Mary Philbin reached the peak of her career when she starred along side Lon Chaney in Universal’s The Phantom of the Opera. It was said that her famous reaction during the unmasking scene was real due to beratement by Lon Chaney. (Chaney immediately apologized to the young Philbin after the scene was captured.) Philbin’s acting career, however, wasn’t the most fascinating aspect of her life; her forbidden romance was.
After the commercial success of The Phantom of the Opera, Philbin became romantically involved with Universal Studios producer Paul Kohner. Being Irish Catholic, Philbin thought it wise to keep her love for the Jewish producer a secret. The couple became engaged in May of 1926 and broke their silence. As suspected, their pending union was despised and Philbin eventually ended the engagement upon her family threatening to disown her. Six years later, Kohner married actress Lupita Tovar. Philbin, however, never moved on and remained unmarried until her death in 1993. Upon Kohner’s death in 1988, workers tasked with cleaning the late producer’s office discovered a pile of letters in Kohner’s desk. Only then was it revealed that, despite their broken engagement, Kohner never stopped loving Philbin and had retained all of her love letters in close proximity. Philbin, who was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, wept at the news and produced her own pile of love letters which included some that had been written to Philbin after Kohner’s marriage to Tovar.
Mary Philbin now rests next to her father in block 35 of Calvary Cemetery’s main mausoleum.