Saturday, May 20, 2006
Monster Mania Convention
Cherry Hill, NJ
I was in the lobby of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, having drinks with some friends, when I got the call.
"We're in George's room. He'd like to meet you".
Just nine months prior to that night, at the previous Monster Mania convention, I had met Chris Roe, a talent agent that represented many of the guests at the show. He was interested in making some shirts for his clients to sell at shows so we exchanged information and a month later, I ended up designing a shirt for Charles Cyphers (Halloween) . Then Chris contacted me again and said he needed one for another one of his clients...George A. Romero.
Holy shit, this can't be real.
But it was, and I knew the this design had to be perfect. Around that time I was working with MunkONE on some designs and when I offered him the project, he jumped at the chance. What he ended up designing was nothing short of a masterpiece, and we felt it captured Romero perfectly. Luckily both Chris and George agreed and we began producing them exclusively for George. Here was that design:
Fast forward to that night in May, 2006....
"Ok, We will be right up."
I grabbed my buddy Justin Mabry (Nightowl Productions, Trick or Treat Studios) and we headed upstairs to George's room. He had a large suite on an upper floor and when we got to the door we could hear music and people behind it. I knocked, and the door opened up slightly to reveal a crowd of people and someone who looked at us very wearily.
"Um, Chris said we could come in?"
The person didn't look convinced. Then I heard Chris coming through the people saying "Let them in, they're with me" and he ushered us through the door. I looked around.... Doug Bradley was sitting on the couch, Richard Brooker was in the corner talking to some people, Joe Pilato was making out with some girl by the window. To say it was surreal would be an understatement. I was thoroughly geeking out...and trying to keep my cool.
On the other side of the room was a dining room table crowded with people. They were lined up on both sides of the table and there was clearly no more room left for anyone to stand, let alone sit. Chris led Justin and I through the crowd of people. "Hey man," I said, "I don't want to be a bother...it looks like he's busy."
"Don't you worry, he wants to meet you."
We made our way through the crowd until we came to a small clearing. And there was George...sitting in the corner, cigarette in one hand, scotch in the other. He looked up at me and then looked at Chris wondering who we were.
"This is Ben, he's the guy that makes your shirts."
George looked at me, gave me a big smile and made a motion to bow to me (as if to say thank you). I just said "Fuck that, you bow to no one!" and he laughed. We shook hands and he said "Please, have a seat."
The area on the carpet in front of his fee was about the size of a postage stamp, but Justin and I squeezed our way in and sat down. It was only a matter of minutes before I was numb from the awkward position I was in, but I didn't care. We sat there, transfixed, talking to him for the next few hours. He told us all sorts of stories and we hung on every word. At one point a fan behind us asked him something about minor scales in the music used in Night of the Living Dead and if that was done on purpose to give a more brooding tone to the film. He looked and Justin and I and said "What the fuck is this guy talking about?", then just grinned and laughed.
And that was George. No pretense. No ego. Always smiling, and always willing to give more of himself. We could all argue that he never got the recognition that he deserved. However, the legacy he leaves cannot be captured in awards and plaques...it is what we horror fans carry in our hearts. His impact can be seen in every corner of the genre from the various films, comic books, tv shows, and novels produced in his wake. For his legions of fans he was not just an idol, but like our favorite uncle.
I don't know what time we left that night, but after security came in for the third time, the party was pretty much over. It was late, I was tired, but sleep wasn't an option. We had, after all, just spent a night with a living legend. How the hell George was able to get up the next day and sign for so many hours was beyond me...but that was the consummate professional he was.
In the years to follow I was able to work more with George, and meet him a few more times, including a memorable 40th Anniversary screening of NOTLD with the original cast in attendance in Dallas, TX. However, nothing will ever compare to that night we had story time with Uncle George.
Rest easy, my friend.