He graduated from the University of Southern California and worked for a time as an architect, but lost that job when the Great Depression hit. He then began taking extras work in films.
He created a realistic replica of Mount Rushmore for Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" from 1959.
He was married to screenwriter Bess Taffel until her death in 2000.
He received an honorary Academy Award at the age of 98. Instead of accepting the award from his wheelchair, he insisted on walking onstage and was aided in this effort by actress Nicole Kidman.