Holy Cement Spades!! On the eve of her appearance at the Sci-Fi Spectacular 2014 in Chicago, the fun and inventive Kyra Schon, Karen Cooper from the original Night of the Living Dead, took a moment to talk with Big Gay Horror Fan about the film’s legacy and her own artwork.
BGHF: Hi, Kyra! So, if we could go back in a time machine, and you actually were Karen Cooper, what mistakes would you fix?
Kyra: Did she make any mistakes? I don’t know if she did.
BGHF: Murdering her parents…
Kyra: Oh, she didn’t make any mistakes! She was just following her instincts. She was hungry. What are you going to do?
BGHF: So, if she had them, would she have been able to show more control with her own children?
Kyra: I kind of doubt it. (Laughs) When you’re hungry what are you going to do? She would have been eating her babies left and right!
BGHF: (Laughing) True! Hamsters do it; cats do it, fish… She would just be following the whole spectrum of nature.
Kyra: (Laughing along) Right! Exactly!
BGHF: So, fast forwarding to (the real) present, what inspired your jewelry making?
Kyra: Well, I’ve done art my whole life. It was really what I loved to do. In school, it was the only subject that I was ever really good in. The only classes that I did not cut were art classes. So, I wound up teaching ceramics for 25 years in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. I took an early retirement from that, four years ago, because they were cutting funding and cutting hours. I worked at an arts magnet school for creative and performing arts…and they were cutting art classes. Which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in an art school…but there it is. I had been making jewelry for a number of years and really enjoyed it. So, I thought now I have all my time to devote to this. I really just started doing little sculptures going directly to a mold and then casting them in pewter. So, that’s kind of how I am making a living, at this point. I sell that stuff. I have an Etsy shop. So, that’s what keeps me off the streets now.
BGHF: (Laughing) Unless you really want to be on the streets…then go for it!
Kyra: (Laughs) Exactly! Exactly! Live big!!
BGHF: You have been captured onscreen as Karen, who will be forever young. Do you feel like you have a young heart, yourself?
Kyra: I don’t know. For some people, I am always going to be nine years old. I don’t feel like that myself. I wish I did. I think it would be nice to have that joie de vivre of a 9 or 10 year old. People at conventions look at me and expect me, after 45 years of whatever, to still be 9 years old. No. Time catches up with all of us.
BGHF: (Laughing) It sure does!
Kyra: Yeah! I guess in some universe, I am always going to be that kid. Now, I’ve gotten old …what are you going to do?
BGHF: Well you still sound pretty awesome to me!
Kyra: Thank you! You know, people have actually asked me why I don’t wear a dress like Karen Cooper’s at the conventions. Well…because I am 56 years old. I am not 9. It would be creepy on an entirely different level. I don’t want to go there, thank you! (Laughs)
BGHF: Bill Hinzman could get away with it because his character was an adult.
Kyra: Exactly! He was an adult. Everyone else in the film can get away with it because they were adults at the time, too. Could you imagine what people would be saying about me if I did that? Did you see that crazy woman? She thinks she’s nine years old.
BGHF: (Laughs) Well if you want to get them talking, you have the perfect way to do it!
Kyra: (Laughing) Exactly! Yeah!
BGHF: You mentioned the conventions. Is it a bittersweet for you, now, that people like Bill Hinzman have begun to pass away or retire from the scene due to age?
Kyra: When I think of the conventions that I used to do…my dad would be there and Bill Hinzman. It is sad. We all die. We all lose our family members. But this very small group just gets smaller every year. It’s like…Oh, my god! Who’s going to be the last one? Who’s going to be next? It’s sad and it’s creepy. Now, I’m starting to do cons on my own. I do get lonely. None of my buddies are there. Well, its life…A little slice of real life.
BGHF: Do you think 20, 30, 50 years into the future that this movie is still going have the resonance it has now?
Kyra: That’s a good question. It just seems lately it’s been very overshadowed by The Walking Dead. That’s a completely different audience. A lot of the fans of The Walking Dead are not necessarily Night of the Living Dead fans. They are not necessarily fans of any other zombie movie. They are just sort of The Walking Dead fans. It’s an interesting phenomenon. I don’t know. I’d be really, really surprised if 30 years, 50 years down the road anybody remembers this film. Maybe people in film classes will. I don’t know.
BGHF: So, what has the overall legacy of this film been for you? When you finally stop the convention circuit, for example, what do you think you’ll have taken away?
Kyra: I can’t tell you how amazing it’s been. I am so blessed to have been in this movie. I don’t use that word loosely. I really feel that way. Of all the kids on this planet, I was chosen to be this creepy little ghoul girl. It’s so amazing. I was so lucky. It never goes away. There was a time after we made the movie in 68 that it just kind of went to sleep. I didn’t think about it anymore. I didn’t hear about it anymore. Then, years later in 1988, this guy calls me out of the clear blue sky. He was a promoter. He told me he was a promoter and he’d love to have me at this convention. I was like – what convention? What are you talking about? I had heard of Star Trek conventions and thought that was quite possibly the strangest thing I had ever heard of. He said it’s a Sci Fi Horror convention. I said, Really? These things exist for horror movies? Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’d love to have you! So we did this thing. It changed my life. It was like, “Oh my god! These are my people!” I didn’t feel like a freak. Nobody said that we don’t believe you were in this movie. They were asking me to sign their stuff. Really!? Really!? You really believe I was in this movie and you’re really interested in that? It was fun. I was kind of a geek for all things horror, too. But, I didn’t have anybody to share that with. My friends could take it or leave it. So, suddenly this world just opened up. I thought this was just amazing. So, I don’t think I will ever stop doing conventions. (Laughs) Even if I am not welcome, I’m going anyway!
BGHF: You’ll be there as a fan!
Be sure to come meet Kyra in Chicago, this weekend (Saturday, April 14th), at the SCI-SPECTACULAR 2014 (https://www.facebook.com/events/1466423813573628/). You can keep in touch with her, year round, and purchase items at http://www.ghoulnextdoor.com, as well.
Until the next time…SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!
No way, Kyra. People will always remember Night of the Living Dead. It’s a seminal work of filmmaking, beyond being a horror film.
Good interview, BGHF.