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Kyra Schon: The Ghoul Next Door

Kyra Schon night of the living dead

I’ve been a fan of zombie movies for many a year. I’m 31, and probably caught my first zombie flick around 10, so my love affair with zombies is old enough to buy and consume alcohol in the United States. Through all this time, until I started to write this blog, I never realized that the iconic image above from Night of the Living Dead was Kyra Schon – aka Karen Cooper – the little girl basement zombie in the movie.

karen cooper kyra schon zombie girl

To be fair, they don’t look that similar. The iconic image of the girl with her hair half covering her face, with the great use of shadow and Night’s famously minimalist makeup, is a posed shot, not a still from the film like the one shown above on the right. The girl on the left looks older than 11, the age Kyra Schon was when she played her. I’d have pegged her as an adult, a function of the lighting and makeup in the picture. And it’s hard to recognize her without her father’s blood on her face!

Learning that this girl was Karen Cooper got me interested in looking up the actress, at first just to see how old she was (because of the confusion caused by the contrast in the pictures). I found that Kyra Schon is actually a pretty interesting woman, so I wanted to share a bit of what I learned.

First off, she’s not an actress. She never was, and had no desire to be as far as I can tell. She was the daughter of Karl Hardman, who plays her father Harry Cooper in the film. When Romero was filming Night of the Living Dead, the budget was incredibly tight. A lot of the actors, from starring roles to zombies (or “ghouls” as they were called), were investors in the film, Romero’s friends, or locals who were paid next to nothing. Karl Hardman was an investor, and was cast in his role because of it. His daughter was used to play Karen because, hey, one less actor to pay!

She was thrilled to get the role, because she was already a fan of horror flicks. According to her site, she was something of a horror geek, and enjoyed the vindication of going from being teased to being a flesh-eating creature of the night, and receiving a fair amount of street cred for it.

kyra schon

A kinda hot, actually.

She didn’t go on to do any other films, instead becoming an art teacher in Pittsburgh (where the movie was filmed). She is a regular contributor to Dread Central, a horror website (and therefore awesome). She’s remained a big horror buff all her life, which has spanned 57 years now.

I would love to get the chance to meet her at a convention, something she regularly does (schedule here). She won’t be anywhere near me this year, but I’ll be keeping an eye to see if I can attend anything she’ll be at, and I’ll surely post the results!

If you’d like to keep up with her doings, see some of her pics, or buy some of the stuff she’s got for sale, check out her website The Ghoul Next Door.