Born in New York City, Turner was pushed into appearing on the stage at age three by her ambitious mother. Turner became a regular performer in a variety of productions.
In 1906 she joined the fledgling motion picture business, signing with the pioneering VitagraphStudios and making her film debut in How to Cure a Cold (June 8, 1907).
At the time there were no stars per se, unless an already famous stage star made a movie. Performers were not even mentioned by name. Long, drawn out screen credits were not thought of. There was nothing but the name of the company and the picture. As the content of movies evolved from simple incidents, or situations, into definite stories, some of the heroes and heroines were conceded a vague identity, such as the "Edison Girl", etc.
Though she was known only as the "Vitagraph Girl" in the early motion picture shorts, Turner became the most popular American actress to appear on screen (at that time still dominated by French pictures, especially from the Pathe and Gaumont companies). Her worth to the studio, as its biggest box-office draw, was recognised in 1907 when her pay was upped to $22 a week, as proto-star plus part-time seamstress. It was somewhat less than the male leading players, especially those with stage experience, particularly the super-popular Maurice Costello. In March 1910 she and Florence Lawrence became the first screen actors not already famous in another medium to be publicized by name by their studios to the general public.
Turner sometimes wrote screenplays and directed her own movies, including a number of comedies. She also organized her own production company, Turner Films, for which she made more than thirty shorts.
Turner entertained Allied troops during World War I. She returned to the U.S. after the Armistice, but was not as successful as before. In 1920, she again went to England, where she remained until moving to Hollywood, virtually forgotten, in 1924.
By then she was thirty-nine years of age and her starring days were long behind her. She continued to act in supporting roles into the 1930s.
In 1928 she acted in a minor role on Broadway in Sign of the Leopard, which ran for thirty-nine performances. Turner was placed on the payroll at MGM by Louis B. Mayer in the 1930s, but was limited in the assignments offered. She mostly played bit or small parts and worked as an extra.
After appearing in more than 160 motion pictures, Florence Turner died at 61 in Woodland Hills. She was cremated at a mortuary in Hollywood and, at her request, there was no funeral service. She was buried at Chapel of the Pines Crematory.
^Eileen Bowser, The Transformation of Cinema, 1907–1915, University of California Press, 1994, p. 112–113. ISBN 978-0-520-08534-3.
^Passenger list of S.S. Kaiser Wilhelm II, Port of Plymouth, England, May 5, 1913. Ancestry.com. UK Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008.