Born Samuel Jones Grundy in Bolton, Lancashire, England, he spent childhood in a Dr. Barnardo's home. At an early age he was adopted by a farmer from Manitoba, Canada where he was ill treated. About age eleven, he ran away and did odd jobs later becoming an usher in a theatre.
Following his discharge from the Army after WWI, he became a vaudeville actor in a stock company before performing on Broadway.
He started on a film career when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer gave him part in the film Possessed and went on to appear in over 200 films including 13 directed by John Ford, through the two men were unrelated.
He also appeared in a 1964 episode of The Andy Griffith Show as Roger Hanover, Aunt Bee's old flame. He is buried with an unmarked grave in Culver City's Holy Cross Cemetery.