Mary Philbin

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Mary Philbin
Mary Philbin by Jack Freulich.jpg
Philbin c. 1920
Born(1902-07-16)July 16, 1902
DiedMay 7, 1993(1993-05-07) (aged 90)
Years active1918–1930
PartnerPaul Kohner (1923–1927)

Mary Loretta Philbin (July 16, 1902 – May 7, 1993)[1][2] was an American film actress of the silent film era, who is best known for playing the roles of Christine Daaé in the 1925 film The Phantom of the Opera opposite Lon Chaney, and as Dea in The Man Who Laughs alongside Conrad Veidt. Both roles cast her as the beauty in Beauty and the Beast-type stories.

Early life[edit]

Philbin was born on July 16, 1902[3] in Chicago, Illinois, into a middle-class Irish American family and raised Catholic.[4] She was an only child, and was named after her mother, Mary. Her father, John Philbin,[5] was born in Ballinrobe, County Mayo, Ireland, and had emigrated to America in 1900.


Postcard of Mary Philbin, c. 1922

Philbin began her acting career after winning a beauty contest sponsored by Universal Pictures in Chicago.[3] After she moved to California, Erich von Stroheim signed her to a contract with Universal, deeming her a "Universal Super Jewel."[5]

She made her screen debut in 1921, and the following year was honored at the first WAMPAS Baby Stars awards, a promotional campaign sponsored by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers in the United States, which annually honored young women whom they believed to be on the threshold of movie stardom.[citation needed]

During the 1920s, Philbin starred in a number of high-profile films, most notably in D. W. Griffith's 1928 film Drums of Love. In 1927, she appeared in Edward Sloman's Surrender with Ivan Mosjoukine,[6] though her most celebrated role was in the Universal horror film The Phantom of the Opera in 1925.[7] Philbin's ethereal screen presence was noted in a 1924 edition of Motion Picture Classic, in which she was referred to as "one of the astonishing anomalies of motion pictures...Pat O'Malley once said of her: "If I were superstitious I would think that the spirit of some great tragedienne of a forgotten past slipped into Mary's soul."[8]

Philbin played a few parts during the early talkie era and most notably dubbed her own voice when The Phantom of the Opera was given sound and re-released. She retired from the screen in 1930 and devoted her life to caring for her aging parents.[citation needed]

Later life and death[edit]

Philbin spent the remainder of her life after leaving the film industry as a recluse, living in the same home in Huntington Beach, California.[3] She never married and rarely made public appearances. One rare public appearance by Philbin occurred in her later years at the Los Angeles opening of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical The Phantom of the Opera.

She died of pneumonia at age 90 in 1993 and was buried at the Calvary Cemetery in east Los Angeles, California.[9]

Personal life[edit]

From 1923 to 1927, Philbin was in a relationship with Paul Kohner. They had been introduced to each other by Erich von Stroheim. They secretly became engaged in 1926,[10] but never married due to the disapproval of Philbin's parents (Kohner was Jewish, and the Philbin family were staunch Catholics, and they were worried that he would try to convert her to Judaism). In 1929, it was rumored that they were going to marry in June of that year, but it never happened.[11] During their relationship, Philbin had an affair with western star Guinn "Big Boy" Williams.[12]

Kohner went on to marry Lupita Tovar in 1932, while Philbin never married. When Kohner died, he still had love letters Philbin had written to him in his possession. She had also kept his.[13][14]


Mary Philbin in Danger Ahead (1921)
Year Title Role Notes
1921 The Blazing Trail Talithy Millicuddy
1921 Danger Ahead Tressie Harloow Lost film
1921 Twelve Hours to Live Short
1921 No Clothes to Guide Him Short
1921 Red Courage Eliza Fay Lost film
1921 Sure Fire Lost film
1921 False Kisses Mary
1922 Foolish Wives Crippled girl Uncredited
1922 The WAMPAS Baby Stars of 1922 Herself Short
1922 The Trouper Mary Lee Lost film
1922 Human Hearts Ruth
1922 His First Job Jimmy's Sweetheart Short
1922 Once to Every Boy Jimmy's Sweetheart Short
1923 Penrod and Sam Margaret Schofield
1923 Merry-Go-Round Agnes Urban
1923 Where is This West? Sallie Summers
1923 The Age of Desire Margy (age 18) Lost film
1923 The Temple of Venus Moira
1923 The Thrill Chaser Herself Cameo appearance, lost film
1924 Fools Highway Mamie Rose Lost film
1924 The Gaiety Girl Irene Tudor Lost film
1924 The Rose of Paris Mitsi
1925 The Phantom of the Opera Christine Daaé
1925 Fifth Avenue Models Isoel Ludant
1925 Stella Maris Stella Maris / Unity Blake
1927 Life in Hollywood No.3 Herself Short
1927 Love Me and the World Is Mine Hannerl
1927 Surrender Lea Lyon
1928 Drums of Love Princess Emanuella
1928 The Man Who Laughs Dea
1929 Girl Overboard Joan Lost film
1929 The Last Performance Julie Fergeron
1929 The Shannons of Broadway Tessie Swanzey
1929 After the Fog Faith Barker Final film role

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ Resting Places
  2. ^ "California Death Index, 1940–1997," database, FamilySearch ( : 26 November 2014), Mary Loretta Philbin, 07 May 1993; Department of Public Health Services, Sacramento.
  3. ^ a b c Slide 2002, p. 307.
  4. ^ "Recently Noted". The Catholic Charities Review. 26–27: 70. 1942.
  5. ^ a b Sanchez 1930, p. 159.
  6. ^ Beck 1978, p. 63.
  7. ^ Beck 1978, p. 62.
  8. ^ "Tears". Motion Picture Classic. 20–21: 41. 1924.
  9. ^ Wilson, Scott (2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons, 3d ed. McFarland. p. 588. ISBN 978-1476625997. Retrieved 26 December 2017.
  10. ^ Kohner, Pancho (5 April 2011). Lupita Tovar the Sweetheart of Mexico. ISBN 9781456877378.
  11. ^ "Motion Picture". 1929.
  12. ^ Kohner, Pancho (5 April 2011). Lupita Tovar the Sweetheart of Mexico. ISBN 9781456877378.
  13. ^ "Films in Review". 1970.
  14. ^ Lamparski, Richard (1989). Whatever Became Of-- ? All New Eleventh Series: 100 Profiles of the Most-asked-about Movie, TV, and Media Personalities, Hundreds of Never-before-published Facts, Dates, Etc. On Celebrities, 227 Then-and-now Photographs. ISBN 9780517571507.


External links[edit]