At the time of his birth in 1905, Arthur Silverlake, Jr.'s father and uncle were touring with a circus in an aerial act known as "The Flying Silverlakes". His mother, Edith Goodwin, was an actress. His parents later appeared in vaudeville in a skit "Family Affair", traveling throughout the South and Southwest United States. Arthur first appeared on stage as a baby in Uncle Tom's Cabin and he and his sister, Florence, became part of the act in 1910. Their mother brought the children to Hollywood to get into films, and Arthur made his screen debut in the silent Jack and the Beanstalk (1917). Florence became a successful actress, achieving a degree of fame as one of the screen wives of comedian Edgar Kennedy.
Universal Pictures signed him to a contract, where he acted in westerns as an adolescent character actor. Shortly after the formation of RKO Pictures in 1928, he signed with that studio, where he made Dance Hall (1929) and Cheer Up and Smile (1930). During this early sound film era, he typically played light romantic roles, usually with a comic "Mama's Boy" tone to them, in films such asIndiscreet (1931) with Gloria Swanson. He also had a substantial part as the bellhop in the 1937 film, Topper
Arthur Lake is best known for portraying the Blondie comic strip character of Dagwood Bumstead in twenty-eight Blondie (1938 film) films produced by Columbia Pictures from 1938 until 1950. He was also the voice of Dagwood on the radio series. For the first seven of those years, a radio version was also broadcast with Lake in the Dagwood role. He also portrayed the character in a short-lived 1957 Blondie TV series. His work in the popular Blondie radio show earned him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6646 Hollywood Blvd. Many of the actors on the radio show have noted of Lake's commitment to the program, stating that on the day of the broadcast, Lake "was" Dagwood Bumstead.
Lake became very friendly with newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst and his mistress Marion Davies. He was a frequent guest at the beach house of Davies, where he met Patricia Lake (née Van Cleeve). They were married at San Simeon in 1937.
The parentage of Patricia Van Cleeve is unclear, but at the time of her death, she is reported to have claimed to be the daughter of Davies and Hearst.
In his book about the Black Dahlia murder case, author Donald H. Wolfe asserts that Lake was questioned by the Los Angeles Police Department as a suspect, having been acquainted with the victim through her volunteer work at the Hollywood Canteen. No charges were filed and Lake was one of many suspects in a case that remains unsolved.
Lake died of a heart attack in Indian Wells, California on January 9, 1987 and was interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, in the Douras family mausoleum, along with actress Marion Davies and her husband, Horace G. Brown.