By SUSAN JONES
George Romero is about to get another red carpet moment, even though the horror and zombie master has been dead since 2017 (and no, he’s not turning into one of his famous back-from-the-dead characters).
LIVING WITH THE DEAD:
A Party Celebrating the George A. Romero Archival Collection
7-10 p.m. Oct. 23, Hillman Library, 1st floor lobby
On Oct. 23, the University Library System will debut some pieces from the George Romero archives, which it acquired earlier this year, at a party at Hillman Library — Living with the Dead: A Party Celebrating the George A. Romero Archival Collection. Ben Rubin, who was named supervisor of library system’s new Horror Studies Collection, couldn’t be happier.
“I’m a huge horror fan and I’m very excited to have that role and be able to work with this material,” said Rubin, who has worked in the Pitt libraries for 10 years and in special collections and archives for the past four. In May, he started cataloging all the material donated by Romero’s widow Suzanne Desrocher-Romero, daughter Tina Romero and business partner and friend Peter Grunwald.
It will probably take until next spring before the collection is available to researchers, Rubin said. He is working on inventorying the collection and putting it “into an intellectual arrangement that makes sense.”
But the libraries wanted to do a “another big event to really just kind of re-announce this archive, show that we’re excited about it and talk about Romero, in particular, but then horror studies, both in the library and broadly what the University wants to do,” Rubin said.
Besides displaying some of the gems they’ve already come across — some original and some reproduced — the event will feature students from the Theatre Arts department doing dramatic readings from produced and unproduced Romero scripts, people from the Scarehouse doing makeup demonstrations and creating a set where visitors can get their photo taken, and an activity from the Center for Creativity.
On display will be props and production materials from the Romero films, along with some of the more than 60 unproduced scripts that Romero wrote.
Having the celebration in October also coincides with several other Romero-related events in the Pittsburgh area, many sponsored by the George A. Romero Foundation.
Desrocher-Romero, who is founder and president of the foundation, will be at the Oct. 23 library event to hand out the inaugural Pioneer Award, for people who helped Romero become the pioneer he was. The award will go to William “Chilly Billy” Cardille (1928-2016), who hosted Chiller Theatre on Pittsburgh television from 1964-83. The award will be accepted by his daughter, Lori, who also had a role in Romero’s “Day of the Dead.”
After acquiring the Romero collection, the University decided to use it as a catalyst for a new Horror Studies Collection, which Rubin believes is the first of its kind. Collections at other schools may contain some horror material — such as Bowling Green University’s pop culture collection — but “there didn’t appear to be any other institutions that decided to collect horror and dedicate academic pursuits toward the study of the genre,” Rubin said.
“The library system made a decision that … we would fill the space, be the first ones,” he said. “Where that goes, we’re still kind of feeling it out. We have the Romero collection as sort of our cornerstone — it certainly garners a lot of attention. That’ll allow us to then promote more.”
Rubin has sifted through the current ULS collection to see what Pitt already has in the way of horror books. The library also has started acquiring other works, particularly all the nominees and winners of the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel, which is the literary award for horror, and the Shirley Jackson Award, for psychological suspense, horror and the dark fantasy literature. Also added to the collection were works from some small presses, like Cemetery Dance, which does limited edition illustrated books from authors such as Stephen King.
The Pitt library also has acquired several original scripts from well-known horror movies, such as “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Halloween.” One exciting find for Rubin was a heavily annotated script from director Wes Craven’s first movie, “Last House on the Left” (1972).
“Apparently, it was Craven’s actual shooting script,” Rubin said.
“We’re trying to reach out to find other authors, filmmakers, other people that we can start to get them to hopefully consider us as a depository for their archives,” he said.
There’s also support at the University outside of the library system, Rubin said, particularly Professor Adam Lowenstein in the English department’s Film & Media Studies, who is working with the foundation to create the George A. Romero Horror Studies Center.
“We’re working with him, so we can acquire materials that maybe support his curriculum,” Rubin said. “And then knowing that there will be some academic enterprise on campus that will help bring in faculty, bring in students, and then we on the library side are the resources that help support that.
“Pitt, hopefully, can be a leader … to kind of elevate genre fiction. All of these — whether it’s romance or horror or science fiction or westerns — have these very, very dedicated fan bases and have never been treated as literary. All of these genres have value — they reflect our cultural moments. And horror is no different. We’re just recognizing that here, and we’ll have resources in the library, but also resources within our faculty.”
Once the renovation of Hillman Library’s third floor is completed, archives and special collections will have a large exhibit space that will be open during all library hours. This will allow the display of some of the Romero collection along with other library holdings.
Rubin and Lowenstein will both be introducing movies for the Romero Lives Film Series, sponsored by the Romero Foundation, Oct. 11 to 20 at the Regent Square Theater.
The film series also will host the world premiere of the 4K restoration of Romero’s long-lost film, “The Amusement Park,” which was found in the collection donated to Pitt. The film — described as “an allegory about the nightmarish realities of aging in a world without an adequate social safety net” — will be shown at 8 p.m. Oct. 12 at Regent Square and will feature an introduction by Suzanne Desrocher-Romero.
Rubin will be introducing “The Dark Half,” an adaptation of a book by Stephen King, at 7 p.m. Oct. 17 at Regent Square. Romero and King worked together on two or three projects, Rubin said, but there are a dozen other adapted scripts in the archive that Romero hoped to work with King on.
“I'll probably mostly be talking about the collaborations between the two of them,” he said. “They are two of the most influential voices in horror of the 20th century and appear to be very good friends.”
On Oct. 20, Steelers legend Franco Harris will be on hand to discuss Romero’s work on documentaries about sports figures, including “Franco Harris: Good Luck on Sunday.” Get tickets here.
The Romero Lives events conclude with screenings on Oct. 25 and 26 of “Dawn of the Dead 3D,” which was filmed at Monroeville Mall, at the Carnegie Science Center’s IMAX theater.
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at email@example.com or 412-648-4294.
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