Infected with wanderlust almost from birth, Taylor Garnett joined the Naval Air Service in 1917. While serving as a flight instructor in San Diego, Garnett was seriously injured in a training crash, which left him with a pronounced but fortunately not debilitating limp. While still in uniform, Garnett had staged a few serviceman revues; after his discharge, he parlayed what he'd learned about comedy into a job as gagman for Mack Sennett and Hal Roach, where he wrote material for stars ranging from Ben Turpin to Stan Laurel. He even reportedly worked as a stunt man, despite his reliance on a cane due to his service injuries. After scriptwriting for directors like Frank Capra and Cecil B. DeMille, Garnett was given his first opportunity to direct with 1928's Celebrity.
Making a seamless transition to talkies, Garnett turned out such romantic dramas and adventures as Her Man (1930), One Way Passage (1932) and China Seas (1935); many of these were seafaring efforts, in keeping with Garnett's lifelong love of all things maritime. One of his best 1930s efforts was Trade Winds, wherein private detective Fredric March chased murder suspect Joan Bennett all over the world; in fact, the stars never left the studio, but instead played out their scenes in front of globe-trotting footage lensed by Garnett on one of his own vacations. Garnett's most celebrated 1940s production was the slick "film noir" The Postman Always Rings Twice. He went independent in 1949, forming Thor Productions with producer Bert Friedlob. In the 1950s, Garnett cut back on his theatrical film schedule to direct individual episodes of such TV series as Wagon Train and The Untouchables. Even with his crowded private and public life, Garnett found time to write a novel, A Man Laughs Back (1935), and an autobiography, Light Up Your Torches and Pull Up Your Tights (1977). Tay Garnett's three wives, actresses all, were Patsy Ruth Miller, Helga Moray and Mari Aldon respectively.