Having worked as a stage actor, Butler joined Thomas Ince in 1913 and moved on to D. M. Griffith and acted in The Greatest Thing in Life (18) and The Girl Who Stayed at Home (19). He continued acting until 1927: The Sky Pilot (21, King Vidor); According to Hoyle (22, W. S. Van Dyke), made for his own production company; The Wise Kid (22, Tod Browning); Desire (23, Rowland V. Lee); The Narrow Street (24, William Beaudine); Code of the West (25, William K. Howard); Havoc (25, Lee); Wages for Wives (25, Frank Borzage); The Blue Eagle (26, John Ford); and Seventh Heaven (27, Borzage).
As a director, Butler served long in the cause of wholesomeness, usually in the form of second- class musicals. At Fox, Paramount, and Warners, he handled the bland energies of Shirley Temple, Bing Crosby, and Doris Day without any aside other than the good-natured digs at Jack Carson in It’s a Great Feeling, in which Butler himself appears, declining to direct that resident Warners ham. It spoke for durability that in the mid-1950s Butler even moved into wide-screen action films.