The 23rd July, the anniversary of Hank Worden‘s birthday, seemed like a great time to celebrate a man who was something of an unsung hero of film.
Hank Worden was born in 1901 and was University educated as an engineer, with his following work including bronc rider and cab driver. He was then spotted to appear in Broadway play Green Grow the Lilacs (the play which would go on to become musical Oklahoma!). It was following this that he had a chance encounter with actress Billie Burke while working as a wrangler at a dude ranch. She recommended him to some film producers and he made his first appearance as an extra for Cecil B. DeMille. Eventually, he became a member of the John Ford Stock Company, leading to many appearances in Ford productions and then many John Wayne projects.
I say that Worden was something of an unsung hero, because he often played fool sidekick characters in Westerns, the genre with which he is perhaps most associated. Although he did appear in many diverse film and TV productions right up until his death at 91.
He seemed to have a knack of turning up in perhaps the most unlikely places, probably because he worked pretty constantly and seemed to be in fairly constant demand for character roles. Although most often used in horseman type parts, certainly between the 40s and 60s, the most unexpected place I have ever seen him pop up is a non-speaking cameo, as we would term it now, as a trucker in the convoy scene in 1977’s smash hit Smokey and the Bandit.
I get the feeling, when looking through his body of work, that everybody in the business wanted to work with Hank Worden and felt towards him as I do when watching: always pleased to see him. He sometimes seems to have been typecast, but then you look at his filmography and think back through the films you have seen him in, and he could do anything. Even touching emotional moments, such as when he played the undertaker in True Grit, tenderly dealing with young girl Mattie Ross as she looks upon the body of her murdered father.
Hank Worden may not be a much-remembered name as the years go by, but his face and talent will go on for as long as the great productions in which he appeared remain favorites with fans old and new.
Happy Birthday Hank Worden; and thank you for all the smiles and tears you gave us throughout the years.