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Chaplin’s leading lady- These photos show the beauty of Edna Purviance

Neil Patrick

Edna Purviance was an American actress during the silent movie era. She was the leading lady in many of Charlie Chaplin’s early films and in a span of eight years, she appeared in over 30 films with him.

Olga Edna Purviance was born in Paradise Valley, Nevada, to English immigrant Louisa Wright Davey and an American vintner in the western mining camps, Madison (Matt) Gates Purviance. When she was three, the family moved to Lovelock, Nevada, where they assumed ownership of a hotel.  Her parents divorced in 1902, and her mother later married Robert Nurnberger, a German plumber. Growing up, Purviance was a talented pianist.

She left Lovelock in 1913 and moved in with her married sister Bessie while attending business college in San Francisco.

In 1915, Purviance was working as a secretary in San Francisco when actor and director Charlie Chaplin was working on his second film with Essanay Studios, working out of Niles, California, one hour southeast of San Francisco, in Southern Alameda County. He was looking for a leading lady for A Night Out. One of his associates noticed Purviance at a Tate’s Café in San Francisco and thought she should be cast in the role. Chaplin arranged a meeting with her and, although he was concerned that she might be too serious for comedic roles, she won the job.

Chaplin and Purviance were romantically involved during the making of his Essanay, Mutual, and First National films of 1915 to 1917. Purviance appeared in 33 of Chaplin’s productions, including the 1921 classic The Kid. Her last film with him, A Woman of Paris, was also her first lead role. The film was not a success and effectively ended Purviance’s career.

Edna Purviance (1895 - 1958) Source

Edna Purviance (1895 – 1958) Source

 

Edna Purviance Signed Photo Source

Edna Purviance Signed Photo Source

 

Edna Purviance Source

Edna Purviance Source

 

Promotional photograph for The Immigrant (1917). Source

Promotional photograph for The Immigrant (1917). Source

 

Publicity photo of Edna Purviance from The Blue Book of the Screen by Ruth Wing, editor Source

Publicity photo of Edna Purviance from The Blue Book of the Screen by Ruth Wing, editor Source

 

Real Photo Movie Card of Edna Purviance Source

Real Photo Movie Card of Edna Purviance Source

 

Still from the American comedy film A Dog's Life (1918) with Edna Purviance and Charlie Chaplin, on page 22 of the April 13, 1918 Exhibitors Herald. Source

Still from the American comedy film A Dog’s Life (1918) with Edna Purviance and Charlie Chaplin, on page 22 on April 13, 1918, Exhibitors Herald. Source

 

The Aristocrat of Motion Picture Magazines 1915 Source

The Aristocrat of Motion Picture Magazines 1915 Source

 

The Pawnshop (Mutual, 1916) with Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, and John Rand. Lobby Card Source

The Pawnshop (Mutual, 1916) with Charlie Chaplin, Edna Purviance, and John Rand. Lobby Card Source

 

This is a shot of the end of Behind the Screen..Source

Edna was portrayed by Penelope Ann Miller in the film Chaplin, and more recently by Katie Maguire in the film Madcap Mabel (2010)…Source

She went on to appear in only two more films:  Seagull known as A Woman of the Sea (which Chaplin never released) and Éducation de Prince, a French film released in 1927, just before she retired from acting. She has been credited as an extra in Chaplin’s final two American movies, Monsieur Verdoux and Limelight. Chaplin kept her on his payroll until her death in 1958.

Although she was romantically involved with Charlie Chaplin for several years, Purviance eventually married John Squire, a Pan-American Airlines pilot, in 1938. They remained married until his death in 1945.

On January 11, 1958, Purviance died from throat cancer at the Motion Picture Country Hospital in Hollywood.  Her remains are interred at Grand View Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California