A Birthday Remembrance - Edna Purviance (October 21st 1895)

This for me, sums up the significance of Edna Purviance in Charlie Chaplin’s early years as a film maker. (1915-1923).

“Was Edna Purviance Chaplin’s muse during the most important years of his film career?  Perhaps to some extent. For even without documented evidence of Chaplin ever referring to Edna as such, it is clear by screening the films she appears that her presence had an impact on several different levels. From the innocent ingenue to the amused observer, and from the supportive girlfriend to the overwrought bereaved mother, Edna Purviance was outstanding as an actress in the Chaplin canon.”

Author James L. Neibaur in “Chaplin at Essanay”. 

Be to her, Persephone, 

All the things I might not be; 

Take her head upon your knee. 

She that was so proud and wild, 

Flippant, arrogant and free, 

She that had no need of me, 

Is a little lonely child Lost in Hell,—Persephone, 

Take her head upon your knee; 

Say to her, “My dear, my dear, 

It is not so dreadful here.” 

-Edna St. Vincent Millay


Of all the interpretations of the myth, I like this perspective best. A guardian of sorts for broken and lost souls who could not be saved on this side.

Today is the birthday of a beautiful actress of the silent film era, that has sadly for the most part, been forgotten.

Edna Purviance was Charlie Chaplin’s leading lady, from 1915-1923, Edna  was in approx 34 of his films, from the Essanay, Mutual and First National period.

Edna Purviance was born in Nevada October 21st 1895, when Charlie met her in San Fransico, she had no aspirations to be an actress but he took her as his leading lady anyway, he thought she was more than pretty and if nothing else, she would look good on film.

Charlie and Edna had a romantic relationship from early 1915-late 1917, even after they were no longer romantically involved, she remained his leading lady.  In 1923 he created the part of Marie St Claire in  “A Woman of Paris”, he hoped it would help her towards a career as a dramatic actress, but things did not work out, and she retired in late 1920s, 

In 1938 she married a wonderful man, Jack Squire, he was a few years younger than Edna, he was a pilot and for a few years they lived in South America.  He died suddenly in 1945 of a heart attack,. Edna lived with her family till her own death in 1958 at the age of 62, battling cancer.

Edna Purviance was an integral part of Charlie Chaplin’s early success,  helping to form “the tramp” that we all grew to love.  Edna brought out the playful, flirting, romantic side of him, this very different from the Keystone “tramp” who was vulgar, crude and a skirt chaser.  While he would go on to have other leading ladies, in his next 9 films after 1923, he did not have the same screen chemistry with them,

 I believe, as a way of acknowledging her contribution to his early success, he kept her on his studio payroll, till her death in 1958