Ruggles was born in Los Angeles, California in 1886. Despite training to be a doctor, Ruggles soon found himself on the stage, appearing in a stock production of Nathan Hale in 1905. At Los Angeles's Majestic Theatre, he played the romantic lead Private Jo Files in L. Frank Baum and Louis F. Gottschalk's musical, The Tik-Tok Man of Oz in 1913.
He moved to Broadway to appear in Help Wanted in 1914. His first screen role came in the silent Peer Gynt the following year. Throughout the 1910s and 1920s Ruggles continued to appear in silent movies, though his passion remained the stage, appearing in long-running productions such as The Passing Show of 1918, The Demi-Virgin and Battling Butler. His most famous stage hit was one of his last before a twenty-year hiatus, Queen High, produced in 1926.
From 1929, Ruggles appeared in talking pictures. His first was Gentleman of the Press in which he played a comic, alcoholic newspaper reporter. Throughout the 1930s he was teamed with comic actress Mary Boland in a string of domestic farces, notably If I Had a Million, Six of a Kind, Ruggles of Red Gap, and People Will Talk. Ruggles is best remembered today as the big-game hunter in Bringing Up Baby and billionaire Michael J. 'Mike' O'Connor in It Happened on Fifth Avenue.
In 1949, Ruggles halted his film career to return to the stage and to move into television. He was the headline character in the TV series The Ruggles, a family comedy in which he played a character also called Charlie Ruggles, and The World of Mr. Sweeney. He guest starred on NBC's The Martha Raye Show and portrayed a time-traveling librarian in "Man From 1997," a 1956 science fiction episode of the television anthology series Conflict; the show featured James Garner in a pivotal early supporting role. In 1961, Ruggles was cast in "Hassie's European Tour", in which he portrays a wealthy neighbor who offers to finance a European trip for series character Hassie McCoy (Lydia Reed) on ABC's The Real McCoys.
Ruggles returned to the big screen in 1961, playing Charles McKendrick in The Parent Trap and Mackenzie Savage in The Pleasure of His Company. In the latter film, he reprised the role for which he had won a Tony Award in 1959. In 1963 he memorably played the grandfather of silent star Corinne Griffith in Papa's Delicate Condition. Griffith herself had written the book of her early life on which the film is based.
Ruggles had a recurring guest role on The Beverly Hillbillies in the mid-1960s as Lowell Redlings Farquhar, father-in-law of Milburn Drysdale (Raymond Bailey). Ruggles also played Aunt Clara's (Marion Lorne) old flame, the warlock Hedley Partridge, as well as a Mr. Caldwell, whose company marketed soup, in the television series Bewitched.
He played Congressman John Canfield on an episode of The Andy Griffith Show called "Aunt Bee, The Swinger", and appeared as a driving instructor on The Munsters. Ruggles also lent his voice to the Aesop and Son features in Jay Ward's The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.
His marriage to Adele Rowland (1914–16) ended in divorce after two years. He remarried, to Marion LaBarba, in 1942; the couple remained wed until his death in 1970.
Ruggles died of cancer at Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California on December 23, 1970 at the age of 84.
He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California in the Garden of Memory near his brother, Wesley Ruggles.
Charlie Ruggles has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one for his contributions to motion pictures on 6200 Hollywood Boulevard, one for his radio work on 6300 Hollywood Boulevard, and one for television is on 1600 Vine Street.Burke's Law (1963 TV series) (1963) (Season 1, episode 11)
Beverly Hillbillies  Mrs. Drysdale's father
Bewitched (1965) (TV, 1 episode)
The Andy Griffith Show (1965) (TV, episode "Aunt Bee, The Swinger")
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1965) (TV, 1 episode)