An interview that originated in a magazine called “Novel Reads By Novel Ideas” follows. This interview was an interesting mix of the movie stuff and the book stuff. I really hope you enjoy it! Don’t forget to get your copy of my latest book “Days of the Harbinger.”
It’s great to finally meet you, Alex. Let me kick off by asking you about your friend Sammy Davis, Jr. What was he like?
He was not like anyone or anything I or you or anyone has ever known. He was the quintessential original individual. His heart was so big one would imagine that a larger body would be required to pack it around. To comment on his enormous talent would be redundant. His inquisitive mind was never at rest. If something seized his interest, he took it apart like a lab technician, analyzed and dissected it until he was satisfied. His intellect was staggering. There were no academic degrees framed on his walls, but he could sure hold his own with anyone in any conversation. He was overwhelmingly generous with his time and affection for those he cared about. He treated my mother and father as if they were his close relatives. With hugs and kisses, he welcomed them into his home for dinner. One time he was railing about being exhausted and over-booked. I told him that after fulfilling his commitments he needed to get away from everything—agents, managers, phones. Two months later he called to say that he had rented a two hundred and ten foot yacht with a crew of eight including a chef from Maxim’s in Paris and that it was my fault, so I had better get down to Florida and spend at least a week with him and his beautiful Altovise. That was one helluva good time. Sammy was a very special man, and I felt privileged to be his friend.
His biography “Why Me?” was one of the most exciting books I have ever read. Somehow, I figured he would be just like that. Okay, so how did you break into the TV world? You went from the stage to TV almost overnight, right?
I had done a lot of TV in New York in the early days. Naked City, East Side West Side, Alcoa Theater, Route 66, to name a few. Some of our best actors and directors came out of that school. In those days, there was a certain prestige in being a New York actor and they would fly you out to Hollywood to do a TV show that was filmed there. I’ve wanted to be a cowboy since I could walk, so I was thrilled at the opportunity to be in my first Western. It was the very popular Laramie, starring Robert Fuller and John Smith. I had long been a fan of Dan Duryea and I was to play his son. What a treat! A profound friendship began right then between Bob Fuller and me which has lasted till this very day, more than 50 years. He’s my neighbor here in Texas. I was the best man at his wedding and he was the best man at mine. Then there was Frontier Circus with Chill Wills, one of the great character actors who appeared in most of John Wayne’s Westerns. I got to be a Mexican bandit. Hunter’s Moon was a good one. The Quest with Kurt Russell in which I was one nasty guy. Lots of fun, and Kurt was very cool. Then came an offer of pure gold. An anthology series called the Chrysler Theater, Bob Hope Presents. The episode was a Western, a great script, a great role, and my leading lady was the fantasy of my life, Jean Simmons. And to top it all off, the director was Sam Peckinpaw. Surely, I must be dreaming. It was titled The Lady is my Wife. I fell in love with Jean Simmons and have remained in love with her to this day.
You were, of course, unforgettable in the movie “Greyeagle.” How did you ready yourself for that role?
How does a blond haired, blue-eyed man get to be a Cheyenne warrior? First, they fit you with brown contact lenses and this was before they had soft plastic ones. These were glass and felt like having half a tennis ball in each eye. Then they cut your hair and put a stocking on your head. Then they pin this wig to the stocking and glue it to your forehead. Then they pluck your eyebrows and shave your chest and then they paint your body red-brown. By now your discomfort has fixed an expression on your face that could be interpreted as hostility. And now, I am Grayeagle.
The wild-eyed Jack Elam was in the movie. Jack was a man of two passions that I knew of. One was playing cards, the other was drinking whiskey. He was a consummate performer at both. I never saw him having had too much to drink. Perhaps because that was his constant condition. He had a super sense of humor. To be around him was to be laughing all the time.
Ben Johnson, Academy Award winner, world’s champion steer roper, a cowboy, the real deal, was in the movie. He was one of a kind. A truly admirable man. Not long after we finished the movie, he and some friends came up with the idea of putting on Pro-Celebrity Rodeos to benefit children’s hospitals. We did them for about 15 years and raised tons of dinero. Turns out there were lots actors and actresses who could ride and perform with great rodeo champions. We packed ’em in. We did several a year in Texas alone, as well as California, Arizona, Colorado, Las Vegas, and Oklahoma. We rode cutting horses, team roped, team penned and all with the best professional rodeo cowboys. Larry Mahan, Casey Tibbs, Roy Cooper, Leon Harrell were some. World class entertainers, George Straight, Lynn Anderson, Red Steagall, Tanya Tucker performed. Barry Corbin, Sam Elliot, Bruce Boxleitner, Buck Taylor, Annie Lockhart Taylor and many more gave of their time and talent to benefit the kids. Dale Roberts and Wilford Brimley, who was one helluva team roper. He also shoed horses for a living before he became an actor. I was roping steers in Arizona with Ben Johnson 2 days before he died. He is missed big time by many.
I loved playing Grayeagle especially because I got to ride a lot and had a super horse to ride.
I’m sure many people remember you fondly as “Archangel” in Airwolf. How did you come to take that role?
I was given the script, then called in to meet with the producer, creator and director, Don Bellisario. He was the man behind Magnum P.I. Everything about Airwolf was first class—the script, the cast, Ernie Borgnine, Jan Michael Vincent and Don Bellisario. Jan and I had done a Police Story together and liked each other. So I was eager from the start to be a part of it. I needed no convincing.
And so we come to your latest love affair—your writing career. How do you approach your written work? Are you an avid reader?
I’ve always enjoyed reading. The only writing I did was letters. Often the people who received them commented on how they liked them and some said they’d saved them. I just thought that was nice. In college, I began to read the classics. That’s when it really took hold. I got into Shakespeare and William Faulkner and John Steinbeck. Shakespeare, probably more than anyone had the most dramatic effect on me in terms of what was possible with the English language. Once I began to realize how unlimited the art of expressing thoughts and feeling with words is, I wanted to learn more. I’ve read many of the great writers more than once. I read with a highlighter in hand so I could go back and study a passage. Before highlighters, I used a pen or pencil to underline or mark the margins. That’s been my classroom for writing. Reading. Reading the best and studying how they do it. I know I’ve read all of Hemingway at least twice. I’ve read Crime and Punishment three times. The Brothers Karamazov, twice.
Lonesome Dove, twice. Pillars of the Earth, twice. Steinbeck, never enough. To a God Unknown, three times. I think it’s fair to say I’ve been influenced by all of the above. In recent years, a few greats have emerged that I take enormous pleasure from. Cormac McCarthy is brilliant. He tells unusual stories in an unusual style that is compelling. Annie Proulx is wonderful. She has a style all her own. Her descriptions of characters are richly colored. Her dialogue takes you right to the time and place of which she speaks. She paints her pictures with brief bold strokes. There is much to be learned from reading both McCarthy and Proulx.
How do you approach writing? Are you a night writer? Day writer? What do you do to get you into the right writing groove?
I like to start working after breakfast. If I’m keen on something I may start after just coffee until I’m ready to take a break and then have breakfast. Then I’ll work for 3 or 4 hours, take a break for a bite then go back for 2 hours. I may break up the day to ride a horse or two. Once I start a project, I stick with it until it’s done. Mostly there are great time gaps between my projects. I don’t churn things out. I wish I had that gift. I don’t.
How does your status as a Hollywood legend help you as a writer?
If you are a very famous actor, it may be an advantage in getting published, but I think the general perception among the literati is that actors may not possess great scope of mind. I find that totally untrue.
What is a book to you?
Books for me are good for different reasons. I’ve read books in which I’ve highlighted something on nearly every page. I’ve read books that have held my rapt attention throughout and highlighted nothing. A fast-paced story, well but simply told may not have a single phrase or idea worthy of note but still be a damn good read. Dimensional characters we’ve not met before may be all it takes to drive a story and hold our interest. You won’t need a highlighter to read Vince Flynn but once started you might be reluctant to put it down. The simple answer to what makes a good book is a good writer and a subject that interests you. Reading and writing is an amazing, limitless world filled with abundant treasures and adventures to be explored. I am so grateful to be living in it.
So, you are fulfilled as a writer, how do you feel looking back at your acting career?
As for acting, I’ve been blessed with a fulfilling career and still love it with a passion. To be a working actor if you are not one of the handful of stars who are in such demand that all they have to do is sift through the offers that come to their door, you must be in Hollywood or New York and in constant pursuit of work. I have a modest ranch in rural Texas where I work hard and live my life with horses and my extraordinarily talented wife, Susannah, who is a gifted trainer in the high school of classical dressage and a brilliant writer of magical stories.
Alex Cords latest novel “Days of the Harbinger” is available from Amazon and all good book stores. Get your copy today!
- Top Cord Picks! (alexcordnews.wordpress.com)
- Horses and Woman: Alex Cord (alexcordnews.wordpress.com)
- Midnight Rodeo Opens In Dallas Nov 20 (cravedfw.com)
- Essays on Julia Ward Howe VS John Steinbeck (daisy12andrews12.wordpress.com)
- A Month of Steinbeck. (jaydeashe.wordpress.com)
- Actors tell about working with big names (hispanicbusiness.com)
- East Of Eden By John Steinbeck (cheapbestessaywriting.wordpress.com)
- Memory of Stolen Arkansas Rodeo Horse Lives On (fox16.com)
- Rodeo Parties Are Great For Girls and Boys Alike (personalcreations.com)