I EXPERIENCED George Romero’s kindness firsthand on a number of occasions over the years, but never more so than on a cold November night in 1984.
I was in rural Pennsylvania as part of a contingent of about 7 guys representing the official George A. Romero Fan Club. We’d been invited to appear as zombies in Romero’s Day of the Dead, and had made the 7-hour drive from New York City buzzing in anticipation of actually meeting our hero in the flesh.
To make a long story short, our day on the set was an amazing experience. We were extras in the film’s famous “elevator scene,” part of the shambling horde that invades an underground sanctuary during the film’s climax. The first time we descended on that huge lift for rehearsal, wearing our zombie masks and tattered clothing, we saw George waiting for us, looking up, smiling that big smile of his, and nodding his head in approval.
Great, you all look terrible!, I believe he said.
After a few takes, they raised the elevator one last time and called a wrap. George was nowhere to be seen. We asked if it would be possible for us to meet him, but were told that he’d already left for the day. It seems an extra had been injured during the filming, and Romero had rushed off to the hospital to check on the man’s condition.
Needless to say, our disappointment was deep. We were scheduled to head back to New York the following morning, and it looked as though we wouldn’t get to meet George. Fortunately, though, one of the guys in our club, Joe Mazzella, had the good sense to leave a “thank you” note for George with a security guard at the gate. Under the circumstances, it seemed like a million-to-one shot that the note would do any good. But Joe took the shot, and thanks to that wonderful security guard, the note found its way to Romero.
Back at the motel that night we were despondent. We’d had a great day, and amassed some cool stories, but still…
And then the phone rang. It was George. He was already back home and had just read the note. He apologized for missing us and explained that no one had told him we were on-set that day. He asked if we’d had dinner, and insisted that we get together. A short while later, he showed up at the motel with his family in tow, and they took us all out.
It’s worth considering that after a long day on the set, followed by a trip to the hospital to visit an injured cast member, and then a long drive home, a clearly tired George Romero packed his loved ones back into the car for the long drive back to our motel and an evening spent entertaining fans he had never even met. How many people would do that?
And entertain us he did, with great food, wine and laughter. George was funny, and quite the raconteur. He answered all of our questions and asked a few of his own. We all lived or worked near the Bronx neighborhood where he grew up, so we swapped stories. He thanked us for running the fan club, for publishing a fanzine, and simply for being fans. When it was time to go home he embraced us all warmly and said he’d see us again.
And just as he’d promised, we did see him again—and talk to him on the phone, and exchange letters, and even socialize a bit, once very memorably at a private screening of Day of the Dead, after which he seemed keenly interested in knowing what we thought of the film. It made us feel like a million bucks.
It’s been 33 years since that magical time, but the memory of it still lingers thanks to a lovely man with a big heart.
So Godspeed, George. You have been and always will be a towering figure in my life. No filmmaker was ever more gracious, or did more to make an eager young fan feel like a friend.