Tuttle was born August 29, 1907, at Pleasant Lake, Indiana, into a family with strong ties to entertainment. Her father, O.V. Tuttle, had been a performer in minstrel shows before becoming a station agent for a railroad. Her grandfather, Frank Tuttle, managed an opera house and taught drama. She discovered her own knack for acting after moving with her family to Glendale, Arizona. She later credited a drama coach there for "making me aware of life as it really is—by making me study life in real situations."
After her family moved to Southern California, Tuttle appeared in productions at the Pasadena Playhouse before joining the vaudeville troupe Murphy's Comedians. By the time of the Great Depression, Tuttle had put her remarkable vocal versatility to work in radio, and within a decade, she became one of the most in-demand actresses in the medium.
Tuttle's radio debut came in 1936 when she appeared on Hollywood Hotel with Dick Powell. Despite having never performed before a microphone, Tuttle's audition won her a three-year contract with the program.
Thirteen years later, one newspaper columnist called her "quite possibly the most-heard woman in America."
On radio's The Adventures of Sam Spade she played just about every female role as well as Spade's secretary Effie Perrine. She appeared in such shows as The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and concurrently appeared on The Great Gildersleeve as the niece Marjorie Forrester. Tuttle had regular roles in such shows as Brenthouse, Dr. Christian, Duffy's Tavern, One Man's Family, The Red Skelton Show (as Junior's mother and as Daisy June, roles that she shared with Harriet Nelson), Hollywood Hotel, and Those We Love.
Dr. Christian was unusual in that the show, according to critic Leonard Maltin in The Great American Broadcast: A Celebration of Radio's Golden Age, solicited scripts from listeners (one of whom was a young Rod Serling) and put them on the air — with a little help. Tuttle recalled:
"The real writers on the show had to fix them quite often a lot, because they were really quite amateurish. But they had nice thoughts, they had nice plots. They just needed fixing; the dialogue didn't work too well."
Tuttle guest starred on the NBC radio police series Dragnet, starring Jack Webb, Lux Radio Theater, The Screen Guild Theater and Suspense, in the episode "The Sisters", with Rosalind Russell. In The Whistler, she played good and evil twins and used separate microphones to stay in character for each twin.
It was during her time on Hollywood Hotel that Tuttle became involved in the founding of the American Federation of Radio Artists. According to Maltin, Tuttle's male counterpart on the show, veteran actor Frank Nelson (a frequent guest performer on Jack Benny's program), tried to get both a raise to $35 per show — at a time when the show paid $5,000 an appearance to headlining guest stars. Nelson eventually got the raises, but the negotiations prompted him to become an AFRA co-founder and one of its active members.
Tuttle later became the first female president of the federation's Hollywood local.
Tuttle also remembered the day the Hollywood Hotel sound effects man was upstaged by a Hollywood legend:
The soundman was supposed to do a little yipping, yappy dog, like a terrier. He sounded like a Newfoundland dog or something, and the director kept saying, "That won't do." So Olivia de Havilland was sitting next to me, and she says, "I can do a very good dog." And I said, "Well, I don't think they'll let you do a dog. This is an audience show; you're a star, you can't do a dog." And Olivia says, "I'm going to do it." So she went over to the director, went into the booth and said, "I'd like to try doing this dog for you." So they put her behind the screen, and she went on the show and she did that yipping dog."
Tuttle became a familiar face to millions of television viewers with more than 100 appearances from 1950 to 1986, often in the role of an inquisitive busybody. On television and in films, Tuttle streamlined herself into a pattern of roles between wise, loving wives/mothers or bristling matrons. She was familiar to the early television audience as wife/mother Lavinia (Vinnie) Day in Life with Father (1953–1955). Columnist Hedda Hopper called the selection of Leon Ames as Father and Tuttle as Mother "what I consider 22 carat casting with two all-Americans."
Heaven Only Knows (1947) was her first film. She went on to roles in other films such as Orson Welles's Macbeth (1948), Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) and Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), as the wife of Sheriff Chambers. In Don't Bother to Knock (1952) she portrayed a mother who lets a disturbed Marilyn Monroe babysit her daughter. The next year she appeared again with Marilyn in Niagara, as Mrs. Kettering. She had a rare starring role in Ma Barker's Killer Brood (1960). She played Grandma Pusser in the original Walking Tall film trilogy, and also appeared in horror films such as The Manitou (1978), starring Tony Curtis. Her final film role was in the 1983 film Testament.
She guest-starred twice on Edmond O'Brien's 1960 syndicated crime drama Johnny Midnight. She then played a supporting role in the 1961 Father of the Bride television situation comedy. She made six guest appearances on CBS's Perry Mason, with Raymond Burr, during the nine-year run of the show from 1957 to 1966. She usually played the role of the defendant, such as Anna Houser in "The Case of the Substitute Face" in 1958, Sarette Winslow in "The Case of the Artful Dodger" in 1959, Sarah Breel in "The Case of the Shoplifter's Shoe" in 1963, and Josephine Kempton in "The Case of the Grinning Gorilla" in 1965. However, in 1966 she played the role of murderess Henny McLeod in "The Case of the Avenging Angel."
In 1958 and 1959, she was cast in two episodes as Gladys Purvis, the mother of series character Kate McCoy, played by Kathleen Nolan, in the ABC sitcom, The Real McCoys, with Walter Brennan and Richard Crenna. She appeared twice on the NBC western series The Californians, once as Belle Calhoun in "Skeleton in the Closet" (1958) and then as Maude Sorel in "The Painted Lady" (1959). She guest-starred with Andrew Duggan in his crime series, Bourbon Street Beat.
Tuttle appeared three times each on the CBS sitcoms The Danny Thomas Show and Petticoat Junction and twice on the following: Leave It to Beaver, The Bob Cummings Show, The Ann Sothern Show, Pete and Gladys, The Andy Griffith Show, Hazel, General Electric Theater, Switch, and Fantasy Island.
In 1960, she was cast as Mrs. Courtland in the episode "The Raffle Ticket" of the CBS sitcom based on the comic strip Dennis the Menace, with Jay North and Joseph Kearns.
Tuttle guest-starred in such westerns as Buckskin, The Restless Gun, Colt .45, Johnny Ringo as well as The Cowboys, Little House on the Prairie, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, The Adventures of Jim Bowie, Lawman, and The Iron Horse.
Tuttle was cast as Mrs. Grange in the 1963 episode "The Risk" on the NBC drama series Mr. Novak, starring James Franciscus as an idealistic high school teacher in Los Angeles. She later appeared on the popular 1960s sitcoms I Dream of Jeannie, The Munsters," and "Petticoat Junction".
Tuttle's best-known role to the general public was in 32 episodes of the NBC series Julia (1968–1971) as the humorless but warm-hearted Hannah Yarby.
In 1972, she appeared as Bella Swann, on the season three episode, "Farmer Ted and the News" on The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
In 1980, Tuttle appeared as Mrs. McIntyre in the television movie, White Mama, with Bette Davis. From 1981 to 1984, Tuttle appeared six times on the CBS medical drama series Trapper John, M.D..
In 1985, Tuttle appeared in episode 25 ("Murder in the Afternoon") of "Murder, She Wrote", playing the character Agnes Cochran, Jessica Fletcher's aunt. The episode first aired 10/13/85. [The Unofficial Murder She Wrote Casebook by James Robert Parish.]
In 1944, Tuttle received Radio Life magazine's Distinguished Achievement Award for Best Supporting Feminine Player.
Tuttle has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – "Star of Radio" at 1760 Vine Street and "Star of Television" at 7011 Hollywood Boulevard. Both stars were dedicated February 8, 1960.
Tuttle married Melville Ruick, an actor whom she had met during her radio years; the couple had a daughter, Barbara Ruick,. Tuttle and Ruick eventually divorced. She married Frederick W. Cole, an engineer, on November 27, 1950 in Pasadena, California; she sued him for divorce on January 4, 1956.
She became a respected acting coach and teacher—something she had always done, even at the height of her acting career (she often re-trained radio actors who had been away from the craft during service in World War II).
Tuttle had a hobby of collecting toy dogs. A 1930 newspaper article reported, "Her dressing room shelf is filled with more than 200 miniature replicas of every variety of dog known."
Tuttle died from cancer May 28, 1986, at Encino Hospital. She was survived by a granddaughter, two grandsons, and a great-granddaughter. Memorial services were held June 2, 1986, at Church of the Recessional at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale.
Her Sam Spade co-star, Howard Duff, who delivered her eulogy, remembered Tuttle:
She could just take hold of a part and do something with it... I think she never met a part she didn't like. She just loved to work; she loved to act. She's a woman who was born to do what she was doing and loved every minute of it.
Tuttle played the swallow in "The Happy Prince", an adaption of Oscar Wilde's short story with Orson Welles and Bing Crosby (1946). The story had earlier been adapted for radio by Orson Welles in 1944, featuring a musical score by Bernard Herrmann. It aired on the Philco Radio Hall of Fame broadcast on December 24, 1944 with Lureen Tuttle playing The Swallow and featuring Bing Crosby alongside Orson Welles, with Herrmann's music conducted by Victor Young."I could play opposite Jimmy Stewart or Fredric March or Cary Grant or Gary Cooper and Leslie Howard, and on the air I could be the most glamorous, gorgeous, tall, black-haired female you've ever seen in your life. Whatever I wished to be, I could be with my voice, which was the thrilling part to me."---On radio acting with major film stars doing radio guest turns.
"There are very clever people in the business now who are just voice characters, who... turn on Voice 36 or Voice 9 or Voice 12 or something. But we always worked from the full person, at least I did, and I know that all of us tried to work that way because that's the only honest way to do it. You have to have a person who lives and breathes and walks and is alive, rather than just turning on a voice. You could conjure up, through imagination, anything you wanted to be." — On whether she was merely a voice artist.
"He got steamed up and the half-hour show didn't really satisfy him, so he kept the audience there afterwards... He did at least an hour, sometimes an hour and a half." — On Red Skelton's being unable to stop performing after each installment of his half-hour show was done for the night.
"Dear Lurene, Thank you for pulling me through so many broadcasts—fondly, Ronnie."—A note Tuttle received from actor Ronald Colman, who was fond of radio and accepted numerous radio jobs himself when film roles became harder for him to come by in his later years.
The Great Gildersleeve, "Marjorie's Cake" (7 September 1941)
The Adventures of Sam Spade, "The Dry Martini Caper" (1 August 1948)
Suspense, "Can't We Be Friends?" (25 July 1946)
Suspense, "The Sisters" (with Rosalind Russell, 9 December 1948)