Marilyn Eastman, ‘Night of the Living Dead’ Actress and Producer, Dies at 87

by John Jamison

Marilyn Eastman, an actress/producer who played a significant role in creating the zombie horror genre, died on Sunday in Florida. The actress did far more than fight zombies before becoming one herself in “Night of the Living Dead.” She helped then-unknown director George A. Romero pay for the film that would revolutionize horror movies for years to come.

Her son, John Eastman, posted on Facebook in the wake of his mother’s death.

“Marilyn was a stage, television and radio performer as well as a writer and producer. 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 (Night of the Living Dead) fans, and up until several weeks ago was planning personal appearances,” Eastman wrote.

According to IMDb, Marilyn Eastman’s contributions to “Night of the Living Dead” were staggering. Not only did she star in the film as Helen Cooper and help finance it, but she also worked on props, make-up, and even did a pass on the screenplay!

Marilyn Eastman’s Career

Beyond the 1968 horror classic, Eastman didn’t have an overly prolific career. At least, not as an actress. She appeared in an episode of “Perry Mason” titled “The Case of the Ominous Outcast” as a secretary years prior. And following the now-iconic film, she went on to play a character referred to as Society Woman in the 1995 “Houseguest” and Mrs. Quin in 1996’s “Santa Claws.” She is also officially credited in areas such as Makeup Department.

She worked alongside her husband, the late Karl Hardman, for the entirety of her career. They ran a film production company called Hardman Associates.

Marilyn Eastman was the mother of two sons, John and Michael. Between their efforts, the Eastman family now boasts 8 great-grandchildren.

The Impact of “Night of the Living Dead”

50 years ago, movie audiences were not very familiar with the modern concept of a zombie. According to The Hollywood Reporter, before “Night of the Living Dead,” zombie-like creatures were mostly confined to Haitian folklore.

It wasn’t until George Romero unleashed a horde of what he considered ghouls that the traditional “zombie” concept came to be. “Things that look like people but act like animals,” a radio broadcast said in the movie. What’s more, people had never seen cannibalism so casually depicted on screen before.

These days, we take zombies’ diets for granted. We are so inundated with zombie movies and shows that, yeah, it’s widely understood that zombies want brains. But before “Night of the Living Dead,” much of the horror genre focused on one central monster, like “Dracula” or “Frankenstein.” Needless to say, Romero’s film was shocking.

Everything changed after he made the 1968 classic. And Marilyn Eastman contributed in a major way.