Mary Philbin was one of the top actresses of the silent film era, a favorite of directors and her fellow actors, and considered the screen equal of Mary Pickford, Florence Lawrence and Lillian Gish. But her life story would make a perfect silent melodrama, full of early success and stardom, over-protective and controlling parents, bitter family strife, forbidden love and, ultimately, loss.
Philbin was born in Chicago on July 16, 1902, the daughter of John and Mary Philbin. (Many sources cite 1903 as the year of her birth, but her crypt marker lists 1902.) Her father took her to plays and sometimes even opera performances in Chicago, and she decided at a young age that she wanted a career in the theater. She took dance and music lessons, and one of her young friends was Rebecca “Carla” Laemmle, the niece of Universal Studios founder Carl Laemmle.
When she was 16, Philbin heard that director Erich von Stroheim was coming to Chicago to search for new talent for his film… read more