Madison Gates Purviance

Beyond Lovelock - (Biggs) - Part 7

The 1903 New Year began with the annual Lovelock Mask Ball and a new outlook for the Purviance girls.

For the first time since arriving in Lovelock, Louise, Edna and Myrtle were on their own. Madison had played his last hand with Louise in 1902, and Louise won. Louise was the official owner of 'The Workingmen's Hotel and Saloon'. She continued to lease the bar at The Workingmen's Hotel to her cousin J.B. Carmichael, even though she had a strong distaste for bars, as later documents would show. But she had to make a living and keep up with the other Lovelock hotels which had bars and cafes, and leasing a bar room wasn’t quite the same as running one.

Northern Nevada Sunrise

As Louise and the girls start their new lives, what happened to M.G. Purviance...

Madison Gates Purviance

Madison Gates Purviance
The first telling of the story of Edna Purviance’s father
Research by Linda Wada © - April 2004-2016

Part Seven - After the Divorce
Making an Impression
Lovelock and Beyond

'Madison almost disappear for good'

After the divorce, the name Madison Gates Purviance almost disappeared for good.

But Madison was not one to stay silent for long. In March of 1904, M.G. Purviance’s named reappeared in the Lovelock Argus for the very last time

Lovelock and Beyond
Madison was reported accepting a job as head miller at Fallon, Nevada’s new flourmill. Fallon was located south/southwest of Lovelock, just north of Wadsworth, Nevada where Mrs. Richardson lived.

The language in the article made it sound like Madison had been in Lovelock the whole time since the divorce. In his 50's he was starting over from scratch, and the familiarity of the town and his friends had to be a comfort. Madison was in the Lovelock area for most of 1903 until March of 1904.

I followed his trail to Fallon and researched nine years of newspaper documents, but so far have found nothing about his life there. I thought I had lost him for good until I ran across a very interesting deed at the Humboldt County Courthouse during my trip in the fall of 2002.

As reported in this deed, Louise and Madison owned a home in Paradise Valley, Nevada, that Madison had purchased in 1886. I always thought they sold that home to make the move to Lovelock, but they had not!

'Edna's birth home in Paradise Valley was the Purviance's until 1924'

Edna’s birth home in Paradise was still owned by the Purviances until Madison and Louise sold it in 1924. They rented the Paradise home to Mr. and Mrs. Dooley from late 1898 to 1924. Margaret Dooley finally bought the house in late 1924, following the death of her husband. Madison and Louise split the proceeds of the rent and sale.

Louise may have been responsible for keeping the old home in Paradise as security. She had lost her Hailey house, and Louise never wanted to be without a home again! If things didn’t work on in Lovelock, she could always return to Paradise.

Lovelock was not kind to her marriage, but Louise would keep her Lovelock home and business until 1924. She then leased her hotel to another single lady and then finally sold it to the same woman in 1931.

When Louise’s health started to fail in Lovelock, Edna, in a loving gesture, took her mother in at her new home in Los Angeles. This was also at a period when Edna was going through her best and worst of times in Hollywood. These events will be covered in future stories here on Edna's web site.

Louise lived at Edna's California home until her death in 1950. I have found no records yet of Louise owning any other home after Lovelock.

It is possible Louise could have helped Edna pay for that new home through the sale of Louise’s three Nevada properties. This included the hotel, the Paradise home and a Lovelock house that once belonged to Edna’s sister Myrtle. (All three daughters had learned the value of home ownership, and all three girls owned houses in their own name during their lifetime.)

But with the rest of the family settling into their new lives, where was Madison? Did he just simply disappear for good?

No! Luckily for me, in recording details of the sale of the Paradise Valley property in official court records, the clerk had listed Madison's new mailing address!

Louise and Madison were both living in California!

The Colonia Hotel in Biggs California

The Colonia Hotel. Madison lived in this hotel during some of his years in Bigg, California.
January 15, 2003 - Photo: Linda Wada

Orchid on the edge of Biggs

Orchid on the edge of town.
Biggs, California - January 15, 2003
Photo: Linda Wada

Water towers in the rail line in Biggs

''You know, Joe, you ougth to have a light on the top of that there water tower. What's that knob up there for, anyway?' - Madison 'Mickey' Purviance's remarks to Mr. Johnson the Biggs City Engineer out in front of the Acme garage, the afternoon before he died.
Photo: Linda Wada 2003

Edna Better off according to Madison Gates Purviance

Madison said during the Grey/Chaplin divorce.
Biggs, California - January 16, 1927
Madison's Final Years
in Biggs, California

In all the modern day writing on Edna, it was always so unclear about her real father. Maybe it is because the writing in Edna’s day had her father dead as early as 1902, but he was very much alive during all of Edna’s movie career!

'In 1918 Madison Purviance moved to Biggs'

In 1918, Madison Purviance moved to Biggs, California in Butte County. Why he chose Biggs, I am still researching.

Some of the newspaper reports described Madison as moving in from the Reno area (Fallon is actually not that far from Reno) and some others said Lovelock.

One thing is for sure, the people who came to know Madison all knew about Lovelock, since Lovelock was mentioned in the California newspapers!

If Paradise Valley, Nevada was supposed to be paradise, Biggs, California was what it should have looked like. Palm and orange trees dotted the landscape, and fields of strawberries and melons scented the air.

Unlike its desert sister in Nevada, Biggs had everything. Paradise Valley residents would have loved Biggs’ lush fields, sub-topical climate and plentiful water! At an altitude of 80 feet or so above sea level, Biggs was known for mild, rainy, winters, and hot, dry summers.

This farming valley could grow almost anything! Oranges, cherries, peaches, almonds, grapes and olives were just a few of the bounty from this rich farm growing area. But RICE was KING! And the KING of RICE was the Brinks family.

The Brinks were the largest rice mill owners in Biggs. The Brinks name is still known in the area today.

Madison, known for his mill skills, landed a job working at the local rice mill owned by Brinks. He worked there until about 1927, when his health no longer would allow him to work.

It also appears Madison had family in the area, for I found a legal deed of another Purviance family member near Biggs who owned a farm in the area. I have information that Madison’s brother William Purviance had relatives in central California also.

Madison did own property in Biggs for a few years, but for most of his later years he either lived at The Colonia Hotel in downtown Biggs or at a small cottage house two blocks south. The cottage house was owned by the Mayor of Biggs, A.J. Stohr. (Once again, Madison quickly became acquainted with the most important people in town!)

Madison, well known as 'Mickey', (also, as 'Michael George') was much beloved in Biggs and never was shy about striking up conservation with anyone.

During Charlie Chaplin’s divorce from Lita Grey, there was a chance that Edna would be leaving the Chaplin Film Company. Madison told the newspapers that Edna would be much 'better off' if she did not have a contract with the studio!

“She is able to typewrite 150 words a minute with ease and she can play the piano in a manner that would identify her as an artist, should she do so more publicly”, Madison said.

This alone tells me he must have seen Edna over the later years, especially her school years, because that is when she started playing piano at events instead of singing. He was very proud of his daughter Edna and praised his ‘very unusual girl’!

Madison’s daughters (Bessie, Myrtle and Edna) all asked Biggs’ Mayor A.J. Stohr and his wife to act as guardians to Madison. The Stohrs watched over Madison especially after his health started failing. About this time, it appears that Edna started to help her father with regular small gifts of money. (During my London trip seeing the Edna Collection, I found a note with the sum of $25 written to M.G. on a list of items crossed out.)

Bessie and her husband Sidney Hill, and Myrtle all made visits to Madison in Biggs. Edna even kept in contact with her father from France, mailing him letters and photos during the making of ‘Education de Prince’. I have not found a publicly reported visit between Edna and her father, but it is highly likely the two visited in private over the years.

After all the various accounts penned about Edna and her father, it was good to read that there was love still there. The divorce wasn’t between father and daughters, but man and wife. The daughters truly showed they cared about their father in his later years.

Two Close to Death…
In Biggs, I got the best look into Madison’s personality, better than in any other town. Here, he made a lasting impression on people. And if he had a drinking problem, he must have found away to control it. If alcohol were still a problem, it‘s hard to believe he could have ended up with so many highly respectable friends from the Butte County area.

The locals report that every single morning, like clockwork, Madison would get properly dressed and walk down mainstreet to his favorite store to pick up the morning newspaper. He did this for all the years he lived in Biggs from 1918 to 1932. Madison became a favorite person to talk to, and he could always be counted on for amusing and clever observations. All the town folks got to know Madison well.

Being a father of a famous movie star helps, but Madison, from his earliest days in Boise, Idaho, always possessed the ability to become a friend to the important people in town. (Edna certainly gained this ability too, becoming a close friend to one of the most famous men in movie history.)

Biggs Main Street
The Colonia Hotel to the left and the southside of main street in Biggs. The hotel looks very much the same as when Madison lived here. It was the most modern hotel in town in the 1920's. The Colonia is closed today.

It was Friday morning, February 19th, 1932 when Madison made his usual morning stroll down main street to pick up his newspaper. The same storeowner was there to greet Madison as he had since 1918. Madison told friends that day he wasn’t feeling very well and would pass on the evening’s activities and turn in early.

At home that night, if he had read the newspaper, he might have seen the news about Chaplin’s World Tour, as the coverage of the trip filled the local news. That same night what he didn’t read was that his daughter Edna was fighting for her life in Los Angeles.

That same night as Madison turned in early because he didn’t feel well, Edna Purviance was being rushed to Hollywood Hospital after turning suddenly ill with a bleeding ulcer. The doctors were not giving much hope for Edna’s survival!

In Mercer, California, Myrtle Purviance Roedere received word of Edna’s sudden illness. She immediately made arrangements to travel to Los Angeles to be with Edna, Bessie and Louise.

Meanwhile, back in Biggs, Saturday morning, February 20th, W.D. Hurd noticed that Madison did not appear to pick up his newspaper, for the first time since 1918. Knowing that Madison was not in the best of health, he decided to check at his home, a small cottage house behind The Colonia.

Hurd arrived and knocked at the door. There was no answer, and a worried Hurd entered the cottage.

He found everything in order. All of Madison clothes were properly folded, his watch on the dresser and room was peaceful. The only thing was, it was too quiet, like no one was home.

But the only one that wasn’t home was the ‘larger-than-life spirit’ of Madison Gates Purviance…

Lasting Impression…

Mayor Stohr was notified, and he telegrammed Myrtle Purviance Roedere. She answered back from Los Angeles and asked Stohr to postpone the funeral, because Edna was seriously ill and near death, herself.

Madison’s body was held at the Brinks funeral home, awaiting further word from the daughters…

The following week, Edna pulled through her near death experience only to find out her father had not. The headlines read: “Daughter recovers as father of famous movie actress passes away.”

According to a letter Edna wrote to Chaplin in April 1932, published in David Robinson’s ‘Chaplin and His Life’, Louise did receive money to help pay for Edna’s hospital costs and Madison’s funeral from Alf Reeves at the Chaplin Film Company. On behalf of Chaplin, who was away, Alf was very helpful to the girl who stood by Chaplin so much in the early years.

'Biggs had a big heart for Madison'

The city of Biggs had a big heart and wanted to help too. Madison received one of the family plots from the Brinks family for whom he worked many years. It was their last thank you to a man they must have enjoyed knowing.

Madison Gates Purviance was buried on Wednesday, February 25th, 1932. None of Madison’s daughters were able to attend due to Edna’s sudden illness. Many county residents and most of the town of Biggs paid their respects, and special songs were sung for Madison on that sober day.

Madison Gates Purviance had made a lasting impression, at last!

Madison Gates Purviance and Edna Purviance

Edna recovers as her father dies, on the same night they got gravely ill. The news was in the local papers.
Sacramento Bee - February 22, 1932

Madison Gates Purviance 1849 - 1932

Madison's grave side the morning of January 15, 2003 near Biggs, California. Photo by: Linda Wada

Final Peace...
In January of 2003, I found Madison Gates Purviance’s gravesite in a very well kept cemetery between Biggs and Gridley, California.

The gravestone reads simply, ‘Madison Gates Purviance 1849 – 1932’. No M.G., no Michael, no Mickey, no Matthew, just Madison Gates, his given name. He was 84 years old.

Madison wasn’t a celebrity, but he had a way of affecting people. He married only once, but had three beautiful and successful daughters of whom he always was proud. A tragic divorce ended a marriage that lasted 21 years, longer than many marriages endure today. He had a problem with drinking, but he may have solved it in his later years because his friends were respectable and many. While his early years were good, his last years in Biggs were some of his best!

In trying to sort out the confused past stories about Edna’s father, one thing has become clear in my mind. Madison will always be remembered for giving his daughter Edna an adventurous spirit, a love of laughter, and a name she will always be remembered by,

The First Telling of Edna Purviance’s father, Madison Gates Purviance
July 2003 Parts 1-3 and November 2003 Parts 4 - 5
Parts 6 and 7 (written 2003) - published April 1, 2004
Editing - Wes Wada
Linda Wada © Copyright 2003-2012

Thank you for reading and please enjoy the rest of the site on your visit. You will enjoy learning more about the Nevada life of Edna Purviance. And come back for another visit, as you never know when you will find something new at

Continue to Madison's Credit PageLink to: History of The Purviance Family Lovelock Home

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All other content Copyright 2003-2016 - Edna Purviance, Research Collection
including photos and newspaper articles from public and private collections.
Linda Wada, WadaWorks, All Rights Reserved

Special thanks to the official county offices and libraries from Humboldt, Perishing and Butte County.

Letter from Edna to Chaplin - David Robinson's book Chaplin: His Life and Art