Marilyn Eastman, Actress and Vital Behind-the-Scenes Player on ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ Dies at 87

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Marilyn Eastman, who battled zombies (and played one herself) in Night of the Living Dead, helped finance the George A. Romero horror classic and lent a hand in the film’s makeup, prop and sound departments, has died. She was 87.

Eastman died Sunday in her sleep in Tampa, Florida, her son, John Eastman, reported on Facebook.

“Marilyn was a stage, television and radio performer as well as a writer and producer,” he wrote. “More importantly, she was a hard-working single mother who raised my brother and I on her own.

“I cannot overstate how much she enjoyed the affection and attention shown to her by countless NOLD fans, and up until several weeks ago [she] was planning personal appearances.”

Eastman was vice president and creative director of Hardman Associates, an industrial film production company that she ran alongside Karl Hardman, when they teamed with director-screenwriter Romero, screenwriter John A. Russo and producer Russell Streiner to form Image Ten Productions.

The investors cobbled together $6,000 to start production on Night of the Flesh Eaters, and the grainy, black-and-white film quickly caught on in midnight screenings around the country in 1968. However, most of the profits eluded the backers when the distributor left the copyright bug off when it was retitled Night of the Living Dead.

In front of the camera, Eastman portrayed Helen Cooper, who meets her end in the cellar of a Pennsylvania farmhouse (her husband in the film was played by Hardman). She also saw duty as an insect-eating zombie.

Later, she appeared in Santa Claws (1996), written and directed by Russo.

Born in Davenport, Iowa, on Dec. 17, 1933, Marilyn Marie Johnson moved to Pittsburgh in the early ’60s. She and Hardman were business and life partners until his death in September 2007.

“Godspeed, Marilyn. Give our love to Karl,” the George A. Romero Foundation tweeted on Monday.

In addition to her sons John and Michael, survivors include five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

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