Hatfield was born William Rukard Hurd Hatfield in New York City to William Henry Hatfield (died 1954), an attorney who served as deputy attorney general for New York, and his wife, Adele (née McGuire). He was educated at Columbia University before traveling to London, England where he studied drama and began acting in theatre.
He returned to America for his film debut in Dragon Seed (1944), in which he and his co-stars (Katharine Hepburn, Akim Tamiroff, Aline MacMahon, Turhan Bey) portrayed Chinese peasants, some more convincingly than others. It was Hatfield's second film, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), that made him a star. As Oscar Wilde's ageless anti-hero, Hatfield received widespread acclaim for his good looks as much as for his acting ability. However, the actor was ambivalent about the role and his performance. "The film didn't make me popular in Hollywood," he commented later. "It was too odd, too avant-garde, too ahead of its time. The decadence, the hints of bisexuality and so on, made me a leper! Nobody knew I had a sense of humour, and people wouldn't even have lunch with me."
His subsequent films, The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946), The Beginning or the End (1947), and The Unsuspected (1947) were successful, but Hatfield's career began to lose momentum very quickly. Other films include The Left Handed Gun (1958), King of Kings (as Pontius Pilate) (1961), El Cid (1961), Harlow (1965), The Boston Strangler (1968), King David (1985) and Her Alibi (1989).
He appeared frequently on television and received an Emmy Award nomination for the Hallmark Hall of Fame videotaped play The Invincible Mr. Disraeli (1963). In 1957, he appeared in Beyond This Place which was directed by Sidney Lumet. Among Hatfield's many other television credits are three guest appearances on Murder, She Wrote opposite his Picture of Dorian Gray costar, Angela Lansbury, who had become a lifelong friend, and who also had a home in County Cork. He also appeared as the villain in the second episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, entitled "The City Beneath the Sea". He appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Season 2 episode 5, in "None Are So Blind", which first aired October 28, 1956.
In 1952, Hatfield appeared as Joseph in Westinghouse Studio One's The Nativity, with a full supporting cast and singing provided by the Robert Shaw Chorale. This was a rare commercial network staging of a 14th century mystery play, adapted from the York and Chester plays.
In 1966, he appeared on the television series The Wild Wild West in an episode entitled "The Night of the Man-Eating House". In a twist on his Dorian role, his character starts as an old man who, upon entering a house inhabited by the ghost of his mother, is turned back into a youthful Confederate soldier. A second appearance in the third season episode "The Night of the Undead" had him portray the vengeful and mad Dr. Articulus.
According to the magazine Films in Review, Hatfield was ambivalent about having played Dorian Gray, feeling that it had typecast him. "You know, I was never a great beauty in Gray ... and I never understood why I got the part and have spent my career regretting it", he is reported to have said.
Having been introduced to Ireland by actress and former co-star Angela Lansbury, Hatfield lived at Ballinterry House, Rathcormac, County Cork from the early 1970s. A keen collector of antiques and art, he referred to Ballinterry House as a painting which he would never quite finish. He died peacefully in his sleep of a heart attack at the country home he loved so much, aged 81, after having had Christmas dinner with friends.
Hatfield never married. Both Ballinterry House and his collection were inherited by his long-time close friend and colleague Maggie Williams, who maintained the historic Irish country home exactly as it was at the time of Hatfield's death. The house was sold in late 2006, and the entire contents of the 'Hurd Hatfield Collection' was sold at an auction on the premises 'Country House Antique & Fine Art Auction' in March 2007.
At the time of his death, Hatfield was writing his autobiography.Dragon Seed (1944) - Lao San Tan - Youngest Son
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) - Dorian Gray
The Diary of a Chambermaid (1946) - Georges Lanlaire
The Beginning or the End (1947) - Dr. John Wyatt
The Unsuspected (1947) - Oliver Keane
The Checkered Coat (1948) - Steve 'Creepy' Bolin
Joan of Arc (1948) - Father Pasquerel (Joan's chaplain)
Chinatown at Midnight (1949) - Clifford Ward
Destination Murder (1950) - Stretch Norton
Tarzan and the Slave Girl (1950) - Prince of the Lionians
"None Are So Blind" (Alfred Hitchcock Presents) (1956) - Seymour Johnston
"The Perfect Murder" (Alfred Hitchcock Presents) (1956) - Paul Tallendier
The Left Handed Gun (1958) - Moultrie
King Of Kings (1961) - Pontius Pilate
El Cid (1961) - Arias
Héroes de blanco (1962)
Harlow (1965) - Paul Bern
Mickey One (1965) - Ed Castle
The Double-Barrelled Detective Story (1965) - Father
Lamp At Midnight (1966) - Sagredo Niccolini
The Boston Strangler (1968) - Terence Huntley
Von Richthofen and Brown (1971) - Anthony Fokker
The Word (1978) - Cedric Plummer
King David (1985) - Ahimelech
Waiting to Act (1985) - Morey Liebowitz
Crimes of the Heart (1986) - Old Granddaddy
Her Alibi (1989) - Troppa