Mary Philbin, a star of silent films best known for her role in the classic Lon Chaney version of “The Phantom of the Opera,” died May 7 in Huntington Beach. She was 89.“Her personality was the same as on the screen — a sweet, innocent girl,” said Los Angeles silent film buff Laurence Austin, the manager of Silent Movie, the nation’s only silent film house. Philbin, who never married, played the singer Christine in the 1925 version of “Phantom,” the first feature film of the famous tale. Her career ended with the advent of talkies. According to Austin, Philbin occasionally appeared at Hollywood Memorial Park mausoleum to observe the anniversary of the death of fellow silent film star Rudolf Valentino. Born July 16, 1903, in Chicago, Philbin was the 16-year-old runner-up in a beauty contest when she drew the attention of Carl Laemmle, president of Universal Pictures Corp. The winner, Gertrude Olmsted, got a trip to Hollywood and became a star, but Laemmle also invited Philbin and her mother to Hollywood. Philbin worked with Lionel Barrymore in “The Gaiety Girl” in 1924 and “Stella Maris” in 1925. Her other films include “The Blazing Trail” (1924); “The Age of Desire” (1923 ); “The Man Who Laughs” (1927); “Drums of Love” (1928); and “Girl Overboard” ( 1929). Philbin is entombed at Calvary Cemetery in Whittier.
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