Ed. note- Another retro interview originally posted on Icons of Fright during the Living Dead festival promotion. As with the Russell Streiner interview I posted tonight, they’re no longer available on Icons, so this is the place to find them. Charles Craig may not be one of the big names from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, but he plays an important role in the film, as his radio and TV reports narrate the action and inform the audience. He was kind enough to spend some time discussing his background, and his role in the film.
Phil Fasso: What was your role with Hardman Associates before you came to work on NOTLD?
Charles Craig: I went to Hardman on staff as a writer and an actor. I came to them out of WCKY Cincinatti, my previous radio job, where I had been doing radio and news primarily for many years. My job at Hardman was to create radio commercials for the advertising agencies. So that’s how I happened to be on premises.
PF: How did you get involved with the film?
CC: I was in my office one day, and Karl Hardman came in. I knew there was a film underway, at least I was more or less aware of it. And he came in and filled me in on the concept of the movie, and what was causing all the strange circumstances, premised by the movie. And asked if I, as a newsman, could create what might be simulated news reports of the events going on. That was right down my alley, so I changed the paper in my typewriter and went to work.
PF: So you wrote those parts then.
PF: You play a radio broadcaster in the film, and later you show up on television newscasts. How do you think the use of the news enhances the film?
CC: My hope was that it would add a note of verisimilitude, a believability to the whole concept. That was how I intended to present the news reports as they were coming into the news desk, to give it a sense of immediacy, a sense of, “Hey, this could really be happening.”
PF: Not only did you play a broadcaster, but you also played a ghoul. How did that come about?
I was on location out in Evans City, out in the farmhouse. I went up initially out of curiosity. Of course, the Hardman folks were up there too, so as long as I was there, I was not about to get out of there without getting into makeup. So I did.
PF: Did you prefer playing the broadcaster, or the voiceless ghoul?
The ghouls had very little to offer by way of voices. So I think probably the most important contribution I made was as the newscaster.
PF: Were you surprised by the success of NOTLD?
CC: Well, yes, I was. I had no idea of the audience response to this. As a matter of fact, it was quite some time after it premiered in 1968 that I became aware of crowds were showing up for it. And I thought, “Well, this took me by surprise.” Very, very pleasantly.
PF: You recently contributed to the documentary AUTOPSY OF THE DEAD. How did it feel to take part in that?
CC: That was a nostalgic trip for me, because I did my part of it in the former Hardman studios building, which has been totally remodeled since we were there. But I can visualize the way it was when we were there, on Smithfield Street. It was pleasant to be able to hearken back to those creative days. I think where they filmed me, at one time, we were in what I could characterize as a rehearsal hall. We were doing quite a lot of work in industrial films, live industrial shows. And so we would rehearse music and our dance steps and our choreography and our moves in this rehearsal hall, which is now a series of partitioned offices.
PF: You’ve recently hit the convention circuit with others from NOTLD, and you’ll be at the 2nd Annual Living Dead Festival this weekend. What appeals to you about conventions?
CC: Well, I think it’s marvelous! I was not yet on the start of the convention circuit. It became apparent to me by happenstance. A friend of mine from New Jersey, Jim Cironella, let me know about it. And I said, “Yes, I’d love to be part of that,” so I did, starting in the early part of last year. It’s amazing to see the turnout of people who really, seriously enjoy the film, and to become aware of many of the things that viewers are reading into the story; which, as I understand it, was never meant to convey any particular message. I know George Romero has often said, “We didn’t set out to say that at all.” But some people are reading into it some sociological implications. And fine, that’s good. It wasn’t meant to be that way. It wasn’t put there for that purpose, but it turns out that’s probably one of the things that contributes to the life of the movie.
PF: NOTLD has become a cultural phenomenon that has lasted more than 40 years. As you prepare to meet fans at the LDF, what are your reflections on the film now?
CC: As I say tongue-in-cheek, the movie is just like our ghouls; it refuses to die. It will go on, I think because it has definitely become a classic, and the timing of its release and its storyline was happenstance. And happily so, because at that time, in 1968, the public was very much aware of space adventures. The Russian Sputnik had been launched just a short time prior to that, and people were really interested in outer space, and what are these things bringing back to Earth. So you had the premise of what’s causing our ghouls to come back to life.
PF: And your voice will continue to be part of the legacy as the film goes on for many more generations to watch.
CC: Well, thank you . I am very, very fortunate to have been on the scene when the film was getting off the ground, and I just count my lucky stars that I was there to be able to work with this fine group of people. Really not only good folks, but talented folks and they will always be cherished in my memory.