A casual glance at the headlines the morning
of Saturday, May 3, 1975 promised a fairly prosaic day ahead for
Fisheries Minister Romeo LeBlanc was floating the
concept of a living wage to stabilize the fishing industry (whenever
fish stories occupy prime real estate on the front page, it's usually a
reliable indicator of relative calm in our nation).
were on sale for $4.99 during Thrifty's "Cheek-to-Cheek" Sale-a-Thon.
And, oh yes, 'Swan' was coming to Winnipeg.
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It was true. It was the merest of
tidbits, virtually buried on page 30, but there it was:
Winnipeg Free Press May 3, 1975
Something was in the
air. All across the city, "girl power" was
manifesting itself as a consumer force to be dealt with.
A winter spent faithfully cooped up in a movie theatre
making a sex symbol out of Paul Williams was finally
Winnipeg Free Press May 10, 1975
For someone who aspired
to be an actor, Paul Williams found himself at the time
a very successful recording artist, with a string of hit
singles penned for the likes of Three Dog Night and
Carpenters. His most successful acting gig seemed to
be playing himself, on The Odd Couple, the Tonight Show,
and holding his own with the industry heavyweights on a variety of game shows like
and The Hollywood Squares. Quick-witted,
self-deprecating, and with a unique vocal delivery, Paul
seemed to have one foot in both the hip and hep
camps. He was also a canny businessman, and album
sales reports would have certainly pointed him north to take
advantage of Phantom's frostback fanbase with a
small Canadian tour.
But nothing would have
prepared him for his reception in Winnipeg. There were no print ads
run for the concert. There was no need. The
marketing muscle of CFRW radio and its concert
promotions partner The Bay (an iconic downtown
department store) ramped up, and teenyboppers across the
city began having earnest discussions with their mothers
about Chargex cards. All 2200 tickets for the 7 pm
show sold out almost instantly, and a second, 9:30 pm show
was quickly added. That too sold out.
Back for a week.
May 16, 1975
A collateral effect
from the sudden buzz was a resurrection of sorts for the
movie, since the day before concert tickets went on
sale, the Phantom was back
on local screens. Well, make that "Paul
Williams and the Phantom are back!" For one
week. At a drive-in. Since few of the
teeny-bopper crowd would have possessed a driver's
licence, perhaps a drive-in was not the venue for a
But there was one thing
lacking in all of this coverage...one thing that prevented the
concert, and Paul himself, from having that last stamp
of legitimacy: mention in Gene Telpner's column.
Gene Telpner was the Winnipeg Tribune's legendary
entertainment maven. He knew everyone, or at least
let us believe that he did. He tended to run with
an, ahem, older crowd. Mel Torme, Rosemary Clooney, the latest
incarnation of the Ink Spots playing at The Paddock - he seemed to be on a first-name basis with
them all. When Liberace sneezed, we read about it
in Gene's column. But it was getting closer to the
concert and still nothing. Was this a deliberate
snub? Or was Paul Williams simply caught in a
demographic twilight zone, stranded halfway between
the pages of Rolling Stone and Women's Wear Daily?
Finally, on May 24,
Gene came through, in spades. While he didn't land
an interview with Paul himself, and some of his figures
were a bit dodgy, he did an extraordinary
job of summarizing the phenomenon by interviewing A&M reps,
concert promoter Jerry Shore, and the film's national distributor,
Ron Brooker, who
revealed plans to make Phantom a first-run film again in
Winnipeg to coincide with the concert. Paul was
officially legit. Not only did your parents know
who he was, there was now the possibility of having a
meaningful discussion about him with your grandparents
Heading into June 1975,
Williams mania ramped up a notch. With less than a
week before the show, on June 11th, The Bay proclaimed "PAUL WILLIAMS WEEK"
with a half-page newspaper ad.
May 24, 1975
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Concert ticket stub
click to enlarge
The week of June 16,
1975, was a busy one, concert-wise, featuring something
for everyone. Homegrown country star
Connors brought his unique brand of patriotism to the
Concert Hall on Monday night (presumably the stage was
swept of clear of sawdust in time for Paul's show the
following night.) On Thursday, hosehead power trio
would light up the Arena. Sandwiched in between
these Can-con icons was an event that made sense only in
Winnipeg: full-blown Williams-mania, complete with
tossed autograph books, stage invasions, and nearly 5000
girls (and about twelve boys) gone hysterical for an
unexpected matinee idol. During the show,
Paul was presented with an official Gold record for
Canadian sales of 50,000 copies of the Phantom of the
Paradise soundtrack. Throughout his stay, he
required the accompaniment of a bodyguard. At one
point, he was forced to run a gauntlet of sorts, chased
by a mob of girls from the doors of the Holiday Inn to
the sanctuary of his limousine (film footage of this incident
is said to exist).
In a 2004 interview,
Williams laughed at the memory of his reception here. "This
is the kind of information that assures me the Big Amigo
has a sense of humour.
It was amazing coming to your town
and feeling like a Beatle for a day -- very empowering
for a 34-year-old ego. I was one of those kids in high
school who couldn't get a date if his life depended on
it. I'm totally flattered."
While reviews of the concert the next day were
fairly positive (neither daily newspaper sent an
entertainment writer; Gene was in Europe and the Freep
just didn't have one), they all seemed to struggle with
the concept of Williams-mania:
In the afterglow,
everyone seemed to want to get on the bandwagon. A
stereo shop ran a self-congratulatory ad for rescuing
the concert's sound system at the last minute.
More significantly, Ron Brooker seemed to realize his
plans for a Phantom of the
Paradise relaunch three
days after the concert, as the film began a new
engagement at the Park Theatre on Friday, June 20, 1975.
click to enlarge
1975 movie ad
All systems were go.
The Phantom was back.
Or was he?
Dream it Never