My Blah Blah Blog

William Finley, 1940-2012

I knew William Finley because we acted together in a movie, directed by Brian de Palma, called “Phantom of the Paradise”. In the 70’s, Bill and I spent two months in each others face in Dallas, Texas, shooting this rock-and-roll redo of “Phantom of the Opera.” Bill played the phantom, and I his muse.

It was my first movie, and on the first day of shooting, I was clueless and terrified, wracked with self-doubt and fears of screwing up.

My condition was not helped by the fact that we started the day with a scene in which I was sexually assaulted by a 400-pound man (wearing turquoise boxer shorts and cowboy boots). This did nothing to allay my fear that I had chosen the wrong profession.

But then Finley showed up. We had a key scene together, the one in which our characters met for the first time…

Bill was tall, kind, smart, focused, and almost immediately I appointed him my big brother, my protector…and my explainer. All day long the crew shouted mysterious things (like, “Checking the gate!”“Bring in the baby junior!” “Set up for the martini shot!” “Hit your mark, you stupid cow!”), and Bill patiently translated for me.

But mostly, he was just reassuring. He treated me with respect and kindness, as if he had complete confidence in me. He may never have said the words out loud, but he made me believe that he was thinking, “You’ve got this. You’re gonna be fine.” And once I calmed down and got over myself a little, I had one of the better acting lessons of my life, just by watching Bill’s skill and commitment in the creation of his character.

I can’t tell you how much I valued his warm friendship and his talent.
Whenever he was not on set, I missed him.

After the Dallas days, I did not see as much of Bill and his family as I’d have liked, as we lived on opposite coasts.
But he was one of those rare people who, even if you know them for a limited time, etch their initials on your heart.

To paraphrase a line from “Phantom,” we’ll remember you forever, Finley.

(For more on William Finley, click here.)


18 Responses
  1. Amy. says:

    I was wondering if you’d make a post about him. As soon as I saw it in my google reader… tears, so many tears!

  2. Didier says:

    Beautiful tribute Jessica, I’m also very sad we were about to shoot with him in Manhattan on Mar. the 28th for Rock N’Roll Over. It’d have been is last film.

  3. Luca Servini says:

    thank you dear Jessica, for this beautiful words.

  4. Joanna Leigh says:

    Hi Jessica

    A lovely post! I read part of it on Ari’s site, but glad I got to read the rest! Very true.

    I find it hilariously ironic that you and Mike (Navis) used part of a song by a group WINSLOW Hated but WILLIAM was 2/3’rds responsible for having created.

    Thank you for sharing your memories.

  5. Cocodix says:

    Mi dispiace tantissimo. Condoglianze alla famiglia.

  6. Bill Mulligan says:

    A lovely tribute. Both of you were wonderful in that movie.

  7. Dukey Flyswatter says:

    I saw you and got a signed poster from you at Monsterpalooza when i returned home I got emails about William’s passing. I wondered if you knew. Bill’s skill,quirkeyness and warmth just bubbled all over the screen no matter what he did. I’m sorry he didn’t get more work. I will rember the both of you forever.

  8. Francesco says:

    A lovely and a nice,dearly tribute to the great Bill……thank you Jessica.Froma a long time fan of both.

  9. aristotle says:

    Rip william finley

  10. THAT was the first scene shot? I can well understand how slinging fries at McDonald’s might have looked more attractive. I guess it HAD to get better from there.

    Touching remarks. Finley had a charm and earnest passion that found its way through all that improbable stuff they layered onto his face. I’m very sorry not to have seen more of him.

  11. Ian Robinson says:

    God rest his soul.

  12. Gloria Dignzio says:

    Hi Jessica: Gloria from Phantompalooza here in Winnipeg, your tribute to Bill is wonderful and even made me laugh re: your first scene with Philbin. Tonite here in the Peg, there will be multiple screenings of the movie as well as a tribute to what should have been an Academy Award winning actor, Mr. William Finlay. Hope our paths cross once again in the near future.

  13. Donald Farmer says:

    I’m in Dallas tonight so reading your beautiful tribute in the city where PHANTOM was made makes it all the more meaningful for me. After seeing the film on its original release in 1975 I’ve watched it so many times over the years. But my favorite scene is that one you mentioned where you and Winslow first meet and you hug him. A few years ago I watching the re-release of VERTIGO at the Ziegfield Theatre in NYC. When the lights came up and I turned around I saw that Brian De Palma had been sitting directly behind me the whole time (with a small entourage!). I wanted to tell him how PHANTOM is my favorite of his movies but didn’t want to bother him. . .but I’ll always regret not speaking up when I had the chance.

  14. MRSV says:


    I just heard this sad news last week. Very touched to read your post. It’s nice to see that his co-stars thought of him as warmly as his fans.
    POTP is one of my very favorite movies, in part because of Bill Finley’s performance. He’ll be very missed.

  15. […] Phantom of the Paradise costar Jessica Harper on working with Finley. […]

  16. Tracy says:

    Thank you Jessica. You and Mr. Finley were wonderful together.

    I’m heartbroken that we lost this wonderfully gracious man. However, your warm memories made it a little easier to take.

  17. Lisa says:

    I’m watching Phantom right now. For some reason I never watched it before, unfortunately, because I’m really enjoying it, especially your singing. I’m sorry to see that William died earlier this year, very sad for you and others who knew him. I actually met Paul Williams and his wife years ago while working at a store and he was my customer. He was my first celebrity when I moved to CA. I’m going to see if the soundtrack is still available. You should sing more of those rock tinged early Linda Ronstadt type of songs. Really enjoy you in everything you’ve done.

  18. paul houghton says:

    Yes, absolutely. One of the main reasons P of the P prevails and survives is the great performances as well as the music. Jessica’s character remains likeable throughout – even though she sells herself to the devil! And the voice and performaces are sublime. William Finley is so great as the hapless geek composer with one helluva temper! And all the actors make it absolutely believable despite the outrageousness of it all. Magnificent. RIP Mr Finley – loved you in ‘Sisters’ too. And Jessica is marvellous in everything! Just seen her as the girl who sells her tears in ‘Tales From the Dark Side’ and then there’s ‘Suspiria’, ‘Shock Treatment’ and so much more! Thank you so much for so much.

    Paul Houghton, UK

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