Today being the 7th anniversary of Phantompalooza, as one of its organizers, I’d like to share some thought and memories about the late Mr. Finley.
First things first: Phantompalooza would never have happened if William Finley hadn’t said “yes”. Getting the “yes, I’ll do it!” e-mail was unprecedented because a) he was nearly impossible to contact and b) had never said “yes” to anything in the past. But yes, we got a message through and after a few days of hesitation* (see footnote) he let us know he was game and he was coming to Winnipeg!
I had the pleasure of driving Bill and his family to a couple of events and I have to admit it was always unnerving to look in the rear-view mirror and see Winslow Leach staring back at me. Bill was fairly quiet and self-contained, but when he spoke everyone shut up and listened, because what he had to say was always profound and meaningful and more often than not hilarious. Stick a microphone or camera or notepad in his face and he would turn it on and deliver the goods with the most articulate and passionate string of sound bites you could imagine. Our local media loved him.
We organized a press conference for Bill and Gerrit the morning after they arrived in Winnipeg. We invited everyone in the media we could think of, and lo and behold everyone showed up! The Garrick Theatre was abuzz with activity as there were cameras, bright lights and crews swarming around our celebrity guests, who were grinning and lapping up the long-overdue attention. Over the next three days we watched in awe as media coverage began to spread, first blanketing the local airwaves, until, intrigued by the sheer audacity of the event, the national media picked it up. Bill and Gerrit were like proud fathers, cackling as they watched themselves lead the national news on their hotel room TV.
But my favourite memory of Bill was something that happened away from the hustle and bustle of the Phantompalooza events. I discovered that I was very shy around our celebrity guests; as one of the event organizers I felt that having access to them should be enough, and deliberately resisted asking Bill or Gerrit for an autograph or ‘grip-and-grin’ photo. But … at the end of the weekend we were suddenly dropping them off at the airport and I had to admit I kinda sorta regretted not having a memento. I finally gave in and asked the Finleys if I could take their picture, and to my relief Bill just spun me around and grabbed me in a group hug photo with his wife Susan and son Dashiell, and if I ever need reminding that grace and decency still exist in this world, I need only look at this photo of the Finleys.
It was a thrill to have him up here and see him finally get the recognition for Phantom he deserved. He was a gentleman, a scholar, an artist, and one cool cat. I’ll miss him.
[* “I first heard about [Phantompalooza] from one of the original organizers, Gloria Dignazio, who got ahold of me and asked “Will you come up?” She said, “I’ll send you some pictures.” Now this was the big mistake: her e-mail was incredibly gracious and very well-written, but the follow-up was a picture of what turned out to be the main group that was putting the show together, but they were all for some reason dressed in biker gear and posed with a motorcycle in front of what looked like a derelict building with a blank marquee! “This is where we’re going to show it and this is us!” So I was trying to figure out how to get out of it! I wrote back politely explaining why I was a little nervous about this, without saying they looked like motorcycle thugs, and two of them wrote incredibly impassioned pleas to come up to Winnipeg and why I should attend and why it was important. I finally said, “Oh, screw it” to myself and accepted.” – William Finley interview, FANGORIA magazine, Issue 257, October 2006.]
William Finley, star of our beloved ‘Phantom of the Paradise’, passed away suddenly after a brief hospitalization on Saturday, April 14th in New York. He was 71.
He is survived by his wife Susan and son Dashiell.
We had the pleasure of bringing Mr. Finley to Winnipeg twice, where he was Phantompalooza’s guest of honour (with Gerrit Graham) in 2005, and part of the entire cast reunion in 2006. We will remember him fondly as a real trouper – game for anything – and always willing to do one more interview and sign one more autograph for the Winnipeg fans, whom he adored. We will miss him terribly.