Teddy Sampson: More Than Mrs. Sterling

A brief thing on Nora “Teddy” Sampson (1895-1970), who figures in the histories of vaudeville and silent comedy both.

Sampson was born and raised in New York City, the daughter of an Irish immigrant mom and a father descended from Paul Revere. When she was young she toured with Gus Edwards “School Days” vaudeville act for two years. In 1912 she was in the chorus of Blanche Ring’s show The Wall Street Girl. 1914 was a crucial year for Sampson; she launched a film career and married comedy star Ford Sterling. (It makes me wonder if Teddy, the Keystone pooch was named after her. Probably not).

Sampson’s first screen role was one of Pancho Villa’s sisters in The Life of General Villa (1914), directed by Raoul Walsh, with the actual Villa playing himself. This was later dramatized in the 2003 HBO film And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself starring Antonio Banderas. Next came a small role in D.W. Griffith’s star-studded Home, Sweet, Home. Sampson went on to be a comedy star for Christie and other studios, appearing opposite such cut-ups as Max Davidson, Fay Tincher, Tod Browning, Bobby Ray, Stan Laurel (in 1918’s Hickory Hiram), Smiling Billy Parsons, Neal Burns, Harry Depp, Bobby Vernon, Owen Moore, Elmo Lincoln, et al, while continuing to appear in melodramas and historical films from time to time. By the early ’20s she was also beginning to appear in features. Her last film (out of over 50 credits) was Christie’s A Perfect 36 starring Bobby Vernon, released in late 1923. By then her career was fizzling out, while Sterling’s was going great guns as a star of features. She and Sterling remained married until his death in 1939.

For more on vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, and for more on classic comedy read  Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.