Beloved Charactor Actor Got Start in Northeast Texas
Noble Willingham was born in Mineola on August 31, 1931, to Noble Henry Sr. and Ruby Ladell Speights. He went on to become a beloved character actor — most often as a “good ol’ boy” who appeared in more than 30 feature films and numerous TV shows before his death in 2004.
Willingham was perhaps best known for his role in TV’s Walker, Texas Ranger. Spanning eight seasons, he played the character of C.D. Parker, owner of a bar and grill and retired law enforcement confidante for the lead role played by Chuck Norris.
He also appeared in City Slickers (1991), City Slickers II (1994), Independence Day (1983), La Bamba (1987), Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Ace Venture: Pet Detective (1994), The Last Boy Scout (1991), Chinatown (1974), and Paper Moon (1973). His other TV credits include Bonanza, Gunsmoke, The Waltons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Dallas, The A-Team, Highway to Heaven, The Dukes of Hazzard, Home Improvement, and Murder, She Wrote.
Most of his characters exhibited a Southern charm and homespun outlook on life.
Willingham got into acting despite his training in other areas. After a stint in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, he graduated from North Texas State College (now the University of North Texas) in Denton in 1953. After working in oil fields for a time, he returned to academia to get a master’s degree in educational psychology from Baylor University.
While teaching at Sam Houston High School in Houston, he was encouraged by the school’s drama teacher to try out for a role in a made-for-TV film being made in Point Bolivar. His big break came next when he landed a part in the iconic Peter Bogdonavich film The Last Picture Show, filmed and set in North Texas.
Willingham left Walker, Texas Ranger to run for U.S. Representative, 1st District, which included Longview, Texarkana, Nacogdoches, Marshall and Paris. He lost the race to the incumbent Max Sandlin.
Through the course of his life, he became a champion of civil rights. He formed the Noble Willingham Foundation which directed most of his residuals to the African-American Jarvis Christian College in Hawkins, Texas.