A Tribute to Mary Philbin
Even though Mary Philbin is best known for unmasking Lon Chaney in The Phantom of the Opera (1925), she was in a number of Universal’s best known productions of the 1920’s. Born on July 16, 1903, in Chicago, Mary had a strict Irish Catholic upbringing.
Mary entered the 1920 Herald-Examiner Elks’ beauty contest in Chicago and Universal Studios mogul Carl Laemmle immediately signed her to a contract and she was to remain with Universal through 1929.
Mary made her film debut in "The Blazing Trail" (1921) and had the good fortune to be cast as Erich Von Stroheim’s leading lady in "Merry-Go-Round" (1923). Mary tried unsuccessfully to emulate Mary Pickford in the 1925 remake of "Stella Maris." She was Conrad Veidt’s co-star in "The Man Who Laughs" (1927) and "The Last Performance" (1927). In 1928, Mary was loaned to D.W. Griffith for "Drums of Love", one of the director’s lesser works.
It was after the opening night of "The Man Who Laughs" (1927) that Mary announced her engagement to agent Paul Kohner, who had co-written Mary’s 1928 film, "Love Me and the World is Mine,"directed by E.A. Dupont.
Mary’s parents were outraged at the news that Paul Kohner was Jewish and she was told that she would be disowned if she married him. Paul was devastated when Mary gave him the engagement ring back. There were no further suitors in Mary’s life, and the actress never married. Mary did appear in three sound films in 1929, and she could have continued her career, but instead she retired. She never gave interviews after that and became a reclusive in her later years.
Mary appeared in a total of 32 films from 1921-1929.
It’s interesting to note that shortly after Paul Kohner’s death in 1989, workers cleaning out his office at his agency found Mary’s love letters close at hand in his desk more than sixty years later.
Paul Kohner married Mexican actress Lupita Tovar in 1932, and their marriage lasted until his death in 1989. They had two children. Lupita Tovar is now 102 years old.
Mary Philbin died on May 7, 1993. She was 90 years old.
Personally, I think Mary Philbin’s life was one of the saddest in Hollywood. It’s unfortunate that she allowed her parents to completely dominate her to the point that she never got to marry the man she loved, experience motherhood or just live on her own instead of living with her parents until they passed away. Mary had the tendency to give in to her parents’ wishes, and as a result, she had a very empty life.