Edna Purviance (pronounced Purr-VYE-ance) was born in Paradise Valley, Nevada, to Louis and Madison Gates Purviance. When she was three, the family moved to Lovelock, Nevada, where they assumed ownership of a hotel property. 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 attended business college in San Francisco.
In 1915, Chaplin was working on his second film with Essanay Studios, working out of Niles, California, one hour southeast of San Francisco. He was looking for a leading lady for A Night Out, and 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 1915–1917. 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. She went on to appear in two more films: The Sea Gull, also known as A Woman of the Sea—which Chaplin never released—and Education de Prince, a French film released in 1927, just before she retired as an actress. Chaplin kept her on his payroll until her death.
Although she was romantically involved with Chaplin for several years, Purviance eventually married John Squire, a Pan-American Airlines pilot, whom she wed in 1938 and who died in 1945. Recently silent films, in black-and-white and colour, have been discovered that show a glimpse into their life together from the late 1930s and early 1940s, and over 50 production stills from her unreleased film The Sea Gull, have also come to light. These stills have been published with the original title list from the film.
Purviance died of cancer on January 13, 1958, at the age of 62 (as per her official California death certificate). She is interred in the Grand View Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
There is currently a petition drive to commemorate Purviance's career with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
In other media
She was portrayed by Penelope Ann Miller in the film Chaplin, and more recently by Katie Maguire in the film Madcap Mabel (2009).