The Musical World of Rocky Horror

Phantom of the Paradise (1974 Production Notes)        3,665 views

Final Production Notes


"He sold his soul for rock and roll" tells the story of "PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE" in a nutshell. In the form of a horror-rock musical comedy, writer-director Brian De Palma traces the tale of meek and mild-mannered rock composer "Winslow Leach" (William Finley) and his fateful encounter with evil record tycoon "Swan" (Paul Williams) who long ago has sold his soul to the devil.

The story begins when Swan's right-hand thug "Philbin" (George Memmoli) promises to take Winslow's epic rock cantata to Swan. True to his unscrupulous ways, Swan steals Winslow's cantata with the intention of using it as the opening event for his new Paradise Theatre. When the naive Winslow attempts to invade Swan's opulent mansion, the composer discovers that auditions for his piece are taking place. One of the singers is "Phoenix" (Jessica Harper) whose stunning voice thrills Winslow. Philbin quickly has Winslow thrown out of the mansion. Trying to summon aid from police officers, Winslow finds that he has had drugs planted on him. He is busted and sent to prison where he plots his revenge against Swan. After a crazy escape from the prison laundry, Winslow breaks into Swan's recording plant. There his head gets caught in a record pressing machine and horribly squashed. To compound his bad luck, he is shot by a security guard and winds up jumping into the river and is assumed to be dead.

Winslow, however, makes his way to the Paradise where he becomes the "Phantom" by hiding his mangled face under an eerie bird-like mask. From a vantage point high in the eaves of the theatre, he watches Swan audition singers and is enraged by the way that Swan has bastardized his work of art. Finally, the Phantom agrees to cooperate with Swan and rewrite the cantata for the theatre's opening if Swan will cast Phoenix in the leading role. Swan pretends to agree, but secretly decides to cast "Beef" (Gerrit Graham), a gay glitter rock singer, as the star.

Swan locks the Phantom in a studio to rewrite and tries to seal him in there forever after the job is done. But the Phantom escapes, discovers the truth about the leading role and so turns the debut of Beef into a real horror show that concludes with Beef's onstage electrocution in front of the audience who call for more such thrills. Swan then agrees to the Phantom's demands about Phoenix, but then Swan persuades her to marry him. The film climaxes in their wedding onstage which the Phantom turns into a gruesome blood bath.


In 1969 when he first saw the merging of the rock and horror genres in the persons of the Rolling Stones and Alice Cooper, writer-director Brian De Palma immediately wanted to make "PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE." To his mind the film industry was missing a good bet by restricting its exploration of the rock world to filmed concerts. Interest in his concept of blending rock and horror into a musical comedy, however, was not forthcoming.

De Palma then tried to interest record companies in his project and met an executive at A&M Records involved in finding film scoring projects for the label's artists. As luck would have it, singer/ songwriter Paul Williams was just leaving an office as De Palma was entering. "At that point," recalls De Palma, "I didn't know much about Paul's music but he looked so right for my movie." As it turned out, Williams also possessed the technical expertise to do the sophisticated parodies of various rock styles that De Palma's script required.

The production of "PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE" was finally arranged by Pressman-Williams Enterprises and Edward R. Pressman served for the second time as producer of a Brian De Palma film. Their first joint project was the critically acclaimed "Sisters."

Working within the musical comedy form, De Palma wanted "PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE" to break away from the old style where characters burst into song at the drop of a hat. De Palma solved the problem by coming up with the innovation of using the big musical numbers in performances which are climaxes in the film's dramatic structure. As a result the music moves the film forward instead of bringing it to a standstill.

Casting the Juicy Fruits, the group who perform for record mogul Swan's (Paul Williams) record label, posed another problem for De Palma. The group had to be able to work in a variety of styles from 50's rock and surfing sounds up to the 70's glitter rock. Originally De Palma wanted to use an already existing group, but when that didn't work out, Paul Williams convinced him that he could create a group capable of doing rock satire. Williams put together Jeffrey Comanor, Archie Hahn and Harold Oblong, all of whom had experience in improvisational comedy as well as music. They worked out so well that De Palma just left them to their own devices and filmed the hilarious results.

"PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE" was shot in ten weeks in Los Angeles, New York and Dallas. After making an extensive search for a proper theatre to use as the "Phantom" haunted "Paradise," De Palma and Pressman settled on the recently closed Majestic Theatre in Dallas which looked like an old opera house but was not in total disrepair. They shot for five days with "real" people in the audience and during 12-14 hour working days, Paul Williams and Gerrit Graham ("Beef") entertained the crowd to keep them happy. During his own big production number, Graham was working with a temperature of 105 thanks to the flu, hut he still succeeded in doing a perfect send-up of glitter rock.

Larry Pizer, the director of photography, has credits that include "Isadora" and "Morgan." Camera operator Ronald Taylor who had worked with Stanley Kubrick on "A Clockwork Orange" became the director of photography on the film version of the Who's rock opera "Tommy" after finishing "PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE." De Palma explains that he wanted to use an English cinematographer "because they light very high key whereas Americans use more diffused soft lighting. I wanted to have a Gothic expressionistic feel to this film."

"PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE" is being released by 20th Century-Fox and a soundtrack album will be released by A&M Records.



Not only does he portray the twisted record mogul "Swan" in "PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE" but Paul Williams also composed the music for the film. A triple-threat talent, Williams began his show business career as an actor but went on to write such million-selling singles as "We've Only Just Begun" and "Rainy Days and Mondays" (both recorded by the Carpenters) and "Just an Old Fashioned Love Song" (recorded by Three Dog Night).

Artists who have sung his songs include Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Helen Reddy, Johnny Mathis, Tom Jones and Dionne Warwick. And Williams has had three of his own albums released by A&M Records: Here Comes Inspiration (1974); Life Goes On (1973); Just an Old Fashioned Love Song (1972).

The diminutive Williams -- he likes to call himself a hobbit --was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1940. His father, a 6'2" architect, moved around the country and while living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Williams decided to become an actor and joined the Albuquerque Playhouse. After his father was killed in an auto crash, Williams moved to Long Beach, California, to live with an aunt and uncle until he was eighteen.

He did a variety of odd jobs in the film industry before landing a job as a "punk kid" delivery boy in a Parson's ammonia commercial. That led to him being cast at the age of 24 as the ten-year-old eccentric genius in Tony Richardson's "The Loved One." The following year, 1965, he played another kid in "The Chase" starring Marlon Brando. During the five months of filming, he began writing songs on a borrowed guitar.

Williams next met Mort Sahl and wrote some sketches for him and during that time met composer Roger Nichols. The two teamed up writing hit songs for major artists. "We've Only Just Begun" started out as a theme for a bank commercial, but when people demanded to record it, the duo added another verse and finished it up to make it a real song. It has since been recorded by over 100 different artists.

Williams has also written theme songs for theatrical and television movies including "Cinderella Liberty" and three ABC Movies of the Week: "The Girls of Huntington House"; "Trouble Comes to Town" and "No Place to Run."

He also has been performing at places like Harrah's in Lake Tahoe, the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles and the Riviera in Las Vegas. He is a frequent guest on television shows including Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin and the Midnight Special and has been on Johnny Carson over twenty times. He returned to acting in "Battle for the Planet of the Apes" before his starring role in "PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE."

(Winslow Leach)

William Finley who plays the title role in the horror-rock musical comedy "PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE" traces his association with writer-director Brian De Palma to their college days at Columbia.

After extensive study and training as an actor, Finley made his theatrical debut in the off-Broadway production of "Once In A Lifetime," produced and directed by Peter Bogdanovich in 1965. Finley was working in association with the Performance Group which he helped form with Brian De Palma in the late 60's.

Finley starred in both the stage and film versions of De Palma's "Dionysus in '69" and toured Europe with the play for a year after a year's stand in New York. He then became well-known in France through his work in another play "Le Renard" ("The Fox") and in several popular television commercials.

Finley continued working with De Palma playing roles in "Murder A La Mod," "The Wedding Party" and "Sisters," all directed by De Palma.

Newly married, Finley has been teaching courses at Sarah Lawrence College in theatre techniques for the past several years. He is also an artist and his neo-abstract impressions are handled by the Ti Gallery in New York.

Finley has had some preparation for the role of composer Winslow Leach because he has written music. Now he is more interested in managing other artists and producing their records. His newest protege is rock singer Nich Hollander.

Finley says that his goal in films is to become "the Laurence Olivier of horror. I love the genre. I think it's an important field because everyone's afraid and this kind of film might provide a release and enable people to laugh at their fears."


Jessica Harper makes a memorable impact in the important female leading role of "Phoenix."

A native of Chicago, Miss Harper moved to New York in 1967 to attend Sarah Lawrence college where she took vocal and dance classes as part of her curriculum. She left school in 1969 and didn't know what to do until she learned of auditions for a new show called "Hair."

"I was just one of about 500 freaks who were milling around at that audition," Jessica recalls. But the producers selected her and she understudied the role of Sheila for most of the musical's run.

From there she went on to appear in a number of off-off Broadway and summer stock productions. Her previous film credits include "Taking Off" and the "Take a Giant Step" television series. Brian De Palma spotted her while she was playing the role of the insane nurse in "Dr. Selavy's Magic Theatre" off-Broadway. Searching for a girl to play Phoenix who would be able to communicate excitement on screen and be convincing as a singer as well, De Palma selected Jessica after extensive auditions.

"She has the kind of haunting quality that's fascinating to watch," explains De Palma.


George Memmoli plays Philbin, the tough Mafia-style aide to the evil rock mogul Swan played by Paul Williams.

One of the original members of the Ace Trucking.Company, Memmoli has been able to draw from his own experiences with that rock-comedy group in formulating the character of Philbin. Memmoli's film credits include "Mean Streets," "The Harrad Experiment" and "Dynamite Chicken." He has also written and performed in a number of radio and television commercials.

Off-screen the 34-year-old bachelor and native New Yorker has been waging a successful battle to lose weight. A gourmet cook in his own right, Memmoli has become a dedicated follower of Weight Watchers who helped him lose 100 of the 350 pounds he used to weigh.


Gerrit Graham, who plays the glitter rock star "Beef" is again reunited with writer-director Brian De Palma. Graham first worked with De Palma in the starring role in the director's first major film, "Greetings" in 1968. Like De Palma, Graham also attended Columbia University, was active in college theatrical productions and became general manager of Columbia Players.

A graduate of the Groton School and descendant of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Graham's career after "Greetings" had its ups and downs. Like most actors he put in time driving a cab and waiting on tables to support himself between jobs in the theatre. And he has also written rock music reviews for publications like Rolling Stone and Fusion.

Six months after doing "Greetings" he joined the Second City Touring Company in Chicago and then appeared in De Palma's "Hi Mom." He worked with Paul Sills' Story Theatre troupe in Chicago where he performed a wide variety of roles. Graham has also appeared in many off-off Broadway shows and most recently in "The Death and Life of Jesse James" at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.

(Harold Oblong, Jeffrey Comanor, Archie Hahn)

Each of the three performers who appear as members of the Juicy Fruits rock group in "PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE" are making their motion picture debuts. The film's star and composer, Paul Williams put the three together because they had the musical and improvisational ability to realize his rock parodies on screen.

Harold Oblong also choreographed the musical sequences which include a brilliant satire of a glitter rock show. Oblong began performing in 1965 as part of the comedy team The Times Square Two. For five years the act toured the U.S., Canada and England performing on stage and on television. In 1971 Oblong appeared with the Second City company in Chicago and the Story Theatre Project at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. Most recently he has been writing, composing and performing for various stage, television and radio projects on both coasts.

Jeffrey Comanor is a singer, songwriter and recording artist who records for the Epic label and has been touring with the popular group, Eagles. His musical career began in Florida but he was soon in New York conducting weekend hootenannies with Al Kooper. After some club and recording work in New York, Comanor moved to California where he wrote a number of songs which ended up on the flip side of hit singles by the Fifth Dimension and Dr. Hook. In addition to "PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE" his film credits include the soon-to-be released "The Cathode Monster."

Archie Hahn, a former member of the improvisational comedy group, The Committee, has appeared in television shows like "The Bob Newhart Show," "The Odd Couple" and "The Johnny Carson Show." He has also performed in various Los Angeles and New York little theatre groups. Bom in West Virginia and reared in New York and Delaware, Hahn graduated from the Valley Forge Military Academy and then worked his way through the University of Delaware as a contract carpenter. After graduation he spent six years in the Army and National Guard as a medic and operating room technician. He also spent two years at the Dupont Corporation as an assistant to an organic research chemist. Arriving in California in 1969, Hahn worked as a bartender and as a technical advisor to a taped tour company.



Regarded as one of America's leading young directors, Brian De Palma has nurtured the idea for "PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE" since 1969 when he saw how rock acts like the Rolling Stones and Alice Cooper were incorporating the genre of horror into their acts. Based in New York and not tied to the Hollywood tradition, De Palma realized that rock music was the most important new aesthetic form of this generation and that it could he used in a new way in films. In "PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE" De Palma has come up with the screen's first horror-rock musical comedy.

It was De Palma's third feature length film, "Greetings" released in 1968 that established him as an important director. At the time he was only 28 and the film won him the Silver Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival. He followed "Greetings" with "Hi Mom," "Dionysus in '69," "Get To Know Your Rabbit" and then "Sisters." Edward R. Pressman produced both "PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE" and "Sisters."

Born in Newark and raised in Philadelphia, De Palma got his B.A. at Columbia University and his M.A. in Fine Arts at Sarah Lawrence. While still in college he made a series of shorts including "Wotan's Wake," winner of the Rosenthal Foundation Award for the best film made by an American under 25. It was also judged the most popular film of the Midwest Film Festival in 1963 and later shown at the San Francisco Film Festival. De Palma says that the seeds of "PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE'S" style can be seen in "Wotan's Wake" with its grand guignol-Dr. Caligari-German expressionistic look.

After graduation, De Palma made documentary films for clients ranging from the Treasury Department to the NAACP. Before making "Greetings" he had made two other features, "The Wedding Party" and "Murder A La Mod."

Now that "PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE" is finished, De Palma is moving ahead on two more films. One Is called "Deja Vu" which he describes as a suspense film about a man so in love with his dead wife that he marries a woman who looks just like her. Filming on this obsessive love story will take place in Florence and New Orleans. He is also writing a script for 20th Century-Fox based on the book "The Demolished Man" about patricide in a telepathic society.

De Palma hopes to make a sequel to "PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE" where "Swan" would return as a guru a la the Maharaji Ji. Fascinated by this kind of "God rock" and the incredible revivals like the Maharaji Ji held at the Astrodome, De Palma thinks this is the direction the music scene is heading. He is also contemplating the idea of having the "Phantom" help a female singer/songwriter because he has found that women are exploited by the music business.

"I don't regard 'PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE' as an expose," says De Palma. "I just find the music world fascinating to use as material because it's so expressionistic. I like very stylized forms and the music world is full of all kinds of excesses of style -- money and youth and madness."


"PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE" marks the second time Edward R. Pressman has produced a film directed by Brian De Palma. Their first collaboration was the highly acclaimed thriller "Sisters" which AIP distributed domestically. "PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE" is a 20th Century-Fox release.

In partnership with director Paul Williams in Pressman-Williams Enterprises, the 30-year-old Pressman has already produced an impressive array of films. Preceding "PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE," Pressman-Williams presented the critical triumph "Badlands," written and directed by Terence Malick and released by Warner Bros.

A firm believer in making films independent of the major studios to insure artistic integrity, Pressman has established himself as the most dynamic producer outside of Hollywood. "Sisters," "Badlands" and now "PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE" were made with independent financing.

A graduate of Stanford University and the London School of Economics, Pressman and Williams formed their partnership in London where they made an award-winning short called "Girl" based on the Lennon-McCartney song from the Beatles' "Rubber Soul" album. They next turned to independent financing to make "Out Of It" which introduced the talent of Jon Voight. Completed for under $250,000, "Out Of It" was a United Artists release. Their next picture, "The Revolutionary," also starred Voight and was a U.A. release. After that came "Dealing: Or The Berkeley to Boston Forty Brick, Lost Bag Blues," adapted from Michael and Douglas Crichton's novel.

Based in New York, Pressman-Williams are currently producing "The Secret Life Of Plants" directed by Walon Green who filmed the "Helstrom Chronicle" and was nominated for an Academy Award for "The Wild Bunch." The "Plants" film is being shot all around the world including India, China and Russia and will be ready for fall '75 release. Pressman's next project will be producing "The Demolished Man" with Brian De Palma once again directing.