(You know how, when watching a classic movie or TV episode, you’ll spot someone in a small part and say, “Hey, I know that guy (or gal)? This new series will shine the spotlight on those unsung heroes of the Golden Age, the supporting actors we all know and love!)
There’s no mistaking Hank Worden for anyone else in films. The tall, bald, lanky, soft spoken old codger with a face like a buzzard graced the screen with his presence in 170 features and numerous TV episodes, sometimes uncredited but always recognizable. He was a member in good standing of the John Ford/John Wayne Stock Company, worked with everyone from Howard Hawks and Clint Eastwood to Ma & Pa Kettle and Sonny & Cher, and even starred in a documentary about his life and career. Not bad for an old buzzard!
Hank didn’t just play cowboys onscreen; he was the real deal. Born in Iowa in 1901 and raised on a ranch in Montana, young Hank Worden learned to ride and rope with the best of them. He put his skills to good use on the rodeo circuit, and before long was playing New York’s famed Madison Square Garden, where he was spotted and signed to appear on Broadway in a new play titled GREEN GROW THE LILACS, along with another newcomer, a young singer named Tex Ritter.
Hollywood soon beckoned, and Hank began appearing in his old costar Tex’s low-budget Westerns, sometimes as a sidekick, sometimes the villain’s henchman. He became a favorite of director Howard Hawks, acting in five of his films, but it’s his collaborations with John Ford and John Wayne for which he’s best remembered. Hank first joined the two in Wayne’s 1939 breakout film STAGECOACH as an extra, but came to the forefront in 1948’s FORT APACHE, showing off his riding skills to good advantage.
His biggest and best loved role is undoubtably as Old Mose Harper in Ford’s 1956 classic THE SEARCHERS. Mose is an old tracker who’s a bit touched in the head, and serves as an annoyance to Wayne’s mean, prejudiced Ethan Edwards. Old Mose may be a fool, but he still knows his stuff, for he’s the one who finally locates the renegade Indian Scar (Henry Brandon). All the slightly crazy Mose wants in return is a rocking chair, “just like you promised, Ethan”. The old man gets his wish, sitting happy and content in front of the Jorgensen family’s fireplace. It’s a warm, lighthearted performance in a dark, brutal film, and Worden makes the most of the part.
Hank Worden continued to work with Wayne in MCLINTOCK!, TRUE GRIT, CHISUM, BIG JAKE, and other movies. He was in demand on television too, making appearances on THE LONE RANGER (six times), BONANZA, WAGON TRAIN (with fellow Ford alumni Ward Bond), RAWHIDE, GUNSMOKE, and most of the Westerns of the day. Sometimes he pops up in the strangest places, like 1978’s SGT. PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND, as one of the original band members! He’s probably best known to modern audiences for his turn as the Old Waiter in David Lynch’s bizarre TV series TWIN PEAKS, his last acting job before passing away in 1992 at the grand old age of 91. But no matter where you find him, Hank Worden is always a welcome presence whenever he shows up, one of my truly favorite Familiar Faces.
(Do you Dear Readers have any suggestions for future Familiar Faces posts? As always, you’re comments and feedback is most welcome here at Cracked Rear Viewer! Let me know, and I’ll get Cracking!)