He joined his father's vaudeville theater at age 14. He could play professionally by 20, which led to his work with the Alvino Rey Orchestra and on Los Angeles radio.
He received four Academy Award nominations for his scores to "Pillow Talk" from 1959, "Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte" from 1964," "Cat Ballou" from 1965, and "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" from 1967.
He was born in Moundsville, West Virginia, and grew up in Canton, Ohio. He was married to his first wife Grayce Agnes McGinty from 1935 until her death in 1989. He then married actress and Big Band singer Helen O'Connell in 1991.
He found time to take small parts in front of the camera in between his numerous musical engagements, appearing in "The Parent Trap" starring a young Hayley Mills.