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In Memory Of William Finley (1942-2012), 5 Things You Might Not Know About 'Phantom Of The Paradise'

by Oliver Lyttelton
April 16, 2012 11:05 AM
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3. Finley came close to being crushed for real in filming the Phantom's origin.
Winslow is horribly disfigured after being cought in a record press that he's trying to destroy, turning him into the Phantom, but the scene nearly went badly wrong. The scene was shot in a real pressing plant at the Pressman Toys factory (the company founded by producer Edward R. Pressman's father), with foam pads and chocks put in between to stop it from closing. But on one take, the chocks snapped from the pressure, and the press began to close gradually. Fortunately, Finley was pulled out long before he was in real danger.

4. Sissy Spacek worked as the set dresser on the film.
Stick around through the credits and you'll find one rather surprising name among the technical crew, with future Oscar-winning actress Sissy Spacek named as a set dresser -- particularly odd, considering that she's just starred in her breakout role, in Terrence Malick's "Badlands." The reality of it is quite simple: Malick had met her boyfriend Jack Fisk the previous year when he was working as the art director on "Badlands." Fisk then got the opportunity to make his debut as Production Designer on "Phantom of the Paradise," and Spacek went with him, working with him during the shoot. The pair would marry not long after production wrapped, and a year later, Fisk would suggest to Spacek that she audition for the lead in De Palma's "Carrie," on which he was art director. Spacek would go on to win an Oscar nomination for her indelible performance in that film.

5. It was a box-office disappointment, but huge in Winnipeg.
Hopes were high for "Phantom of the Paradise:" 20th Century Fox bought the negative for $2 million, which was then a record for an independently-produced film. But for the most part, the film received poor reviews, and died at the box office. And yet, there was one place where it became a monster hit: Winnipeg, Canada. Even in the rest of the country, the film didn't play for long, and yet in Winnipeg, it was a monster hit, playing continually in theaters for four-and-a-half-months, with 20,000 copies of the soundtrack being snapped up. To this day, it's unsure why the film performed so well when it opened on December 26th (two months after the full release), although it's believed that the luxury Garrick cinema, and an atypically young audience, of around ten or so, helped it become a cult that continues in the city to this day.

William Finley - "Faust" (from the "Phantom of the Paradise" soundtrack)

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  • Larry C. Lyons | September 2, 2012 4:16 PMReply

    I grew up in Winnipeg, now living in the Washington, DC area. I remember very much how Phantom of the Paradise had an impact on kids my age when I saw it age 15 in 1975. I think Mr. Finley's performance as Winslow Leach had much to do with that. His character was so much of what Winnipeg was at the time, that of course it resonated with us. And have stayed with us ever since. Whenever it plays in this area I still make a point of seeing it.

  • Ed Griffiths | April 23, 2012 9:41 AMReply

    I'm a Winnipegger now resident in London and for many years I was under the impression that PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE had been a big global hit because of its notoriety and popularity in my native city. I remember all the young people seemed to know it. I was too young to see it at the cinema but remember being surprised how rarely it screened at London's many repertory cinemas when I emigrated there in the latter 1980s.

    William Finley is a great loss - one of those character actors with an effortless quality of presence to them. I wish he'd done more movie work. His last turn as the murderer in THE BLACK DAHLIA was characteristically brilliant.

    For me, his 'Phantom' is one of the most tragic, funny and sympathetic characters in cinema. His last scene as the Phantom playing in the deserted record studio is, for me, unforgettable.

    Haunt those super-creeps forever, Bill!

  • Lois Punton | April 18, 2012 4:38 PMReply

    I too grew up in the 'Peg and remember going to see Phantom with our group of friends more than a few times. The movie spoke to us largely due to Mr. Finley and his fabulous performance. Many of us are deeply saddened by this loss. I still have the original soundtrack on LP and even though I haven't played it in decades I still sing those songs. Thanks for the memories, Bill. We will always remember you. RIParadise

  • Zinjo | April 17, 2012 4:43 PMReply


    That is SOOO true!
    I grew up in the The 'Peg and I remember my sister and cousins seeing it. I don't believe it was the Garrick theater so much (a remnant of the opulent Vaudeville theaters from the '20s, of which there were many in the city at the time...) but more that city's attraction to it is similar to Rocky Horror's enduring popularity in NY and LA. Somehow it hit a chord with the youth in the city at that time and inexplicably it has been passed down generation to generation. It was cool and corny, scary and fun and nearly everyone I knew had a copy of the sound track before long and just as many had seen it multiple times. It continues to be a local phenomenon, much like the Loc Ness Monster...

  • Tony DeSoto | April 17, 2012 12:04 PMReply

    William Finley was a significant part of my childhood. I saw Phantom in Kenner, Louisiana in the 4th grade (1977), and the film NEVER left me when I left that theatre. 35 years later, I still carry the haunting tale in my mind and heart. I am one of those who has seen the movie every year since. I hope Finley was a man of faith. I look forward to meeting him one day in Heaven.

  • Craig Wallace | April 16, 2012 7:38 PMReply

    OMG!!!!! My all-time FAVORITE movie, and the main character is now dead. Phantompalooza will never be the same :( I was lucky enough to meet Geritt Graham (aka Beef) but never William (aka Winslow akaka The Phantom)

    Rest in Peace William . . . you and the cast made my childhood exciting during the 14 trips to the movie theater to see Phantom of the Paradise (1975) . . . The music, the drama, the comedy, and now the sadness . . . .

    This fan will always remember!

  • Craig Wallace | April 16, 2012 7:39 PM

    oh . . . and yes . . I was one of those 12 year olds in Winnipeg :)

  • Popcorn Slayer | April 16, 2012 12:32 PMReply

    Finley was one of the few bright spots of THE BLACK DAHLIA. Too bad we didn't see more of him outside of De Palma's oeuvre.

  • Joanna | May 16, 2012 2:21 AM

    William did some movie with Tobe Hooper, including Eaten Alive, Night Terrors, (with Robert Englund, who posted a Tweet tribute. OY! Freddy Kruegger's mellowing, big time. ;) ) There's the movie Silent Rage, where Bill played this scientist guy who ends up getting killed by the guy he helped keep alive.) I love him in Murder a la Mod, though, where he plays this character who doesn't say a word, but he's funny as all get out! Good character actors can do that!

    Like others on this site, I'm a 'Pegger' who DID get to meet Mr. Finley. I got both books of Faust autographed by him and gave him a Thank You hug. Most of the lessons I learned from Winslow were learned in reverse, as it were, since I figured out THE single thing he did, that cost him his music (handing it over to Philbin) is something you just do NOT do. ...never give the ORIGINAL WORK, always copies! Keep notes on your work, or a blog. Paper and internet evidence together makes it easier to prove authorship.

    Another thing; stand your ground. As a writer, I've heard stories from others who were so desperate to be published that they whittled away at their own work to the point that what ended up getting them published wasn't even recognizable. I'm not suggesting blowing up someone's car or assaulting them in the shower with a plunger (especially if the plunger's been used previously. Yuk!) Just stand up for yourself and what you created.

    While William's created many memorable characters, Winslow 'sings' to those of us who want to make their own mark on the world. Both actor and character succeeded in doing just that!

    If you want, go to In the NEWS section, there is a really nice write up about William, by one of Phantompalooza's organizers. And some highlighted names will allow you to read and see some moments and insights fans don't often get to see or find out about.

  • evilnik | April 16, 2012 11:59 AMReply

    brilliant tribute

  • tyrannosaurus max | April 16, 2012 11:50 AMReply

    Great film, great actor. Rest In Peace, Finley.

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