He began performing in early childhood, going on to appear in tent shows, vaudeville, and stock throughout the Southwest. He formed Chill Wills and the Avalon Boys, a singing group in which he was the leader and bass vocalist, in the '30s. After appearing with the group in several Westerns, beginning with his screen debut, Bar 20 Rides Again (1935), he disbanded the group in 1938. For the next fifteen years he was busy onscreen as a character actor, but after 1953 his film work became less frequent. He provided the voice of Francis the Talking Mule in the "Francis" comedy series of films. In the '60s he starred in the TV series "Frontier Circus" and "The Rounders." For his work in The Alamo (1960) he received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. In 1975 he released a singing album--his first.