As an actor, Totten first appeared uncredited on screen as a young miner in the 1958 film The Badlanders. In 1961, he had the uncredited role of Joe in the film Susan Slade, starring Troy Donahue and Connie Stevens. He appeared later on television in an episode of the short-lived 1974 CBS series, Dirty Sally, the only Gunsmoke spin-off, with Jeanette Nolan, and in the 1980s on Simon & Simon and Airwolf. He had a small role in the 1979 Disney film The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again.
Totten was born in Los Angeles. He died of a heart attack shortly before his 58th birthday in Sherman Oaks, California. A daughter, Heather Totten (born 1959), acted on television in the 1970s, including a role in The Red Pony.
Totten's first directing occurred with the 1962 episode "Advance and Be Recognized" of ABC's World War II series The Gallant Men. He then directed the 1963 war picture The Quick and the Dead. That same year, he directed four episodes of NBC's Temple Houston, starring Jeffrey Hunter in the role of the youngest son, Temple Lea Houston, of the Texan Sam Houston. Another Gunsmoke Director, Irving J. Moore directed three episodes of Temple Houston.
Totten directed four segments of ABC's The Legend of Jesse James (1965–1966), starring Christopher Jones in the title role of Jesse James. In 1971, he directed two episodes of the short-lived CBS series Bearcats!, starring Rod Taylor and Dennis Cole. In 1973, he directed two episodes of David Carradine's ABC series Kung Fu. His last directing work was in 1990 in a segment of "The Man Behind the Badge" of ABC's The Young Riders, loosely based on the Pony Express.
Totten wrote the 1968 Gunsmoke episode "Nowhere to Run" and the 1973 television movie The Red Pony, starring Henry Fonda and Maureen O'Hara.
Totten's chance to direct a feature film came in 1969 when veteran Director Don Siegel urged Producer Lew Wasserman to take a chance on Totten for the film Death of a Gunfighter, to the displeasure of star Richard Widmark, who insisted that Wasserman replace Totten with Siegel after much of the film had already been shot. Siegel refused the screen credit, feeling that he had done only minor work on the picture, and Totten also disclaimed the credit, angry that he had been replaced. In consequence, the credit was given to Alan Smithee, the infamous pseudonym designated by the Directors Guild of America as "director" on films which are disowned by their true creators.
In the February 15, 1971 Gunsmoke episode entitled "Cleavus", Totten plays the title guest-starring role, a red-bearded man who finds a gold mine after he accidentally kills the owner. He grabs $200 worth of gold dust from the mine owner's pocket. In Dodge City, Kansas, Cleavus learns that the owner's claim was not yet registered. He seeks the title for himself. and tries to act like a gentleman, buys nice clothing and even seeks to court Miss Kitty Russell. Festus Haggen, a friend of Cleavus, and Kitty determine that the mine is mostly iron pyrite. While rescuing Festus from a fall in the mine, Cleavus accidentally shoots himself to death. The episode was directed by Vincent McEveety.