Did Gaston Leroux see the 1925 Phantom movie? I feel like I've seen stuff in the past that says he did, but I'm not sure. If so, do you know what his opinion was on it?
We can’t say for definitively certain, but the prevailing rumor is that yes, he did! He certainly knew about the film being made before it was, as he sold the rights to Universal.
Carl Laemmle, Universal Pictures producer, said in 1924 in a radio interview with WOR Radio Los Angeles:
When I found that there was no Opera that seemed suitable for screen presentation - and by that I mean one that would make the kind of picture people of today would want to see - I set about looking for books written about life at the opera. I was stumped, until I met Gaston Leroux, the famous French author, in Paris about three years ago. He told me I need search no further. Leroux had written a book which had become a best seller almost overnight. The name of it was The Phantom of the Opera. I remember buying a copy and sitting up all night to read it. It is a marvelously interesting story… It was just the book I had dreamed of finding.
In his book The Making of the Phantom of the Opera, Philip J. Riley claims that Leroux not only saw the completed film, but even worked on a sequel film a little bit:
When the original release of the 1925 The Phantom of the Opera reached France in 1925, Gaston Leroux was riding high on the world-wide fame that had come to him from the 15 year old novel. The book sales had assured him a steady income to care for his family. [He was ill and would only live another 2 years.]
When Leroux saw Erik disappear under the waters of the Weine instead of dying in the Opera Catacombs - alone, Leroux’s imagination went to work again and the result was a sequel called “The Return of the Phantom.” The rights were eventually bought from Leroux’s widow, in 1929.
From Gaston Leroux’s files and some speculation to fill in the gaps, the outline was interesting, but it could have also been a joke by Leroux that was taken seriously.
While Christine and Raoul are on a train taking them away from Paris and the Opera to live a quiet life, the Phantom’s body washes up on the shores of the Seine. It is found by the Persian, who discovers that it is not Erik. Erik was still alive! The Persian goes back to the Phantom’s hideout to discover that all of Erik’s clothes, music and instruments are gone. The Persian begins his search for Erik. It appears that Erik is leaving clues purposely leading the Persian out of the country.
Christine and Raoul are living happily in Madrid, where he is on leave from his post with the military to attend Christine’s premiere at the Opera house in Madrid. Meanwhile the Persian tracks Erik to Madrid and finds out that Erik put his cape on one of the unfortunate mob members during the confusion on the steps at the river bank and escaped underwater using his reed.
That was about as far as the Leroux idea went…
Riley’s book has a lot of good information in it but does not clearly mark its sources, so it’s hard to tell where this exact tidbit came from or how credible it is. But I think we can all enjoy the amazing concept of a sequel movie that is solely dedicated to the daroga chasing Erik around Europe while Raoul and Christine hilariously never even notice the fact that the Phantom keeps trying to interfere in their lives only to be tackled at the last moment by the Chief of the Persian Secret Police and knocked out of the frame before they see him.
Or, as Riley speculates, it could be a joke Leroux wrote down in response to seeing the movie version of his book, and the old man could be delightfully trolling us from beyond the grave. Frankly, I love both possibilities.