It can be heartbreaking to watch the stars of horror classics leave us one by one, and this morning I was very sad to hear the news that Marilyn Eastman of the 1968 classic Night of the Living Dead has passed away. Night of the Living Dead is a very special movie to me; it may sound strange, but it’s my #1 go-to “comfort film” to put on when I’m trying to relax, so it’s very upsetting to know that the woman who played Helen Cooper is no longer with us.
Beyond playing Helen Cooper, the long-suffering wife of the extremely unpleasant Harry Cooper, Eastman was also one of the ten members of the Image Ten production company that was formed to produce Night of the Living Dead. She took on multiple duties during the making of the film, including doing some of the make-up effects, providing props, and helping edit the screenplay. In the film, she delivers a terrific performance as one of the most likeable people in the cast (it’s quite easy to side with her when she’s arguing with Harry) – and then her character suffers one of the most disturbing deaths in cinema history. Eastman also has a second role in the film, appearing as a zombie that eats an insect off a tree.
Born Marilyn Marie Johnson in Davenport, Iowa on December 17, 1933, Eastman moved to Pittsburgh in the early 1960s and partnered with Karl Hardman, another Image Ten member and the man who played Harry to her Helen, to form the company Hardman Eastman Associates. Together, Hardman and Eastman wrote, produced, and appeared in dozens of industrial films, as well as producing radio commercials, advertising campaigns, and even records for local musicians. They weren’t just business partners, they were also life partners, and were together for 44 years before Hardman passed away in 2007.
Eastman is survived by her sons Michael and John Eastman, five grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, and Hardman’s daughter Kyra Schon (who played their daughter Karen in Night of the Living Dead). John Eastman informed fans on social media that his mother passed away peacefully in her sleep in Tampa, Florida on August 22nd, at the age of 87.
Our sincere condolences go out to Marilyn Eastman’s family, friends, and fans.