Mary Philbin (July 16, 1902 – May 7, 1993) was a notable film actress of the silent film era. Philbin is probably best remembered for playing the roles of Christine Daaé in the 1925 film The Phantom of the Opera opposite screen legend Lon Chaney and Dea in The Man Who Laughs. Both of these roles cast her as the beauty in a Beauty and the Beast-type story.
Life and Career
Born in Chicago, Illinois into a middle-class Irish American Catholic family, she began her acting career after winning a beauty contest sponsored by Universal Pictures. Her father John Philbin was born in Ballinrobe, County Mayo, Ireland.
Mary Philbin made her screen debut in 1921 and during the 1920s she became a highly successful film actress and starred in a number of high profile films, most notably in D. W. Griffith's 1928 film Drums of Love. In 1922 Philbin was awarded at the first annual WAMPAS Baby Stars awards, a promotional campaign sponsored by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers in the United States, which honored thirteen young women each year whom they believed to be on the threshold of movie stardom. Like so many publicly acclaimed silent film actors and actresses however, Philbin was unable to continue a successful acting career during the talkie era of the early 1930s. 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 rereleased.
Philbin retired from the screen in the early 1930s and devoted her life to caring for her aging parents. She was engaged in 1927 to Universal Studio executive, Paul Kohner; but due to her parents dissuasion from the union (as she was Catholic and he was a staunch Czech Jew), she called off the engagement. And in 1935 was also engaged to a young police officer named David McCarrison but was also called off. 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.
Mary Philbin died of pneumonia, aged 90, in Huntington Beach, California in 1993 and was buried at the Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.