Born Benvenuta Rose Crooke in San Francisco, Venuta was a graduate of Hollywood High School. She attended finishing school in Geneva and lived in London where she worked as a dancer before returning to the States.
Her father was English, and her mother was Swiss-Italian.
Venuta made her first screen appearance in the silent Trail of '98 in 1928. She also appeared in Annie Get Your Gun (as Dolly Tate), Call Me Mister, and Bullets over Broadway. (Another source says her first movie role was in Repeat Performance.)
Venuta made her Broadway debut when she replaced Ethel Merman in the lead role of Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter's Anything Goes in 1935. The two remained close friends and co-starred in a revival of Annie Get Your Gun in 1966. Additional Broadway credits included By Jupiter (1942), Hazel Flagg (1953), and Romantic Comedy (1979).
Venuta's summer stock and regional theatre credits included A Little Night Music, Bus Stop, Gypsy, Come Blow Your Horn, Auntie Mame, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, Little Me, and Pal Joey.
In 1958, Venuta was cast as private eye Bertha Cool in a television pilot for a series to be called Cool and Lam, based on the novels by Erle Stanley Gardner writing as A. A. Fair, but the pilot remains the only episode in existence.
Television audiences knew her as Jean Smart's prim and proper mother-in-law Ellen Stillfield in the sitcom Designing Women.
Venuta's Benay Venuta Hour "was a popular CBS radio program." She was a vocalist on such shows as Freddie Rich's Penthouse Party, Duffy's Tavern and Take a Note. In 1948, she was the host of Keep Up with the Kids, a Mutual radio quiz show in which celebrity parents (Roddy McDowall, Penny Singleton, Pat O'Brien) competed against their children.
Venuta was married and divorced three times. She had two daughters, Patty and Deborah, from her second marriage to film producer Armand Deutsch. She was married to actor Fred Clark from 1952–62. She died from lung cancer in New York City at age 84.
Several sources have given her birthdate as January 27, 1911. In her obituary, The New York times gave her birthdate as 1911, indicating she died at age 84. However, both the California Birth Index and the United States Census show her birth at 1910, which would make her 85 at death.