Turpin was born Benjamin T. Turpin in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of a candy store owner. His birthdate is usually given as September 17, but various years ranging from 1869 to 1874 are listed in various sources and claimed by Turpin himself at various times.
Turpin's famous crossed eyes, he said, only crossed as a young adult after he suffered an accident. Turpin was convinced that the crossed eyes were essential to his comic career; his co-workers recalled that after he received any blow to the head he made a point of looking himself in the mirror to assure himself that they had not become uncrossed. Turpin took out an 25,000 dollar insurance policy with Lloyd's of London, payable if his eyes ever uncrossed.
Turpin developed a vigorous style of physical comedy, including an ability to stage comic pratt-falls that impressed even his fellow workers in the rough & tumble world of silent comedy.
Ben Turpin first appeared on film in 1907 for Essanay Studios in Chicago in various small parts and comic bits; in addtion to his on-screen work Turpin worked as a janitor for Essanay. He enjoyed only moderate success until about 1914 when he started appearing in larger roles and became a credited comic star.
In 1917 Turpin began working for Mack Sennett's Studio. His roles often spoofed serious actors and celebrities of the time, and Turpin became one of film's most popular comics. Delighted with his success, he took to introducing himself with the phrase, "I'm Ben Turpin; I make three thousand dollars a week."
Turpin retired from film in 1924 to look after his ailing wife. Turpin had invested his earnings in real estate, and had no financial need for more work. After his wife's death, however, he again began making irregular appearances in supporting comic roles in films in 1926. This would continue into the sound era; his last film role was in the Laurel and Hardy film Saps at Sea in 1940, the year of Turpin's death.