Saturday Sidekicks: Sleepy-eyed Hank Worden

Hank Worden (l.) and John Wayne.

There could hardly be a more recognizable face (if not name) in any John Wayne film than Hank Worden. Tall, thin, bald, and perennially slow on the uptake, Worden’s characters ran the gamut from A to B.

Norton Earl “Hank” Worden (1901-92) played almost exclusively Western roles, which was appropriate considering he was raised on a cattle ranch in Montana. He was a rodeo rider (alongside future Western star Tex Ritter) who was tapped for a Western-themed Broadway play after being spotted at a rodeo in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. The acting bug had bitten!

His Western characteristics may have been authentic, but as for the slightly out-of-touch roles he often played, nothing could be further from the truth. The lanky Worden studied engineering at both Stanford and the University of Nevada. But despite his rodeo chops and his intellect, Worden was always cast as the man who seemingly had been kicked in the head by a mule when he was a boy, someone to be pitied, yet always a character with a generous spirit and the intentions of doing good.

His first pairing in a John Wayne film was Stagecoach, in which he played an uncredited cavalry trooper. From that inauspicious beginning, Worden went on to appear in 17 more Wayne films from 1939 to 1973, including such memorable roles as Simms Reeves in Red River, The Parson in The Alamo, and, perhaps most memorably, Mose in The Searchers.

During his long life, Worden had a hugely successful Hollywood career as a bit-part actor who was consistently booked in film and television roles. He has more than 250 onscreen credits, having performed with some of the best actors and directors in the industry. And he was most definitely part of the John Wayne acting family. So let’s hear it for another unsung hero of Hollywood, sleepy-eyed Hank Worden!

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