It can be heartbreaking to see the stars of horror classics pass away one by one, and I was saddened to learn this morning that Marilyn Eastman, who starred in the 1968 film Night of the Living Dead, had died. Night of the Living Dead holds a special place in my heart; it may sound strange, but it’s my go-to “comfort film” to watch when I’m trying to unwind, so learning that the actress who played Helen Cooper is no longer with us is heartbreaking.
Eastman was one of the ten members of the Image Ten production company, which was formed to produce Night of the Living Dead, in addition to playing Helen Cooper, the long-suffering wife of the extremely unpleasant Harry Cooper. During the film’s production, she helped with a variety of tasks, including some make-up effects, props, and editing the screenplay. She gives a fantastic performance as one of the most likable characters in the film (it’s difficult not to root for her when she’s arguing with Harry) – and then her character dies one of the most disturbing deaths in cinema history. Eastman also has a secondary role in the film, like a zombie who eats people.
Eastman, who was born Marilyn Marie Johnson in Davenport, Iowa on December 17, 1933, moved to Pittsburgh in the early 1960s and formed the company Hardman Eastman Associates with Karl Hardman, another Image Ten member and the man who played Harry to her Helen. Hardman and Eastman collaborated on dozens of industrial films, as well as radio commercials, advertising campaigns, and even records for local musicians, writing, producing, and acting in them. They were not only business partners, but also life partners, and they had been married for 44 years before Hardman died in 2007.
Eastman is survived by her two sons, Michael and John Eastman, as well as her five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, as well as Hardman’s daughter Kyra Schon (who played their daughter Karen in Night of the Living Dead). John Eastman shared on social media that his mother died peacefully in her sleep on August 22nd in Tampa, Florida, at the age of 87.
Our sincere condolences go out to Marilyn Eastman’s family, friends, and fans.