Ford Sterling (1880-1939) is best known today as the Chief of the Keystone Kops. A Wisconsin native, he ran away from home when still a boy to join John Robinson’s circus, where he eventually became “Keno, the Boy Clown”. By the turn of the century he was playing burlesque, small time vaudeville and legit theatre, eventually landing small roles in several Broadway shows. He was one half of the vaudeville team of McEvoy and Sterling when Mack Sennett discovered him and hired him to act in films he was directing at Biograph in 1911. A few months later when Sennett formed Keystone, Sterling became a founding member of the company. In 1914 he married fellow screen actor Teddy Sampson.
Sterling’s specialty was “Dutch” or mock German characters (see above), although not exclusively (stock Hebrews were also a specialty).
You can always spot Sterling, whether he’s in make-up or not, because of his penchant for mugging — Sterling makes more faces than anyone I’ve ever seen in films with the obvious exceptions of Jerry Lewis and Jim Carey. This served him well through the hundreds of slapstick shorts he starred in through the nineteen teens. Less well in the twenties and thereafter, when comedy features became the norm and he was expected to sort of, well…act.
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