The son of vaudeville performers, Richard Theodore "Ted" Adams was part of his parents' troupe before attending Cornell University at the age of 18. After college he did stock work for three years before going to New York City and stage work there. For more than half his life he performed on the stage before coming to films around 1926. He and his good friend Leo Carrillo performed together in Porter Emerson Browne's play "The Bad Man" in 1920, and Adams was also in the Broadway production of "Kongo", which starred Walter Huston, in 1926.
His earliest documented film role was as the doctor in Rayart's The Road Agent (1925), starring Al Hoxie, and he made his sound-film debut in 1930's Under Texas Skies (1930), starring Bob Custer. Adams quickly established himself in westerns, in which he worked almost exclusively for 25 years in over 200 films. He was a mainstay performer (mostly lead villains) for the low-budget films cranked out by independents such as Supreme, Metropolitan, Purita