My mom was “The Housedress Ghoul” in Night of the Living Dead, and now everyone knows | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

My mom was “The Housedress Ghoul” in Night of the Living Dead, and now everyone knows

Sharon Carroll, featured in Night of the Living Dead, greets Living Dead Weekend atendees at Monroeville Mall.
click to enlarge My mom was “The Housedress Ghoul” in Night of the Living Dead, and now everyone knows
CP Illustration: Jeff Schreckengost
One October night, back in the hazy ‘80s when I was 10 years old, my mother roused me and my brother from our beds and tucked us under a blanket on the couch to watch Night of the Living Dead. According to her, it may have been the first time she ever watched it. This explains why she expected the black and white movie to be campy and not outright terrifying.  But it is scary, and the scariest part? For me, it was the moment she hit pause, pointed to one of the ghouls (they’re not referred to as zombies) dressed in a pretty nip-waisted outfit and exclaimed, “that’s Mommy!” and grinned. I screamed. We laugh about it now.

That’s right, my mother, Sharon Carroll, was a teenage zombie. Or, more accurately, she played a flesh-eating, undead ghoul in Pittsburgh’s most famous movie. It wasn’t until 2024, though, that anyone outside of our family knew the name of the specter of a woman referred to by fans as “The Housedress Ghoul.” That was mom.

click to enlarge My mom was “The Housedress Ghoul” in Night of the Living Dead, and now everyone knows
CP Photo: Mars Johnson
John Wilson poses for a photo during Living Dead Weekend at the Monroeville Mall.

A quick synopsis of the 1968 film for the uninitiated, with spoilers: the dead have risen and are looking for people to eat. As the nightmare unfolds, several strangers find themselves trapped in a Pennsylvania farmhouse fighting to survive, hurtling towards a truly shocking conclusion. The film was made for less than $100,000 and earned more than 250% back in the original theatrical run. It was scary and apocalyptic, and it had a social message and an eternally quotable line: “They’re coming to get you, Barbara.”

This movie, made in an almost guerrilla fashion, was groundbreaking not only for being one of the first scary movies to have the protagonist die; but Duane Jones, a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, was also the first Black actor to lead a horror film. Today, it’s a cult classic and is in the National Film Registry. 

For a tiny dose of local flair, the movie included 1960s Pittsburgh legends, including reporter Dave James, who was covering the shoot for the local news and ended up as an extra. Late night horror movie show host Bill “Chilly Billy” Cardille was an extra, too. Bob Harvey, a real helicopter reporter at the time, is heard in a pivotal scene when survivors are trying to get information about what is going on. The inclusion of local color adds to the eerie terror for Pittsburgh viewers. This nightmare could happen to you. At your house. 

Over the decades, as with any popular film or TV show, dedicated fans have searched for and consumed any and all information they can find about Night of the Living Dead. For the casual viewer to the superfan, there’s lots out there about this movie that was shot in less than 30 days. Documentaries have been made, and there are conferences put on around the country to bring together people who appreciate the work of director George Romero and his franchise of movies. 

click to enlarge My mom was “The Housedress Ghoul” in Night of the Living Dead, and now everyone knows
CP Photo: Mars Johnson
The latest Living Dead Weekend took place at the Monroeville Mall last month, taking up a few available storefronts. More than 1,000 people attended the three-day event. Conventions dedicated to auteurs like Romero tend to be smaller and more intimate, and this followed that trend. Lines were reasonable and the vibe in Monroeville was convivial. The panel discussions were well attended, and Facebook fan groups were flooded with pictures of happy attendees.

John Vullo of New York, who works with the original film production company, Image Ten, has spent years tracking down every person related to the film, even down to extras like my mom.

The challenge is interesting. Start with an incomplete list of background actors, and scan scenes of them roaming in a graveyard, but without many ways to put names to faces. The quest becomes more difficult when trying to track down women since many of them have different names now. 

It was the film’s credits that led my mom, now Sharon Brubach Rapone (Sharon Carroll at the time the movie was filmed), to the convention. Her former full name was all they had to go on.

Sharon is a retired senior who lives a quiet life. She swims every day and enjoys reading and painting. She no longer lives in Pittsburgh but misses it. It’s a city she is grateful to have grown up in. 

click to enlarge My mom was “The Housedress Ghoul” in Night of the Living Dead, and now everyone knows
CP Photo: Mars Johnson
Sharon Carroll, featured in Night of the Living Dead, signs an original poster from the film.
click to enlarge My mom was “The Housedress Ghoul” in Night of the Living Dead, and now everyone knows
CP Photo: Mars Johnson

Vullo tracked her and other extras through serious sleuthing. Like many women her age, she doesn’t have an online presence, so finding her was a challenge. Vullo searched through records, found obituaries, connected her maiden name to her current married name, requested documents, and kept searching. 

Less than three weeks before the convention in Pittsburgh, to her surprise, Sharon got a call from Image Ten asking if she wanted to appear as a guest. She didn’t even know anyone was looking for her, but it made her smile. A polite stranger asked if she had at one time been Sharon Carroll and if she had been in the movie. She spent some time trying to decide if it was a scam. She replied saying that attending a nostalgic convention wasn’t really for her, but after some thought, she asked for a few accommodations that were graciously met, and off she went on a new adventure. 

One of the film's producers, Russ Streiner, tells Pittsburgh City Paper he vaguely recalls Sharon was a friend of his ex-wife, but didn’t know anything more. 

Indeed, in 1967, while studying and working at Pitt, Sharon became friends with Jackie Steiner, wife of Russ, who lived in the same apartment building. One day, Jackie asked if Sharon was busy and if she wanted to be in a movie. To Sharon, it seemed like a fun time. She was told to bring her own wardrobe, and for the first day of shooting, picked out what became known as the “Housedress” (that we both agree was quite sweet and a bit more chic than something a person would be wearing while cleaning the house) and spent two days filming. That was it. She had no aspirations of being an actress, and she wasn’t there for the money, since she got $25 total —  about $225 in today’s dollars. She was there because, why not? She was young and thought it sounded like an amusing way to pass the time.

click to enlarge My mom was “The Housedress Ghoul” in Night of the Living Dead, and now everyone knows
CP Photo: Mars Johnson
Mandy Davis poses for a photo while in zombie makeup applied by Ali Fleeman during Living Dead Weekend at the Monroeville Mall.
click to enlarge My mom was “The Housedress Ghoul” in Night of the Living Dead, and now everyone knows
CP Photo: Mars Johnson
Mandy Davis poses for a photo while in zombie makeup applied by Ali Fleeman during Living Dead Weekend at the Monroeville Mall.

During that weekend, one of the actors, Karl Hardman, took out his camera to document the goings-on. Fortunately for the world, but not so great for Sharon, those now famous, copyrighted images that included her have been used on dozens of products without her knowing, from T-shirts to a VHS release of the movie, to the Konami game Zombies Ate My Neighbors, and a Living Dead-themed board game.

Arriving at the conference, my mom was utterly charmed that people lined up to get a signed photo and take pictures with her. She was bemused that people had flown from as far as Texas and Tennessee just to give her a hug. (I can attest, it’s a fantastic hug.) She posed and smiled, and was so grateful when someone conjured a slice of Mineo’s pizza. “Best pizza I’ve had in a decade,” she said. The bonus was that she not only spent the day meeting a whole litany of fans, but she made more in the first hour than she made for two days of work on the movie. Worth it. 

click to enlarge My mom was “The Housedress Ghoul” in Night of the Living Dead, and now everyone knows
CP Photo: Mars Johnson
John Wilson poses for a photo during Living Dead Weekend at the Monroeville Mall.

She gets a giggle out of this whole situation. “I feel like I met family. Everyone was so nice to me.”

Now, she is part of the fold, and looking forward to getting more involved in future events.