Upon leaving the Navy, Ray entered the University of California at Berkeley, but his studies there were brief. Shortly after leaving Berkeley, Ray settled in Crockett, California with his first wife Shirley Green. They had one child, a daughter named Claire DaRe, and Aldo was even elected the 12th Township Constable of Crockett, a small bedroom community just north of San Francisco.
While constable of Crockett, California, Aldo drove his brother Guido to an audition for the film Saturday's Hero. Director David Miller was more interested in Aldo, because, it is rumored, of his voice, than in his brother, and hired him for the small role of a cynical football player opposite John Derek and Donna Reed. Columbia Pictures wasted no time in signing Ray to an exclusive contract, and despite having no acting experience, Aldo soon appeared in several films under his birth name, Aldo DaRe.
Ray's husky frame, thick neck and raspy voice made him perfect for playing tough sexy roles. In his first film as Aldo Ray, he starred with Judy Holliday in 1952’s The Marrying Kind, directed by film legend George Cukor. Cukor famously suggested that Ray go to ballet school because he walked too much like a football player. That same year, Ray appeared in Pat and Mike, starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in the seventh of their nine films together, and again directed by Cukor.
Ray’s work in Pat and Mike led to his nomination, along with Richard Burton and Robert Wagner, for a Golden Globe as Best Newcomer. Burton won the award that year, but Ray’s career was launched. Columbia Pictures head Harry Cohn liked Ray and wanted him for the role in From Here to Eternity that Fred Zinneman insisted that Montgomery Clift have.
The following year, 1953, Aldo’s personal life didn’t go nearly as well as his professional life. Although he and first wife Shirley Green were divorced, he starred opposite Rita Hayworth in Miss Sadie Thompson, a remake of the W. Somerset Maugham story Rain. This began the most productive period of Aldo’s career, preceded by his marriage to actress Jean Marie "Jeff" Donnell in 1954, a marriage that would only last two years.
In 1955, Ray appeared in starring roles in Battle Cry, Three Stripes in the Sun, and one of his best loved films, We're No Angels, in which he starred with Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov, Basil Rathbone, Leo G. Carroll, and Joan Bennett. By then he was firmly associated with the macho roles that would continue to characterize his work.
Author Richard Matheson said his best known work, The Incredible Shrinking Man, was inspired by a scene in Ray's Let's Do It Again in which a character puts on someone else's hat and it sinks down past his ears; "I thought, what if a man put on his own hat and that happened?" he recounted in an interview for Stephen King's non fiction work Danse Macabre.
This period of Ray’s career would culminate with a starring role in God’s Little Acre, an honest adaptation of Erskine Caldwell’s steamy novel. The film featured Robert Ryan, with whom Ray had also worked in Men in War, and a young Tina Louise in her big screen debut. He was also memorable in The Naked and the Dead, a gritty adaptation of Norman Mailer's novel.
By the dawn of the 1960’s Aldo was most often type-cast as the tough guy, capitalizing on his husky good looks and gravelly voice. He also married Johanna Bennet, who continues to work today, under the name Johanna Ray, as a respected casting director. They were divorced in 1967. (Johanna, a long time collaborator with David Lynch, cast Eric DaRe, her son with Aldo, in Lynch’s Twin Peaks series, as well as the movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.) Aldo’s work of this decade included The Day They Robbed the Bank of England, What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? and Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round. His best known work of the 1960’s, however, was his portrayal of Sergeant Muldoon, alongside John Wayne, in The Green Berets.
Aldo also did two pilots for television in the 1960’s. Although neither was ever picked up, one, an American adaptation of the British comedy Steptoe and Son, was eventually reworked by Bud Yorkin and Norman Lear as a vehicle for Redd Foxx as Sanford and Son.
Hollywood’s appetite for Ray’s machismo continued to wane in the 1970’s. He was typically cast as gruff and gravelly rednecks. Perhaps overly eager for work, Aldo even appeared in a pornographic movie, Sweet Savage, in a non-sexual role. This decline continued in the 1980’s. Aldo, diagnosed with throat cancer, accepted virtually any role that came his way in order to maintain his costly health insurance. What was worse, Aldo’s SAG membership was revoked in the 1980s when it was discovered he was acting in non-union productions. His last film was the campy Shock Em Dead in which he appeared with Traci Lords and Troy Donahue. In his last years he remained in Crockett, California with his mother and family and friends, where he died on March 27, 1991 at the age of 64. He was cremated and buried in Crockett, with a majority of the residents coming out to pay their respects. Aldo Ray is still considered Crockett California's favorite son and the small Crockett Museum still displays his pictures on a wall depicting his life and times.