Tag Archives: edna purviance

From Niles to Newhallywood

The ending of "The Tramp" in 1915.

At the conclusion of the Charlie Chaplin film, The Tramp (1915), Chaplin’s “little tramp” character, heartbroken after losing the girl, shuffles off alone down a winding dirt road.

The situation was much different twenty-one years later in the final scene from Modern Times when Chaplin retired the iconic character.

Charlie Chaplin was an English music hall performer in his early twenties when discovered by Mack Sennett and brought to Hollywood to star in the “flickers.” During his first year in the business in 1914, Chaplin made 35 films at Sennett’s Keystone Studios near Glendale, and rose from complete obscurity to become the most recognized man in the world.

Chaplin was only earning $175 per week at Keystone and got lured away to Essanay Studios the following year with the offer of a 700% raise (to $1250 per week) plus a $10,000 signing bonus.

Essanay Studios was named after the initials “S & A” of its two main partners, George Spoor and Gilbert “Broncho Billy” Anderson. It was based in Chicago but Broncho Billy, who was one of early cinema’s first cowboy stars, later came west to set up a second facility in the town of Niles, California to shoot Westerns.

After signing with Essanay, Chaplin first filmed in Chicago before coming to Niles. He wasn’t impressed with the town when he got there. The East Bay village was far too rural for the young man who had only ever lived in the big cities of London and Los Angeles.

Chaplin would only stay in Niles long enough to make a handful of films, but one of them, The Tramp, is today considered to be his first masterpiece.

In the film, Charlie stars in the role of his “little tramp” character, which he had created for Keystone. Sennett’s frenetic filming schedule had prevented him from developing the character fully, relying mostly on slapstick to get a laugh. At Essanay, Chaplin was able to add pathos to the character, making him more sympathetic.

At the end of The Tramp, Chaplin has been rejected by his lady (played by Edna Purviance) and walks off through the Niles Canyon alone. Dejected at first, he then shrugs his shoulders, picks up his pace, and hustles off in search of his next adventure.

When Chaplin decided to retire the character at the end of Modern Times in 1936, he came to the Santa Clarita Valley, which was known to early filmmakers as Newhallywood. In Modern Times, Chaplin paid homage to the final scene of The Tramp with a twist. He again walks off, but this time the road is straight and paved, and most importantly … he’s got his girl at his side. The Little Tramp’s days of facing the world alone have ended.

Chaplin and his works will be honored at the 2011 Santa Clarita Valley ChaplinFest on February 4 and 5 in Newhall, California, with films, lectures, book signings, and the dedication of a monument honoring the 75th anniversary of the release of Modern Times.

Some citizens of Niles will be on-hand to represent their town that day, including musician Michael McNevin.

The Little Tramp and his girl at the conclusion of "Modern Times" (1936).

To learn more about ChaplinFest, click here.

To learn more about Niles, click here.

The Tramp’s Lady

Chaplin's favorite leading lady, Edna Purviance.

In 1915, when Charlie Chaplin went searching for a leading lady to co-star in his film A Night Out, he reviewed all the available actresses he could find in San Francisco but couldn’t settle on one.

A colleague at Essanay Studios in nearby Niles, California, where Chaplin was filming at the time, told him about an uncommonly pretty girl he had seen in a café in the city. After tracking her down, Chaplin found that his colleague was correct. He later wrote that the woman he discovered was “more than pretty. She was beautiful.”

The woman was Edna Purviance, a 20-year-old who had recently moved to San Francisco from her native Nevada. She was working as a stenographer and had no prior acting experience. In spite of this, Chaplin chose to put her on-screen where he felt her presence would prove “decorative.”

More than simply eye-candy, Purviance proved to possess impeccable comic timing, and would become Chaplin’s leading lady on-screen and off for the next eight years. They would make a handful of films together in Niles over the next year before the pair headed to Hollywood where they made another 30 films together.

By 1923, Purviance’s relationship with Chaplin had cooled and Edna had become a steady drinker. She began gaining weight which made her look matronly, ending her status as a leading lady.

The final nail on the coffin of her film career was hammered that same year when she was involved in a Hollywood scandal involving Mabel Normand, another former Chaplin co-star. The two were attending a New Year’s Eve party in the company of a rich oilman when the millionaire’s chauffeur shot his employer with a gun. Although the women were never charged, the scandal made the two unemployable.

After her retirement from the screen, Purviance met and married Jack Squire, an airline pilot, and lived happily with him until his death in 1945.

Purviance would live for another 13 years, dying from cancer during this week in 1958 at age 62.

Chaplin and Purviance remained close throughout her life, and as a show of gratitude to his favorite leading lady, he kept her on his studio’s payroll until her death.

We will be showing the Chaplin-Purviance film The Pilgrim at ChaplinFest in Newhall on February 5, 2011.