Born in Holland, Michigan, Bannister began acting in movies and on Broadway in the 1920s. The two of them also were prominent actors in Pittsburgh theatre, appearing in productions with the Sharp Company and later starting the Nixon Players. Bannister founded the American Music Hall Theatre Group in New York City.
Its first production, a melodrama entitled The Drunkard, ran for 277 performances.
He appeared regularly on Broadway in the 1950s, starring, opposite Celeste Holm, in Affairs of State and in Love Maine Long with Shirley Booth. On television Bannister played one of the fathers in the 1953 Russel Crouse series Life with Father.
He died in Manhattan, New York City, at the age of 71.