*No matter what niche of the entertainment industry someone works in, once they become a mega-star their fans tend to idolize them for their accomplishments instead of what they bring to the universe as a unique person. This can be said for actress and jack of all trades, Judith O’Dea. She burst onto the scene in 1968 in George A. Romero’s iconic zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead, with her equally iconic role as Barbara. Every horror fan in existence remembers the pivotal scene of, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara!”
But as much as we adore Ms. O’Dea for what she has given us as horror fans, do we really know her outside of the before mentioned title? Now that she is a frequent guest at conventions and festivals, I can only imagine how many times she is referred to as “Barbara from Night of the Living Dead” instead of Judith O’Dea. So, this got me thinking… What if I had the chance to get to know Judith as a human being instead of an icon of fright? How many of you would enjoy candid stories about her personal life and knowledge of some of her favorite things?
Luckily, Judith was kind enough to chat with me in this special sort of interview. My hope is that this interview reads more as an insight into her character and the briefest glimpse into her personal life…and less like a dating website questionnaire! Check it all out below!
HS: Everyone usually has career aspirations when they’re younger. Do you remember what career you dreamed of pursing when you were a child?
JO: Even before starting kindergarten, I always wanted to ‘play pretend.’ I’d sit on my great grandmother’s porch steps and sing songs I’d heard my father sing. Then, as I got older, I got really interested in magic. I remember putting on a one-hour magic show, charging admission, and giving the proceeds to the cancer society…all before I was in junior high school!
HS: Were you a part of any sports, activities, or groups while you were in high school? Do you still pursue any of those things to this day?
JO: I’ve loved sports ever since I was a little kid playing catch with my dad. But in high school, I really didn’t have time to participate in any sports activities or extracurricular groups because, by that time, I had auditioned at the Pittsburgh Playhouse and was working in musical theatre in the evenings all through my high school years.
HS: With respect, may I ask why there was a gap in your career for two decades? What caused this?
JO: During those years, I still did theatrical shows throughout the Los Angeles area, but also had to provide consistent financial support for my two children. In between equity productions, I found work as a personal assistant for two well-known writer/producer/directors (Harold Hecht for one year and Melvin Frank for another). After that, I interviewed for jobs at several major corporations and ended up doing work I never would have imagined possible like arranging living accommodations for 35 British engineers who had come to the States to build a voice messaging system for a company called Delphi Communications.
Then, when Delphi closed, I moved to Hughes Aircraft Company where my first job was to coordinate the building of an F-16 radar unit. WILD! Funny, isn’t it, how things happen. The longer I stayed with Hughes Aircraft, a whole new career opened up for me in the field of teaching the art of organizing and delivering powerful, persuasive, oral presentations. A natural fallout, you might say, from my years in the theatre.
HS: What can you tell me about O’Dea Communications? Is it still in business today?
JO: O’Dea Communications is my own little company that came about as a direct result of my having taught presentation development and train-the-trainer courses at Hughes/Raytheon until my retirement in 2002. I started the company at that time and continued teaching and consulting on my own. Now, O’Dea Communications no longer offers presentation training, but focuses totally on my theatrical/ film career and my guest appearances at horror conventions which continue to keep me wonderfully busy.
HS: What are some of your favorite movies and why?
JO: Oh, that’s a hard one to answer! I love so many, like Tootsie because the screenplay was so well written and the performances awesome. And Dante’s Peak because the effects blew me away (no pun intended), and I felt so invested in the characters. Then there’s Wuthering Heights, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Steal Magnolias, The Birdcage, and The Abyss. And how about American Sniper and Birdman! The list will never end!
HS: If you could have one meal for dinner every day for the rest of your life, what dish would you choose?
JO: BREAKFAST! Poached eggs, turkey bacon, fresh orange juice, blueberries and raspberries, and most especially a toasted English muffin with reduced fat super chunky peanut butter melted all over it!
HS: If you were given a nice convertible and told you could drive to any location in the United States, where is the first place you’d go?
JO: Shaw’s Cove in Laguna Beach, CA to scuba dive in my beloved ocean, then a quick hop to Pittsburgh, PA, my favorite town in all of the United States.
*Thank you for chatting with me, Judith! I appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule for this special interview. You are certainly a world class lady!
As much as I want this piece to be about Ms. O’Dea as a human being, I think I’d be at fault if I didn’t at least acknowledge some of her more recent film work. Last year, Judith appeared in the anthology Hole in the Wall. She has a film, Abandoned Dead, waiting for release and another, They Came from the Ether, waiting for distribution. And for all of you Living Dead fans, she just wrapped a spot in Matt Cloude’s Night of the Living Dead: Genesis where she reprises the role of Barbara.
Keep your eyes peeled to her website for all future updates!