Born in Los Angeles, Joe Brooks became an actor after graduating high school. He did some work as an extra, and his first speaking part was in the John Wayne WW II actioner Alerte aux marines (1944). His acting career was interrupted by wartime service in the South Pacific. Returning to California after the war, he got back into acting again. He spent most of his career in bit parts and extra work until he was called to audition for the pilot for the western comedy series F Troop (1965). When told he would be testing for the part of the lookout, Brooks got the idea to play him as extremely nearsighted, making him virtually useless as a sentry. The pilot sold and Brooks was cast in the series as the "sight-impaired" lookout, Trooper Vanderbilt.