Notable for both his stage and screen work, he is remembered most for his Tony-nominated performance in the William Inge play The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, as well as for his father roles in the 1961 film Splendor in the Grass and in the 1979 feature Norma Rae.
He served in the United States Navy during World War II and later received a degree in broadcasting from the University of Texas. In the early 1950s, he made his Broadway debut in End as a Man.
He was set to star in the 1960 film Elmer Gantry; however, an accidental fall down a New York elevator shaft left him fighting (ultimately successfully) for his life. Meanwhile, Burt Lancaster was re-cast as the film's title character.
His first marriage, to Alyce Faye Dorsey, produced a son and two daughters before ending in divorce in 1972. With his second wife, Julie Wright, he had two more children.
He and Michael Gough were both in the cast of the 1989 Batman film, playing the respective roles of Commissioner Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth.