University of Pittsburgh Acquires Romero Collection, To Found Horror Studies Center

University archives can be a resting place for papers and special collections—or they can reanimate them so that they may live on. The University of Pittsburgh’s University Library System (ULS) has acquired the archives of pioneering horror filmmaker George A. Romero (1940–2017), including correspondence, scripts, footage, promotional material, and props from his legendary films. These include Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, both shot near Pittsburgh. The new archive will form the foundation for a future horror studies center, building on collections already housed in ULS archives and special collections and funded in part by the George A. Romero Foundation.

Ken Foree (far left), the main protagonist of George A. Romero’s 1978 film Dawn of the Dead, crouches behind a trash can during filming in Monroeville Mall.
From the George A. Romero Collection at the University of Pittsburgh’s University Library System, Archives & Special Collections.

 

University archives can be a resting place for papers and special collections—or they can reanimate them so that they may live on. The University of Pittsburgh’s (Pitt) University Library System (ULS) has acquired the archives of pioneering horror filmmaker George A. Romero (1940–2017), including correspondence, scripts, footage, promotional material, and props from his legendary films. These include Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, both shot near Pittsburgh. The new archive will form the foundation for a future horror studies center, building on collections already housed in ULS archives and special collections and funded in part by the George A. Romero Foundation.

Pittsburgh is an appropriate home for the George A. Romero Collection, to be housed in Pitt’s Hillman Library; Romero graduated from Carnegie Mellon University (then the Carnegie Institute of Technology) in 1960 and stayed in the area shooting commercials and short films, including a segment for Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. The film that launched his career, the 1968 horror movie Night of the Living Dead, was shot outside Pittsburgh, and his second zombie film, Dawn of the Dead (1978), takes place in a shopping mall in nearby Monroeville. As the films’ popularity grew, Pittsburgh became known as the “Zombie Capital of the World.” Local events celebrating Romano include annual “zombie walks,” where fans dress up as the undead and stagger through the mall and Evans City Cemetery.

CONSOLIDATING THREE COLLECTIONS

Romero’s archives comprise three separate sets of personal and professional materials, donated by his widow Suzanne Desrocher-Romero, daughter Tina Romero, and business partner and friend Peter Grunwald. Adam Lowenstein, associate professor of English and film studies at Pitt, often teaches classes about the horror genre. As a member of the steering committee for the Romero Lives! celebration for Night of the Living Dead’s 50th anniversary in 2018, Lowenstein became friendly with Desrocher-Romero. He introduced her to Ed Galloway, associate university librarian for archives and special collections, and other members of the ULS team, and they began negotiations to consolidate the three collections.

All parties agreed that the collection should come to Pittsburgh, Galloway told LJ. “They felt strongly about its association with George's career and his life here,” he said. “And they really wanted to see the collection at an academic institution where it would be used by students, researchers, and scholars to study what George did, his filmmaking techniques, and the unbelievable amount of photographs and scripts and other materials in the collection.”

“We spoke to each of them,” added Ben Rubin, library specialist and horror studies collection coordinator at Hillman Library. “They were easy to work with and [saw] that the university has a dedication to ensuring academic study, and that we already had faculty here who are also interested. Horror's got such a huge fan base, but is generally neglected as a genre.... So they were excited that we were dedicated to ensuring students would work with it."

“We are delighted to have the George A. Romero archive at the University of Pittsburgh Library System,” Kornelia Tancheva, Hillman University Librarian and director of the ULS, told LJ. “The growth of Archives and Special Collections is one of our strategic priorities and this collection allows us to extend the national and international significance of our holdings and presents invaluable opportunities for research, teaching, and learning.”

FROM ANNOTATIONS TO ZOMBIE HEADS

As the archive’s active curator, this summer Rubin will begin sorting through the material, currently still in boxes, with the help of Pitt’s media curator, digital preservation staff, and three graduate students; eventually he will also answer all reference questions about the archives and work with the English/Film Studies Department on their curriculum.

The “horror studies collection coordinator” title, Rubin noted, came with the Romero archives, although he’s been working ULS for years. “As it became apparent that the collection would be coming to Pitt,” he said, “it came about that I was the person in the library who would have the expertise on that genre—not through any academic pursuit, just that that’s what I enjoy. I spend a lot of time reading or watching movies on my own time, and have since I was a kid.”

Rubin was a natural fit for the collection, affirmed Galloway, because of his “incredible expertise and knowledge and passion for this subject.”

The collection runs the gamut from correspondence, contracts and legal agreements, and scripts—produced and unproduced— to photographs, DVDs, film and video footage, and promotional material from local theaters. Highlights include the original annotated script for Night of the Living Dead, an unproduced adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s Masque of the Red Death, and a foam latex zombie head used as a prop.

 

zombie mask
Foam latex zombie head
From the George A. Romero Collection at the University of Pittsburgh’s University Library System, Archives & Special Collections

Rubin hasn’t examined the full collection, but he’s intrigued by much of what he’s seen—particularly, he told LJ, drafts of scripts that show the evolution of the films he’s familiar with. “We came across an original version of Night of the Living Dead with his heavy annotations in it, immediately recognizable scenes but that were definitely different, characters that were not yet named—but from the scene I could tell exactly who they were.”

He was also impressed with the number of unfilmed scripts. “While Romero is beloved in the horror community, and had an untold amount of impact, he didn't release a whole lot of films,” explained Rubin. “But this archive is showing that he produced way, way more than was ever made in his life, which is exciting to see how much work he was actually doing all this time.... The adaptations that he has in there show that he was looking at everything from the universal classic horror films of Dracula and Frankenstein to more obscure horror genres, like splatterpunk from the '80s, that aren't as well known.”

Rubin also pointed to work Romero was doing, toward the end of his life, on comics and video games based on his films, as well as an extensive correspondence with Stephen King, with whom he often collaborated. “That's exciting for any horror fan, to be able to dive into and see this correspondence between two icons of 20th century horror.”

Before any of the collection is made available publicly, said Galloway, ULS will need to iron out any permissions for material under copyright. “Some of this material was just produced a few years ago,” he noted, “but we're hopeful we can still [provide access to] quite a bit."

THE HORROR, THE HORROR

As Romero’s executors and the librarians discussed Pitt’s acquisitions of the archives, Desrocher-Romero also expressed interest in creating a foundation that would be headquartered in Pittsburgh. The George A. Romero Foundation, established in summer 2018, will partner with Pitt to create the George A. Romero Horror Studies Center.

While there are many institutions across the country with horror as a component of their cultural studies departments, noted Rubin, this will be the first dedicated horror studies center. It will draw not only on the Romero collection but will incorporate ULS’s existing special collections: full runs of major science fiction pulp titles, thousands of sf paperbacks from the 1960s–80s, comic books and fanzines, programs from performances of sf and horror plays, and film scripts from other horror auteurs such as John Carpenter, Wes Craven, and authors Stephen King and Clive Barker. The rare book collection holds a number of sf and horror titles, as well as fine press editions of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. A multimedia exhibit, open to the public, will be housed on the third floor of Hillman Library, which is currently undergoing a modernization expected to wrap up in 2020. The foundation is currently fundraising around the center, and ULS is working to expand its horror and sf collections.

“[Horror] has not really been seen as a serious scholarly pursuit,” said Galloway. “We think that we have an opportunity to fill that need. We'll start with this collection and we'll grow it, and we'll work with the [Dietrich] School of Arts and Sciences, to provide the kernel to bring scholars and instructors and students to use it, and begin to make it a disciplined study."

“Like any of our collections at Pitt,” added Rubin, “it's going to be open to the public—fans, filmmakers, people from around the world—but we're definitely dedicating ourselves to ensuring that students can come here with the expectation that they can work on projects around horror, whether it's this collection or future collections that we're able to add.”

"We look forward to seeing where this goes,” Galloway told LJ, “how it attracts users, what's produced from this, what kind of new work is done. Pittsburgh's a great place for that.” Romero Lives! will become an annual celebration of the filmmaker’s life and work, with events being planned for October, including a month of film screenings. “So the collection can now come alongside that,” said Galloway, “in support—and to [take] center stage in some respects—to so many other events happening in the city."

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Lisa Peet

lpeet@mediasourceinc.com

Lisa Peet is News Editor, News for Library Journal.

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