Hank Worden and John Wayne

Hank Worden appeared with John Wayne in 17 films over the course of his career. Only a couple of other actors had a bigger number of roles with Wayne. Paul Fix (the marshal from the TV show Gunsmoke) topped them all with 25, but Worden was still up there. And I’d hazard a guess that if you thought of minor characters in Wayne movies, at least one or two in the top 10 would be a character played by Worden. Some of them were quite memorable.

Worden was raised on a ranch in Montana, so he came by his cowboy skills naturally. He went to Stanford University where he studied engineering. After a stint in the US Army, worden started working the rodeo circuit. It was there that he got his first big acting break when he and fellow rodeo star Tex Ritter where cast in a stage play on Broadway.

A few years later Billie Burke saw him and recommended him to several producers in Hollywood. His acting career in Hollywood initially started as a co-star with his fellow rodeo compadre Ritter, who was by now a star in Hollywood. He was in a couple of dozen movies in the 30’s, mostly uncredited, as an extra in Westerns.

Worden has 222 credits on his resume on IMDb, including some 150 movies and various TV roles. His last role was as a waiter at the hotel in the TV series Twin Peaks, in which he appeared in 4 episodes.

In 1991 Hank Worden was the focus of a documentary, Thank Ya, Thank Ya Kindly, in which many stars paid tribute to this legendary fixture in the character actor pantheon.

According to his bio on Wikipedia, Worden first appeared with Wayne in Stagecoach. Not that you would be able to spot him. He was one of the Cavalrymen. He went on to several other (uncredited) roles over the next 10 years. His most prominent role was probably as Mose Harper in The Searchers, with a close second as the Parson that accompanied Wayne’s character, Davy Crockett.

Mose Harper is a role that I find the most endearing of Worden’s career with John Wayne. In The Searchers, Worden is an old friend of the family whose only real desire is to have a roof over his head, a nice warm fire and a cup of coffee. And a rocking chair. Mose helps Ethan (John Wayne) and Marty (Jeffrey Hunter) on their search for Ethan’s niece who has been captured by the Comanches. Mose serves as the comic relief character in an otherwise grim Wayne movie and a contrast to Wayne’s hard-scrabble embittered warrior character. (It is in this movie that Worden utters the line for which he is most remembered “Thank ya, thank ya kindly” which became the title of the documentary about his career). Mose is a bit eccentric and maybe a wee bit balmy. But he has a good heart.

In The Alamo, Worden plays a character called The Parson. The Parson is the spiritual mentor of Davy Crockett (John Wayne) and his contingent of Tennessee volunteers that help defend the Alamo from Santa Ana. The Parson is not nearly as eccentric as Mose, but Worden does have some memorable scenes in the movie. Of course, he is just as ridiculed for his ramblings as his character Mose. Most of the Tennessee volunteers seem to put up with him as a necessary evil (so to speak).

The rest of Worden’s career with John Wayne are just as memorable, even if they are fleeting. Check out his role as one of the new cavalrymen in Fort Apache. He is the best horse rider in the new unit, but he stands out primarily during the scene where the sergeant is training. He wobbles in the lineup like he is drunk. But he puts the rest of the new recruits to shame when he jumps on the saddle-less horse.

Although some of Worden’s roles in John Wayne movies are rather brief, he usually stands out. And he is recognizable, even if the role is brief. As such a recognizable face, he is even credited as the role of the trainer of Sean Thornton in a flashback scene in The Quiet Man. But it should be noted although some sources credit it as Worden, Worden himself claimed it wasn’t him but another actor who looked like him. (It looks a lot like him to me, but I have to concede that if Worden himself says it wasn’t him it wasn’t…)

Hank Worden died in 1992.

Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films.