Saturday, April 5, 2008

Mary Philbin - She Unmasked 'The Phantom'

Mary Philbin was an actress in the silent days of cinema. She worked through the 1920s, and then retired from the screen.

Her most famous role was that of Christine Daae, a lovely young opera singer who is abducted by a disfigured masked composer who is in love with her. The masked figure, Erik, was played by Lon Chaney Sr., and the movie was "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925).

In the late 1970s, I was researching with a friend for a biography of Chaney. The book was never completed by us, but during the few years we compiled notes, we also contacted several of the still-living players who'd worked with Chaney.

In 1979, I wrote to Mary Philbin, and asked her if she'd kindly share any memories of Lon Chaney, and here is her very brief reply:
"Dear Mr. William Cappello:
Thank you for your nice 'fan' letter.
It is a great pleasure for me to tell you how fortunate I was to work with a fine actor and gentleman, as Mr. Chaney. He always treated everybody with respect and courtesy.
Mary Philbin"

Ms. Philbin was reclusive and shied away from interviews, as well as direct contact. I was fortunate to receive this reply. As I was only interested in anything she had to share about Chaney, I never sent her a photo to sign.

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