Templeton, Fay (1865–1939)
Templeton, Fay (1865–1939)
American stage actress. Born on December 25, 1865, in Little Rock, Arkansas; died on October 3, 1939, in San Francisco, California; daughter of John Templeton and Alice (Vane) Templeton (both actors); married William H. "Billy" West, in 1883 (divorced 1883); possibly married Howell Osborn, in 1885; married William Joshua Patterson, on August 1, 1906 (died 1932).
Selected theatrical appearances:
A Midsummer Night's Dream (1873); East Lynne (1870s); The Mascot, The Pirates of Penzance, and Monte Cristo, Junior (1886); The Corsair (1888); (with Weber and Fields) Hurly Burly (1898); (with Weber and Fields) Fiddle-dee-dee (1900); (with Weber and Fields) Twirly-Whirly (1901); Forty-five Minutes from Broadway (1906); H.M.S. Pinafore (numerous appearances); Roberta (1933).
The cliché "born in a trunk" certainly applies to Fay Templeton, who was born in 1865 in Little Rock while her theatrical parents were on tour in Arkansas. She made her first stage appearance as an infant, and by age five had her first speaking role. She appeared as Puck in Augustin Daly's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream and as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet before the age of ten. Other plays in which she performed in her early years included Ellen Price Wood 's melodrama East Lynne and several comic operas. A brief first marriage in 1883 to minstrel-show performer William H. (Billy) West ended in divorce after only a few months.
Templeton's career began to take flight around 1885, after she played the character of Gabriel in a revival of Evangeline. Critics during this period praised her for her acting, her singing, her comic talents, and her beauty. In 1886, she first appeared in London, and in 1888 she toured with the play The Corsair, earning lavish praise from critics and the public. For about seven years after this triumph, she seldom performed, instead traveling abroad with Howell Osborn, a wealthy New Yorker whom she claimed to have married. (No evidence exists for this claim, however.)
The famous vaudeville team of Joe Weber and Lew Fields enticed Templeton to join them in 1898 in their comedy Hurly Burly. Though Templeton could no longer play ingenue roles by this time, her voice had matured, and she was unequaled in her talent for mimicry. Another Weber and Fields musical, 1900's Fiddle-deedee, also made use of Templeton's talents. In that production, Templeton immortalized the song "Ma Blushin' Rosie" ("Rosie, You Are Ma Posie"). Two more Weber and Fields productions, Hoity Toity and Twirly Whirly, solidified Templeton's musical-comedy reputation. She was known for her contributions to Weber and Fields' burlesques of then-popular plays and for her imitations of other stars, such as Lillian Russell and Ethel Barrymore .
In 1903, Templeton starred in a musical, The Runaways, and reached the peak of her career playing the lead in George M. Cohan's Forty-five Minutes from Broadway, in which she sang "Mary is a Grand Old Name." By the time this successful play closed in 1907, she had married her third husband, William Joshua Patterson, a well-to-do contractor from Pittsburgh, where she resided for most of the rest of her life. For almost three decades following her marriage, she appeared frequently in the role of Buttercup in Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore—a role which suited her not only because of her talent but because of her increasing girth. Templeton also occasionally appeared with Weber and Fields and made many so-called "farewell appearances." After her husband's death in 1932, she was cast in a Hollywood film, Broadway to Hollywood (1933).
That same year, Templeton, now nearly 68, appeared as Aunt Minnie in Jerome Kern's Roberta. Because of her health and her enormous size, she played most of the role sitting down but still managed to tour with the company during the 1934–35 season. She moved from Pittsburgh to the Actors Fund Home in Englewood, New Jersey, in 1936, and later to a cousin's home in San Francisco, where she died in 1939. Those who remembered her work were generous with their praise after her death. A New York Times obituary noted, "They say there never was a better Buttercup."
James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.
McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.
The New York Times. October 4, 5, and 8, 1939.
Sally A. Myers , Ph.D., freelance writer and editor