KC over at Classic Movies tells me that today is Edna Purviance's birthday. Well, so it is! Edna would have been 115 today if she hadn't—well, you know.
Edna Purviance (pronounced Purr-VYE-ance) is remembered primarily as Charlie Chaplin's leading lady in all those shorts he made as the Essanay and Mutual studios during the silent era. She was working as a stenographer in San Francisco when she caught Chaplin's roving eye; he hired her on for his first film as Essanay Studios—1915's A Night Out—and she became his leading lady in three dozen features and shorts, more than any other actress.
"Mr. Chaplin asked me if I would like to act in pictures with him," she said later. "I laughed at the idea, but agreed to try it. I guess he took me because I had nothing to unlearn and he could teach me in his own way. I want to tell you that I suffered untold agonies. Eyes seemed to be everywhere. I was simply frightened to death. But he had unlimited patience in directing me and teaching me."
The two were romantically involved for a brief time until Chaplin's marriage in 1918 to seventeen year old Mildred Harris. Nevertheless, Purviance continued to star in Chaplin's movies, including such classics as The Kid, The Immigrant and A Dog's Life.
In 1923, Chaplin attempted to launch Purviance on an independent career, directing her in the drama A Woman Of Paris. Although highly regarded today, the picture was a flop at the box office and Purviance all but retired from acting.
Despite the end of their professional and romantic relationships, Chaplin kept Purviance on the studio payroll for the rest of her life and cast her in bit parts in Monsieur Verdoux and Limelight. She was married once, to Pan-Am pilot John Squire, and the two remained married until his death did them part in 1945. Purviance herself died of throat cancer in 1958.
But as always, the best way to get to know a film figure is to watch the movie. Here are two, The Cure and The Adventurer. Purviance plays "The Girl" in both. You can also click here to watch perhaps her greatest film, The Immigrant, which is preserved in the National Film Registry.
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