Edna Purviance's bio

Currently working on Edna Purviance's family biography. Draft is done. Photo: Leading Ladies © used by ednapurviance.org

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Edna Purviance Arrives at Essanay Studio

On this day: Thursday, January 21, 1915, Edna Purviance arrived at the Essanay Studio in Niles, California. Charlie Chaplin was reported to have arrived at Niles on January 18th. He just arrived in the San Francisco area over the weekend of January 16th. Edna's photograph in the San Francisco Examiner appeared on Sunday, January 17, 1915.

In the Thursday, January 21, 1915 issue of The Examiner, the paper stated seeing Charlie Chaplin at the Gaiety Theatre, where he spoke with reporters. He was watching "Tillie's Punctured Romance" and seeing "pictures of all the interesting incidents of the recent Auditorium ball" which was held on January 9th, 1915.

A short walk away, was the St. Francis Hotel, the place Chaplin said he first met Edna.

Now exactly how and where Charlie and Edna first met has been written in several accounts, even by Chaplin and Purviance. But accurate accounts can be hard to find. Example being, Charlie and Edna's stories at the time were based more on a few facts, laced with fiction, filled in by studio publicity departments. While most writers know this, I found evidence of this practice from the Chaplin Studio publicity department from Edna's own archive.

Why the fiction? For many reasons, but protecting privacy was one.

So to state exactly how they first met isn't really known, but I do agree Edna knew someone from Essanay. And for an added fact, the studio used local livestock for their westerns. This does tie into the fact Edna's brother-in- law, Sydney Hill, was manager of one of the largest ranches in California at the time. And Sydney's home base for his job was in the San Francisco bay area. It is just another link to how Edna could have met someone from Essanay, before she ever met Charlie Chaplin.

While Sydney did work for the California ranch company, he and his family still lived in Lovelock. Bessie never lived in San Francisco, but she did visit there often. Edna and Myrtle were the only sisters who lived in San Francisco. At the time of this event, Bessie was in Lovelock, as was Louise Purviance Nurnberger (Edna's mother). Louise was running her boardinghouse and Bessie was caring for her son Morgan, who was attending school in Lovelock.

How Bessie ever got mentioned as the sister Edna was living with in San Francisco, has been an error. Myrtle married a San Francisco native and lived there a few different times, over the years. Anytime Edna visited San Francisco during her film career, it was always to Myrtle's home. In later years, Edna and Jack Squire lived in San Francisco. It was in a fine neighborhood, in an high story apartment building, overlooking the San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate Bridge.

Other facts: Essanay did have a tie to the January 9th ball, because they were filming the event. And the Gaiety Theatre (where Chaplin watched "Tillie") was built and owned by G.M. Anderson, the man who signed Charles Chaplin to Essanay. Chaplin did say he went to San Francisco, with Anderson, to see girls in the theatres, but he didn't mention in his biography, he watched a movie.

"Tillie's" started at 11AM each day. On January 19 or 20th, Chaplin was at a showing, and could have had a meeting with Edna, at the dining room of the St. Francis, afterwards.

It has been mentioned that Edna was a waitress at that time, but I have not been able to find any solid evidence to support it. I have found evidence of Edna's interest in the secretary field, clear back to Lovelock, where she took a business course in Lovelock. (Both her sisters studied business school courses too.) Myrtle was able to support herself, and found success in the field of bookkeeping. But I found no evidences of the girls being waitresses, except, maybe, to help with Louise's boardinghouse. But the meals at Louise's boardinghouse business was always leased out for other people to run. Except to help out or to hold a special event, Louise never ran the boardinghouse kitchen.

So from the evidences I have found, so far, Edna most likely was working as a secretary at the time she met Chaplin. Edna attending the popular cafes at the time, was more likely as a diner, not a server. And one person she probably met as a diner was Charlie Chaplin.

And what role did Edna's photo in the San Francisco Examiner play in this? I do believe it had a role, in at least Chaplin seeing Edna, in print, before meeting her. Oddly, it has never been mentioned in any Chaplin related information, except for the oddly mentioned story, where Edna is quoted as saying she was picked out of a large group of girls. That never made any sense (as it was written) and seemed more fanciful than fact. (Makes for a colorful story.) But seeing Edna in this newspaper story, with thousands of women at the ball, does make sense and could be how she was found so fast, and lead to her being at Essanay on this day, in 1915.

Click on the Edna History label below for more.

Updated Note: We have been getting our The Sea Gull set up with a new printer, because our old printer abandoned us, right in the middle of an order they needed to correct (they sent us poorly printed books, but stopped contact in fully correcting it). On Friday, January 22nd, we received our first newly printed proof book. I just noticed the date for the printing of the proof was January 21, 2010. The proof came out very well. So very nice to have the re-started Sea Gull, start on the same date, as Edna started with Essanay, on Thursday, January 21, 1915.

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