THRILLER: There's an old George Romero flick Someone we all know
By Bob McDowell, New Castle News
October 31, 2005
Janina White’s 15 minutes of fame is actually 104.
And it’s on film.
Want to watch?
The New Castle native’s starring role in an early George Romero fright flick is just out on DVD.
A generation of scary movie buffs possibly never heard about “Jack’s Wife.” The movie about a frustrated homemaker who becomes peripherally involved with witchcraft was released in 1973.
This was Romero’s third film after “Night of the Living Dead.”
“Jack’s Wife,” renamed, “Season of the Witch,” was released on video twice before with other names.
The first time was in 1987. The last time was four or five years ago as a commemorative edition.
“My film has benefited from having been made by a cult figure,” said the 70-year-old actress, who describes the film as “a bit of a box office disaster.”
Not the director, though.
“He’s great. It wouldn’t be coming out on DVD if it weren’t a part of his repertoire.”
No coincidence the release is at the same time of the DVD release of Romero’s latest installment in his Zombie saga, “Land of the Dead.”
White enjoys being in the land of the living.
Still vivacious, she looks a bit like a matronly soap opera star. In fact her resume contains parts in two daytime soaps.
But it is her film connection with Romero that the blue-eyed, silver-haired actress lights up over.
“I can’t believe it was all those years ago,” she said.
White explored various careers after her graduation from New Castle High in 1952. The most successful was with Clairol, leading large cosmetic promotion seminars.
Taking advantage of that New York City connection, she began acting lessons and started “making the rounds, working on getting work.”
Commercial jobs followed, pitching products like Pepsi, Tide and Safeguard.
White was about 37, and had been a working actress for several years, when she made her way to Romero’s audition in Philadelphia, though he had an office in Pittsburgh.
Romero’s wife, Nancy, was producing the film and conducting the auditions, which were a big deal because “everyone knew George Romero.”
Winning the part was less of a prize after she realized a nude scene was required.
“I don’t want to be doing a porno film,” she recalled.
She turned it down until Romero convinced her he would hire a body double.
In the movie, White’s character, “Joan,” has an uncommunicative husband (Bill Thunhurst) and a distant 19-year-old-daughter (Joedda McClain). She seeks solace in a witchcraft after visiting a local tarot reader.
After dabbling in witchcraft, “Joan” — believing herself to have become a real witch — withdraws into a fantasy world until the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred. Eventually, tragedy results.
White says Romero wrote the movie because he needed money. Romero also directed, shot and edited the picture. Made in the Pittsburgh area, many scenes were shot at Romero’s home.
White recounts how the body double “was only about 20” for an eyebrow-raising, “witch-initiating sequence,” not nude, but “risqué.”
Movie experts regard “Season of the Witch” as one of Romero’s more interesting films. “It was described as George’s take on women’s lib,” White said, clarifying her's is not a horror film like others.
The film suffered from bad publicity and when released, did “no business at all.”
She estimates she earned not more than $2,500 for her part.
Because the film was never shown on TV, there were no residuals.
Her contract did not apply to earnings from VHS or DVD release, because they weren’t invented.
However, White was paid for her appearance in a 60-minute documentary released this year by Anchor Bay Entertainment, examining Romero’s career including interviews with cast and crew of “Season of the Witch.”
White has a vintage 16 mm print of her movie, which Romero made for her and which she paid for.
“I showed it here at the Hoyt (Institute) for about 60 or 70 invited guests and family,” she recalled. She also showed it to friends in New York.
White thought she had left the acting business when she moved to California for the real estate market.
Once there, though, she became involved in a production company that made a film in Poland, and also made a few TV pilots. She eventually earned a degree in directing.
Nowadays, White considers herself more a writer than an actress and has dreams of tackling a screenplay about herself.
She still gets mileage out of her Romero connection. White, who has homes in New York City and Allentown, Pa., makes occasional appearances at fright conventions staged by film companies.
Her most recent brush with her spooky past was this weekend. She and Romero, along with a crypt of cinematic ghouls, signed autographs for fans at Chillerfest in Secaucus, N.J.
Anchor Bay Entertainment in Michigan specializes in horror films. “Season of the Witch” is part of its two-CD set, “piggybacked” with “There’s Always Vanilla” — Romero’s second movie, a psychological study about a Vietnam veteran.
These are two movies that have been out of circulation for a while and are being re-released to people who haven’t seen them, explained Ed Peters of Sue Procko Public Relations.
Who’s tempted to rent or buy?
“There are people who are big fans of Romero, and casual people, fans who are just interested in watching because it’s next to titles like ‘Dawn of the Dead’ or ‘Land of the Dead,’ ” Peters said.
Movie buffs can get them anywhere.
“They can go to Wal-Mart or Best Buy,” he added, “and find it on the shelf.”