From a Parisian cultured "bourgeoise" family (upper-middle class), he earned first a doctorate in law, then became in succession a lawyer, notary clerk, soldier (a dragoon for two years), but irresistibly attracted by writing, he achieved his first success in 1860 with his one-act play Le Parasite, represented at the Odeon Theatre in Paris.
In 1862, he married Marie Buloz, the daughter of François Buloz, founder and director of the world-wide famous Revue des Deux Mondes, a monument of the Romantic literature era, where he soon became co-director.
He had a successful career with his comedies about social customs (comedies de moeurs). His first big hit was obtained at the Theatre du Gymnase, in 1868, with Le Monde où l'on s'amuse (the World where you're having fun), after which he became Director of the Comédie Française (where he was admitted in 1863 with his play Le Dernier quartier - the Last district).
His career culminated in 1881 with Le Monde où l'on s'ennuie (the World where you are bored), one of the most strikingly successful pieces of the period with a prodigiously long run (over 1000 performances at La Comedie Française in Paris, and great success in St Petersburg, London, etc.) The play ridiculed contemporary upper class society and was filled with transparent allusions to well-known people. This triumphal success earned him his election to the famous Académie française in 1882 (seat n°12). Neither of his two last works (La Souris in 1887, and Cabotins in 1894) achieved so great a success.
From his marriage with Marie Buloz, he had three children: Edouard (junior), Henri (deceased at the age of six years) and Marie-Louise (1870-1951), who went on to marry and then divorce French writer Paul Bourget, and was a very erudite historian of the "Revue des deux mondes" and of the big names in French literature of the 19th century.
Edouard Pailleron was a close friend of the American artist John Singer Sargent, who studied painting at the Parisian Ecole des Beaux Arts, introducing him to the Parisian high-life society which was very important for the beginning of his successful career. Sargent painted several portraits of Edouard and his family, which are all currently in museums, mainly American ones. Sargent painted a portrait of Edouard in 1879 (now in the Musée Chateau de Versailles, France), also his wife Marie Buloz in 1880 (now in the Corcoran Gallery of Art, USA), and also of his children, Edouard Jr. and Marie-Louise in 1881 (now in the Des Moines Art Center, USA). These paintings were among the very first to make John Singer Sargent famous.
A statue bust of Edouard Pailleron, sculpted in 1906 by Russian-born artist Leopold Bernard Bernstamm, is located in the Parc Monceau in Paris.
Finally, his vacation property above Chambéry (Savoie), named "La Souris", built in the last years of the 19th century, is still surviving and virtually unchanged as the original park with trees more than 100 years old, even if the whole is now an allotment. In contrast, in the same park, the cottage of his friend Charles Forest, senator of Savoie, whose daughter Marguerite married his son, Edouard Jn., no longer exists.
In France, his name became famous again in the 1970s because it was given to a school in Paris that was destroyed by a fire on 6 February 1973, killing 21 children.