Lenore: George Romero's documentary about Lenore Romney

George Romero & co. filming Lenore Romney for her 1970 senatorial campaign.

Throughout the 1960s, George Romero, Russ Streiner, John Russo, and the other Pittsburghers who would would form The Latent Image made a name for themselves as the city's premiere makers of commercials. We have a number of them in the archive, including restored versions on 16mm film of a handful. Some have been released on home video as DVD extras, some have found their way onto YouTube. The most widely-seen is a delightful spoof of undersea adventure films that they called "The Calgon Story," a fairly high budget production for the Pittsburgh team. Romero would later claim that in "the period from '62 to '68, we cranked out countless commercials and industrial films. I directed and edited more film (as measured by running time) in that period that my entire filmography of published work....by at least three times."

What's less known, however, is that Night of the Living Dead did not mark the end of Romero & co.'s sponsored work. It actually helped them to gain a foothold for a handful of high profile regional and national clients, including multiple political commissions. The Latent Image produced a number of commercials and a campaign film for Albert Brewer, who challenged segregationist George Wallace in Alabama's gubernatorial election. There were several Pennsylvania campaigns that they worked with. But the highest profile political work at the time has now been almost wholly forgotten: the 1970 senatorial campaign in Michigan for Republican Lenore Romney. Romney had almost no political experience, but she was the well-loved wife of a popular former Governor working in Nixon's White House, George Romney. Both George and their son Mitt, then still in college, would contribute to Romney's efforts.

The film that Romero directed for her campaign, Lenore, exists only in a handful of political archives (there appears to be a copy in George Romney's archives), and has probably only been seen a handful of times since 1970, when it was broadcast a number of times on Michigan television. From what we've been told by Romero's collaborators and what we can glean from the campaign film's reviews, the film seems to be more about the charming personality of Romney - a onetime Hollywood actress - than it is about her politics. In the words of the Wall Street Journal: 

The narrator is asking, "What kind of Senator will Lenore Romney make? How does she qualify and where does she stand?"

Good questions, thinks the viewer. After all, the 60-year-old lady, pleasant though she is, has never held an elective office and apparently is running this year against veteran Democratic Sen. Philip Hart only because her husband, former Governor George Romney, decided he didn't want to. 

So the viewer settles back to await the answers. What he gets, instead, is a living-color snow job, a masterpiece of that rapidly developing branch of the cinema aimed at creating desirable images for politicians. 

We don't have a copy of the film itself in the archive, and no production materials or correspondence to reveal how George Romero ended up working for Lenore Romney. Confirming the mere existence of Lenore required a bit of detective work. First, we found a number of large format photographs of Romero, Gary Streiner, John Russo, and other Latent Image filmmakers from the streets of Washington, D.C. The initial assumption was that these might be from Night of the Living Dead's Washington scenes. But these photographs seemed to be of the Latent Image crew not just filming but interviewing actual, identifiable politicians, including future President Gerald Ford. A blown-up photograph of Romero with Gerald Ford was not something we expected to find, to say the least!!

But there were a handful of copies of the Wall Street Journal review. One of them was pasted onto a blank paper with the words "Director: George Romero" on it. But I could find no mention of it in the published filmographies. There was a single interview we found in which Romero offhandedly mentions that they "got into political campaigns. We worked with the real political kingmakers, the guys who brought you Nixon '68. We did Lenore Romney in Michigan. We did Albert Brewer against Wallace in Alabama, the year he won and they recalled it and said, 'No you didn't win.' We all had to get haircuts; cracker-barrel stuff.* To me it was service work. I still don't have compunctions about doing that. We were hired guns; it was either that or selling beer." Eventually, we discovered publicity that was produced in the early 1970s for Romero's new projects, in which his brief biography confirmed Lenore as a production from 1970. At that point we felt comfortable approaching Romero's collaborators to ask about what otherwise would have seemed like a non-sequitur. 

* Romero is being literal: there are numerous commercials for Albert Brewer's campaign that were shot in Cracker Barrel restaurants. The reels containing those spots are labelled "Brewer Cracker Barrel."



-Adam Charles Hart