 50 years or more. It ranges from screenplays (both produced and unproduced) along with script notes, props, promotional materials and video (both test shots and produced footage).

Photo of from "Dawn of the Dead" set at Monroeville Mall

Romero followed “Night of the Living Dead” up with numerous other movies including two more zombie films, “Dawn of the Dead,” which was shot at Monroeville Mall, and “Day of the Dead”; a vampire film, “Martin”; and collaborations with Stephen King on “Creepshow” and “The Dark Half.” In the early 2000s, Romero moved to Toronto where he made another trilogy of “Dead” movies.

“Night of the Living Dead” was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1999 and a 4K restoration of the film was released in 2018, based on a print from the Museum of Modern Art.

Highlights of the George A. Romero Collection include:

  • The original annotated script for the 1968 classic “Night of the Living Dead.”
  • Romero’s unproduced adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.” The script describes one scene: “Psychedelic images flash all around. Another CHEMICAL ORGY is in progress.”
  • Photographs from the set of “Dawn of the Dead.”
  • A foam latex zombie head.

“When my dad came to Pittsburgh as a student at Carnegie Mellon, he never would have imagined that one day the city would be known as ‘The Zombie Capital of the World.’ I’m so excited for people to discover some of the treasures I grew up with,” Tina Romero said.

“George was a natural teacher,” Grunwald said. “He would have loved knowing that his collection would be used to educate and inspire future generations.”

Building a horror studies archive

Using the Romero Collection as a foundation, Pitt’s ULS intends to establish an international scholarly resource for the research and study of horror and science fiction. A multimedia exhibit will be open to the public on Hillman Library’s third floor, which is now undergoing a modernization that is expected to be done in 2020.

The Romero Collection will be complemented by ULS’s growing treasure of full runs of major science fiction pulp titles; thousands of science fiction paperbacks from the 1960s-‘80s; hundreds of comic books and fanzines; programs from stage performances of horror and science fiction plays; and film scripts from Romero’s contemporaries, including John Carpenter and Wes Craven as well as authors Stephen King and Clive Barker.

The department’s rare book collection also contains a selection of fine press editions of seminal works such as “Dracula,” “Frankenstein” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” as well as early hardcover editions of several important science fiction and horror titles.

“This is a major achievement for the Archives & Special Collections at the ULS, the University of Pittsburgh and the city,” said Kornelia Tancheva, ULS director. “It will position us as an important player in the ongoing citywide celebration of the work and life of George Romero, and we look forward to collaborating with the Romero Foundation and the individual donors as we build a horror studies archive.”

Processing of the Romero Collection begins this summer with a team that includes Pitt film and media studies graduate students. Pitt and ULS also will celebrate the Romero Collection with activities this fall. Check the collection’s website for updates.

“George’s contributions to filmmaking in Pittsburgh, to horror as social and political cinema, as well as to the independent film tradition, are unmatched and transformative,” said Adam Lowenstein, professor of English and Film and Media Studies at Pitt and a Romero Foundation board member. “This remarkable collection will allow his achievements to be seen through a revelatory lens that sheds light not only on an individual career, but on crucial issues in film and culture.”

— PittWire