Detroit-born Stirling Silliphant (born Sterling Dale Silliphant) was the son of a Canadian immigrant. The family moved to California when he was about two. He grew up in Glendale and graduated from the University of Southern California in 1938. During World War II he was an army lieutenant, and after his discharge in 1946 he got a job with the Walt Disney Studios in the Publicity Department. Shortly afterward he relocated to New York City to take a job as Publicity Director for 20th Century-Fox. In 1953 he moved back to Hollywood with the goal of becoming a writer/producer, and managed to obtain financing for his first film project, The Joe Louis Story (1953), a project he produced but did not write. A few more film jobs followed, and in 1955 he heard that Disney was coming up with a new TV series for children. He personally went to Walt Disney himself with some ideas on what kinds of stories should be featured on the show. Walt liked his ideas and hired him to write and produce a segment of the show, The Mickey Mouse Club (1955), that would showcase different types of careers that children might be interested in when they got older, to be called "What I Went to Be". THe first entry in the series, "Airline Pilot and Airline Hostess", was received well by adults and critics, but unfortunately kids weren't all that thrilled about it. There were to be further entries in the series, but Silliphant and Disney clashed over the lukewarm reception given the first entry, resulting in Disney's firing him and canceling the series altogether.

His dismissal from Disney didn't hurt Silliphant's career, however. He went on to write well-received episodes for many different series, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955) and Perry Mason (1957), and helped to create the hit series Route 66 (1960) and Naked City (1958), writing most of the episodes for "Route 66" and acting as Executive Story Editor for "Naked City". He didn't restrict himself to television, however. He authored more than 50 books, wrote numerous screenplays (winning the Oscar for In the Heat of the Night (1967)) for directors such as Sam Peckinpah (The Killer Elite (1975)) and Clint Eastwood (The Enforcer (1976) and penned a string of well received made-for-television movies, such as Pearl (1978) and Fly Away Home (1981).

Silliphant married Tiana Du Long in 1974 and they had one child. In the 1980s he moved his family to Thailand, all the while continuing to write mini-series and made-for-TV films.

He died of prostate cancer in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1996.