The Movies Silently Glossary: To be philbined


Sometimes, there is just no word for what you want to say. Fortunately, English is something of a linguistic slinky* and so I am going to boldly make up my own words to fit my needs. Naturally, these needs are connected to silent film.


verb | ˈfil-bin

to hire an acclaimed actor, director or other film talent and oblige them to work with a terrible performer who is a box office draw or otherwise in favor with management.

This is named for actress Mary Philbin, a lovely woman who had all the acting talent of a plate of pancakes. She was a friend of Universal head Carl Laemmle’s family and was regularly cast in big roles after her discovery by Erich von Stroheim.

Lon Chaney was philbined in The Phantom of the Opera.** Director E.A. Dupont was philbined with Love Me and the World is Mine. Ivan Mosjoukine was philbined in Surrender.

One of the few performers to escape his philbining relatively unscathed was Conrad Veidt. He and director Paul Leni actually managed to drag something resembling a performance out of her in The Man Who Laughs.

For the record, Miss Philbin actually seemed like a sweet woman and her movie recollections are clear and accurate. I would love to have had a cup of tea with her but I would never, ever have wanted to work with her. The issue actually has more to do with Carl Laemmle than Philbin herself but to “laemmle” someone has many more implications than the narrow definition I require.

*I heard “linguistic slinky” somewhere and don’t remember where. Apologies for no credit for this excellent turn of phrase.

** To double the “n” or not? I didn’t, mainly because the pronunciation “fill-BIND” makes me giggle.


  1. Emily

    I think she did alright in The Man Who Laughs, but yes, bless her sweet soul, she was no actress. I think it was more than a lack of singing/dancing talent that did her in at the dawn of the talkie period.

  2. Carter Burrell

    Here’s a question for you. Suppose you had to cast an ingenue lead for a romantic film. Your choices are: Lina Basquette, Carol Dempster, or Mary Philbin. Who do you choose, and why?;-)

    1. Fritzi Kramer

      Well, Basquette is a general pain in the rear so she’s out. I would only take Philbin if she came as a package deal with Conrad Veidt. Dempster shows promise if she has an axe in her hands and isn’t obliged to leap and twirl and squeal at bunnies, so I’d probably take her.

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