Night of the Living Burrito

Photo by Ward BoultIn 1967, industrial commercials filmmaker George A. Romero and his Latent Image production company decided to try their hand at a full-length movie. Knowing horror films were the cheapest movies to make, Romero and writer John Russo penned Night of the Living Dead and put out the call to their local Pittsburgh pals to fill the roles. Judith O'Dea had already moved to Hollywood in search of glamour, but hopped the first train home when asked to audition. Romero cast her as the female lead, Barbra, an average white girl who becomes a delectable zombie dinner. The Garden Grove resident hasn't been the same since.

OC Weekly: Why do you think a little, low-budget film likeNight of the Living Dead was such a success?Judith O'Dea: It was so different than the majority of films out there. It had an unhappy ending, for one thing—everyone died. It also starred a black man and a white woman, which, for the time, was quite extraordinary. When did you first know it was a hit?

Well, it gained momentum. First, it only played at drive-ins. Then it was everywhere—partially because the distribution company forgot to put the copyright on the film! That led to tremendous piracy. The film has made millions, but we never saw it. I received a royalty check out of the blue last year and it stunned me. It was about enough for a trip to McDonald's.

That's a shame. Hey, speaking of McDonald's . . .Night of the Living Dead is about eating human flesh. During the filming, did you ever find it difficult to eat?

I've never in my life found it difficult to eat! There were people on the set, however, who had to put real animal entrails covered in Hershey's chocolate syrup into their mouths. I didn't have to do any of that so I could eat to my heart's content.

Pukey. What other things—besides entrails—did cast members have to eat?

One of the grisliest scenes for me, even to this day, is when Helen Cooper's daughter dies and turns into a ghoul. She ends up chewing on the arm of her father and kills her mother with a trowel.

Yeah, that was really disturbing. And his arm kinda looked like chicken.

Oh, yes, and I do adore chicken—especially the skin. I agonize to take it off.

That sounds pretty cannibalistic.

With a background like Night of the Living Dead, what do you expect?

I would have thoughtNLD might have turned you into a vegetarian.

Actually, at the time of the filming, I was very much involved in the study of Theosophy [a religio-philosophical society, heavily influenced by Buddhism, founded in 1875 that studies all religious traditions and divines a definition of God by philosophical means]. I really became a vegetarian because of my studies, not the fleshy film. Since then, I have migrated back to chicken and fish.

Do you like shellfish?

Oh, I die for that! Better than an orgasm!

Wow! Where do you get your shellfish?

A wonderful place in Los Alamitos—the Fish Company. I love their crab—I dig through every nook and cranny! I thoroughly enjoy Walt's Wharf in Seal Beach as well, particularly their monkfish and sea bass—any mild white. And Mexican food; I love Mexican food.

From where?

Oh, Las Brisas in Laguna Beach is delicious. In fact, I love Mexican food so much I've created my own Irish/Mexican burrito called the “O'Dea open-faced burrito.”

And it contains?

On a medium-sized flour tortilla, place grated pepper jack and Cheddar, hot spiced veggie refried beans, a layer of browned turkey meat spiced with garlic and cayenne. Then, add—to your taste—jalapeños, onions, olives and tomatoes. Top with shredded lettuce, homemade guacamole, sour cream and an olive.

Wow. That sounds like one hot, spicy burrito. But what's the Irish part?

Why, the “O'Dea,” of course!

Of course! [The O'Dea Open-faced Burrito © Stacy Davies 2003] Los Alamitos Fish Company, 11061 Los Alamitos Blvd., Los Alamitos, (562) 594-4553; Walt's Wharf, 201 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 598-4433; Las Brisas, 361 Cliff Dr., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-5434.

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