Alex Cord on remaking a classic: Stagecoach

  • Norman Rockwell points at Mike Connors with Stephanie Powers on the set of “Stagecoach.”  COURTESY NORMAN ROCKWELL MUSEUM COLLECTIONS

For the Athol Daily News
Published: 7/13/2018 10:59:49 PM
Modified: 7/13/2018 11:00:02 PM

Audiences often bemoan Hollywood’s decision to recycle old scripts and remake classic movies. Alex Cord, too, was dubious when approached to play John Wayne’s character, The Ringo Kid, in the 1966 all-star retelling of the 1939 western “Stagecoach.”

“At that point, I was an up-and-coming actor, and I’d spent 10 years in the theater before I’d ever set foot in front of a camera,” said Cord from his home in Texas. “The producer, Marty Rackin, was a Damon Runyon type of a character — a tough New York guy — and had seen me in a movie about drug addicts called ‘Synanon.’ Marty liked it, and thought I’d done a good job.”

But, Cord still raised an eyebrow when his agent first approached him.

“When he told me they wanted me, I thought, ‘good God, to try and fill John Wayne’s boots?’ I loved the original which John Ford directed and John Wayne was wonderful in it, as was all the cast. I mean, it’s a true classic. Wayne had done a hundred B-westerns before that and still wasn’t a big star, but ‘Stagecoach’ made him famous overnight.”

Cord’s agent pressed him to accept the role.

“When he came to me with the offer he was so proud and over the top, pointing out it was a great opportunity. I said, ‘but it’s John Wayne and a remake!’ He said ‘they’ve cast Bing Crosby and Ann-Margret — are you nuts? If you don’t take this part I will kill you!’ So I started to think more about it.  Plus, I loved westerns. So why not, what did I have to lose? And by God, I did it and had such a great time.”

The remake also starred Red Buttons, Slim Pickens, Mike Connors, Bob Cummings, Van Heflin, Stefanie Powers and Keenan Wynn.

Cord’s mother was excited that her son might be working with Bing Crosby, in what turned out to be his final film.

“She was such a huge Crosby fan, and I actually got Bing to have dinner with us, which was a high point in her life,” recalled Cord.

When time came to tackle the role originally played by the iconic Wayne, Cord says he just following his training.

“I actually approached the role without any conscious thought of John Wayne or the original movie, which I had only seen once. So, as an actor, I viewed it as I would any other character.”

One of the most memorable and dangerous scenes for Cord was the stagecoach chase sequence toward the movie’s conclusion, when the driver loses the reins and Cord’s character is required to jump from the coach and make his way up to the lead horse. While a stuntman performed some stunts, Cord can be seen riding the horse as the stagecoach is pursued by Indians along bumpy dirt roads at breakneck speed.

“I’m a serious horseman and I can ride anything with hair on it,” said Cord. “And I played professional polo for 20 years, but this was a hairy deal!  I remember going up and down a couple of hills, around bends, through a creek and it was scary. But I was confident I could do it and it was great fun.”

A surprise at the end of the movie appears during the credits, when each of the main characters is depicted by a Norman Rockwell painting.

“The producer came up with the idea, and convinced Norman Rockwell to do it. Rockwell was even an extra, sitting at a table in a bar at the beginning of the film (back to camera in a poker game in black hat, and given the character name, Busted Flush).”

The original portrait resides in the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge (see Cord says he has a print of the original, and recalls sitting for Rockwell for 3 days to complete the painting.

“It ended up about 2 feet wide and maybe 3 feet high and he was a delightful guy,” he said.

An author of several popular fiction novels, Cord chronicled his life in his 2016 autobiography, “From Wheelbarrow To Ferrari: And Back Again.” He says it’s incidents like posing for Norman Rockwell that were surprising twists in his career.

“As I was writing the memoir, I remember thinking ‘am I making this up or did all this stuff really happen?’  Well, it happened, but it’s all been so extraordinary, like the role on ‘Stagecoach.’ I’ve been blessed in my life in so many ways.”

Nick Thomas teaches at Auburn University at Montgomery and has written features, columns and interviews for more than 700 newspapers and magazines. Visit:





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