She was born in Little Rock on Christmas Day in 1865. Her parents were touring here with the Templeton Opera Company. Her father, John Templeton, was a well-known Southern theatre manager, comedian, and author. Her mother, Helen Alice Vane, starred with her husband. The family of three left Little Rock a few weeks after Fay was born, once her mother was able to travel.
She made her stage debut at age three, and her New York vaudeville debut at eight. At fifteen, she married a co-star but separated after six weeks. She made her legitimate New York stage debut at nineteen in a revival of Evangeline.
In the late 1880s and early 1890s, she spent most of her time in Europe, appearing on stage and touring shows. By 1895, she was back on stage in New York. She then starred in a series of shows first for the vaudeville team of Joe Weber and Lew Fields, later for George M. Cohan. She introduced the songs “So Long Mary” and “Mary Is a Grand Old Name” in the latter’s Forty-Five Minutes from Broadway. Her work with Cohan is portrayed in the Oscar winning film Yankee Doodle Dandy and in the Tony winning musical George M!
She retired from the stage after marrying Pittsburgh businessman William Patterson. But by 1911, was once again touring with Weber and Fields. She retired again in 1913, this time staying off stage until 1926. She then played the role of Buttercup in a revival of HMS Pinafore and would be known as the definitive Buttercup for the rest of the 1920s and into the 1930s. When her husband died in 1932, she returned to the stage. In 1933, she starred with Bob Hope in the Jerome Kern musical Roberta.
In 1936, she entered the Actors’ Fund Home in New Jersey, but later moved to San Francisco to live with a cousin. She died there on October 3, 1939, and is buried in Valhalla, New York.
Templeton returned to Little Rock several times throughout her life as she was embarking on tours.