A Bond with Edna's Past
Meeting the Family Members
of Edna Purviance
by Linda Wada - July 2005-2014 ©

Special Note: Lita Hill passed away on January 21, 2008. We are deeply sadden by her death.


Seven years ago when I started my Edna Purviance research, I had no idea where it would lead. The journeys through the unknown, the detective work and the stream of delightful discoveries have been the most enjoyable. But, most surprising is the pathway this project continues to take.

On Thanksgiving Day in the US, in November of 2003, Garen Ewing and I were visiting BFI Library in London, England to see their Edna Purviance Collection. We both were excited to see the archive, which we knew about it through our connection with the Chaplin Society.

During my research into Edna, I have uncovered many names of family members and friends in Edna’s life. But I was coming to a sobering realization that few pictures of her family members and friends seemed to exist. For example, I was lacking any images of Edna’s sisters Bessie and Myrtle!

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I was hoping to find clues to enable me to finally see faces matching the names I was finding in Nevada. I really wanted to see the photos captioned ‘Unknown’ in the BFI collection!

As Garen and I looked through the BFI photos, we saw photographs that we guessed may have been of Edna’s sister Bessie. The collection contained references to other people too, but in some ways the viewing created more questions than answers. We really began to feel that the only way we would ‘see’ Edna’s family would be if someone in the family was still living.

Since Edna’s web site has been online, I have ‘met’ distant Purviance relations by phone and email, but except for a cousin in Nevada, there appeared to be few if any members left who actually knew Edna.

A few months later, with tea in hand, I took the ‘commute’ upstairs to my office in our house. The day started like many days with checking email for our family business and also for Edna.

I never know what I will receive on any given day for Edna, but on this day, a delightful email greeted me, thanking me for the web site.

As I read it, I realized that this was not one of my usual Edna emails, but something from a Purviance family member! The writer was
‘extremely curious about her great-grandfather, Madison Gates Purviance. She added she didn’t even know his first name until reading Edna's website.

Well, this was not the first correspondence I had received concerning Madison, for other family members had inquired about him, but as I read on, I knew this lady was not like the others.

She identified herself as Lita Hill, and said she came from a family that had
‘very strong female dominance’. She noted that her mother Helen, who had lived with her for 30 years, had recently died. And then she added that her father was MORGAN HILL.

Well I just about tipped my chair with tea in hand!

Morgan Hill was the son of Sidney and Bessie Hill. Bessie was Edna Purviance’s older sister!

Sidney Morgan Hill

Sidney Morgan Hill born Aug. 24, 1902

Morgan became the Hill’s only surviving child. Edna and sister Myrtle had no children, so Morgan was the only child from the three sisters.

Earlier during research, I traced Morgan’s life in Lovelock until the day he left the area. In the 1920’s, Morgan moved to Hollywood to live with his aunt Edna.

The Lovelock newspapers’ last report about Morgan was he was going to stay in Los Angeles to live with Edna Purviance where he
‘occupies a position of high trust’.

That is all that was reported. I always wondered what was meant, and what happened to Morgan. Did he marry and have a family?

Well, all was resolved in one email!

Lita said that Edna and Morgan (who was seven years younger) were great pals and grew up together in Lovelock.

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Morgan worked as a cameraman for Chaplin and others as well, Lita revealed. Was this the ‘position of high trust’ in the words of the Lovelock paper?

Lita knew both the Davey family and her great-grandmother Louise Nurnberger (Edna’s mother). Lita and her younger sister Ellie both knew Edna from the mid-to-late 1930’s to her death in 1958.

And the jewel in the setting: my new Purviance family contact had been ‘spoiled’ by her grand aunt Edna Purviance who Lita lived with in the early 1950’s. As you might imagine, I was stunned by this unexpected development!

Morgan Hill did marry and have a family. And I would soon be meeting his daughters Lita and Ellie Hill.

Over the next year, Lita and I got to know each other through email. We exchanged stories about Edna and her family. We both were amazed about how each of us knew what the other did not, our knowledge dovetailed perfectly and made a whole. Lita and Ellie of course had first-hand experience of life with Edna, and so little of that the public does know.

After months of emailing, we finally made the decision to meet. Lita, Ellie and myself have all spent time together now, and it has been the most incredible experience of the whole Edna research project for me.

I started seven years ago from a real uncertainty about ever finding much about Edna to actually meeting the last two family members who actually knew Edna and who could disclose a real sense of who she was.

We have been able to spend some very special times together, and we still shake our heads in total disbelief about what has happened in the last few months.

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Morgan on the left, in Rollie Totheroh's 3D film test at the Chaplin Studio (late 1920s). From The Chaplin DVD Collection (The Circus)/Totheroh archive.

And I have finally been able to match faces to all those names I have been gathering. Edna’s mother and sisters and family members are now living, breathing people with definite appearance. What a difference that has made!

After much thought and many shared moments, we have decided to combine our resources and are beginning to write the first book about Edna Purviance. We have formed a partnership called Leading Ladies, standing for Lita & Ellie Hill and Linda Wada.

Through this partnership, we are working to preserve the memory of Edna Purviance via research and reminiscence and Edna’s own personal collection of memorabilia. Look for announcements of this partnership on this web site, with future projects on display as part of
ednapurviance.COM to be launched January 13th, 2008. With our first book project, The Sea Gull "A Woman of the Sea." (see below)

Truly, this adventure has only just begun. Before any thoughts of forming partnerships or anything else, Lita wanted to be part of something special for her great aunt Edna. The newly restored
‘A Woman of Paris’ starring Edna is being premiered in Italy in July 2005, and we decided why not try to go!

Seven years ago, I could have not dreamed of this journey. What I always enjoyed the most was finding a path through the unknown. Because of this effort over the years, I have international friendships, met people I would have never met, and now am getting to know Edna in a way I never could have imagined.

Edna is no longer just a silent film actress spoken about in old articles. Now she is a tangible presence in my life connected with a living past in Lita and Ellie Hill.

Well, we have returned from attending the
‘A Woman of Paris’ film event in Bologna, Italy as guests of the event (with very special thanks to Cecilia Cenciarelli, head of the Chaplin Project, in Italy). Here is the special Report...

(click image for Italy Tour)

(click image for London Tour)

(click image for Behind the Scenes with Lita Hill and Linda Wada - 4 1/2 min. Quicktime video)

Behind the Scenes

(click image for information on 'The Angel from Nevada' - First Edna Documentary - Premiere at Cinecon in Hollywood 2006)

Book Release January 13th, 2008
The Sea Gull "A Woman of the Sea"
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Published by Leading Ladies
By Linda Wada - Design by Wesley Wada

Over 100 photos, including 50 never published production stills from The Sea Gull
from the personal collection of Edna's family - Hill Family Collection!

Review from Leonard Martin

"THE SEA GULL is an important contribution to film history,
and worth buying for the stills alone. The look of the film,
revealed in these marvellous photographs, makes it all
the more tragic that it was destroyed."
- Kevin Brownlow

"It is beautiful, informative and edifying all at once."
- David Toll, Nevada Writer

"I congratulate you on a very interesting and attractive book..."
- Kate Guyonvarch, Association Chaplin

"I like the design of the book in particular. It looks very clean and classy.
The stills from "The Sea Gull - A Woman of the Sea" with the reconstructed
story line are no doubt the brightest spots of the book."
- Ted Lu, Discover Chaplin

(Sold to fans in England, Wales, Canada, France, Germany, Sweden, Iceland, Japan, Italy, Australia, and more.)

First book to feature Edna Purviance and about Charlie Chaplin's Lost film production
Directed by Josef von Sternberg. Available for ordering January 13th, 2008
at our new shop at ednapurviance.com

Lita Hill: April 1933 - January 2008.
We will always remember you!