When John Philbin left Cloonliffen, Ballinrobe in 1900 to emigrate to the United States he probably had never heard of Hollywood...

Photo:Mary Philbin

Mary Philbin

by Bernard Joyce

Photo:Producer and talent agent Paul Kohner who came to Hollywood in 1920, and in 1938 he opened a talent agency and managed the careers of Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Dolores del Rio, Maurice Chevalier, Billy Wilder, Liv Ullmann, Henry Fonda, David Niven, Erich von Stroheim, Ingmar Bergman, Lana Turner and Mary Philbin.

Producer and talent agent Paul Kohner who came to Hollywood in 1920, and in 1938 he opened a talent agency and managed the careers of Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Dolores del Rio, Maurice Chevalier, Billy Wilder, Liv Ullmann, Henry Fonda, David Niven, Erich von Stroheim, Ingmar Bergman, Lana Turner and Mary Philbin.

by donor

Photo:Mary Philbin in one of her many roles c 1920

Mary Philbin in one of her many roles c 1920

by donor

Mary Philbin's life

By Bernard Joyce

When John Philbin left Cloonliffen, Ballinrobe in 1900 to emigrate to the United States he probably had never heard of Hollywood, California let alone intend to  spend most of his life there. 

Marriage

John married within 2 years of arriving in America and in 1903 his daughter Mary was born in Chicago. 

His only daughter Mary

As an only child Mary had a comfortable upbringing in a strict catholic home. Her father would take her to local theatres and occasionally to an opera and so began Mary's dream of becoming a stage actress.  At home she would act out the heroines roles she had seen on stage and when she heard a movie production company were looking for new talent she auditioned immediately.

Movie star

The director smitten with Mary’s beauty and eagerness offered her a leading role at the age of 16 in the movie 'Blind Husbands' (later reduced to a minor role).   This meant moving to L A which her parents were against, until they heard close family friends were relocating there also, so decided to move so they could act as Mary's chaperones.

Chaperones

When Mary was on a film set her parents were also there guarding her from the Hollywood 'wolves'. In 1921 Mary appeared in 6 movies including 'Danger Ahead 'and 'The Blazing Trail'.  The following year Mary starred in 'Foolish Wives', the most expensive film production to that date.

Love of her life

In 1923 Mary met the love of her life Paul Kohner , a studio executive and a member of the Jewish faith.   As a conflict of religion arose they kept their relationship secret.  Mary's career really took off in 1923 with 'Where is West' and 'Temple of Venus' among others with Paul Kohner sometimes as producer, allowing her more time to be with him.  The following year she starred in 'The Rose of Paris' which led her to be cast in what would be  her best remembered and most famous role, that of Christine alongside one the greats of  early Hollywood, Lon Chaney,  in 'The Phantom of the Opera' in 1925.

Marriage proposal

By now Mary was gracing magazine covers and endorsing products and in 1926 Paul proposed marriage to her.  At this stage, her parents  had divorced,  her father remarried and Mary had grown closer to her mother.  A family meeting was called regarding the marriage proposal and when Paul admitted he was a staunch Jew, Mary was given an ultimatum by her mother, marry Paul and she would be disowned. Mary relented, gave Paul back the engagement ring and lost her sweetheart (she never married).   

Final movie

With the advent of  'talkies' Mary's movie career began to decline as did a lot of other silent film stars  as some just couldn't make the change.   Mary's final film was 'After the Fog' - a 'talkie' - in 1929.

Recluse

Mary abandoned her life in films, Hollywood forgot her and she became a virtual recluse. In the 1960s it was discovered she was living in the same house she had bought for her parents, decades earlier.  During her self imposed exile she was an avid churchgoer and visited friends. In 1988 she made her first public appearance since 1931 at a memorial service for Rudolph Valentino.

Love letters

It was about this time she received the news of Paul's death and the discovery of letters she had sent him during their courtship. She then revealed she had kept all of Paul's letters he had written to her all those years ago. She made two more public appearances soon afterwards soon disappearing back to her private life.

During her time in Hollywood Mary made 31 films.   

Mary Philbin died on May 7th 1991 aged 89.

This page was added by Averil Staunton on 13/03/2012.

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