Iron Eyes Cody
|Iron Eyes Cody|
Cody (left) in 1947, in Glendale, California.
|Born||Espera Oscar de Corti
April 3, 1904
Kaplan, Louisiana, United States
|Died||January 4, 1999 (aged 94)
Los Angeles, California, United States
|Resting place||Hollywood Forever Cemetery|
|Other names||The Crying Indian|
|Spouse(s)||Bertha “Birdie” Parker
(m. 1936–1978; her death)
Iron Eyes Cody (born Espera Oscar de Corti April 3, 1904 – January 4, 1999) was a Sicilian-American actor. He portrayed Native Americans in Hollywood films. He also played an Indian shedding a tear about litter in one of the country’s most well-known television PSAs, “Keep America Beautiful“. In 1996, Cody’s half-sister said that he was actually of Italian ancestry, but he denied it.
Cody was born Espera Oscar de Corti on April 3, 1904, in Kaplan in Vermilion Parish, in southwestern Louisiana, a second son of Antonio de Corti and his wife, Francesca Salpietra, immigrants from Sicily. He had two brothers, Joseph and Frank, and a sister, Victoria. His parents had a local grocery store in Gueydan, Louisiana, where he grew up. His father left the family and moved to Texas, where he took the name Tony Corti. His mother married Alton Abshire and had five more children with him.
When the three de Corti brothers were teenagers, they joined their father in Texas and shortened their last name to Corti. They moved on to California, where they were acting in movies, and changed their surname to Cody. Joseph William and Frank Henry Cody worked as extras, then moved on to other work. Frank was killed by a hit-and-run driver in 1949. The boys’ father, Tony Corti, died in Texas in 1924.
Cody began acting in the early 1930s. He worked in film and television until his death. Like many other non-Indigenous people who have impersonated Native Americans, Cody claimed his father was Cherokee (and his mother Cree), also naming several different tribes, and frequently changing his claimed place of birth. To those unfamiliar with Native American or First Nations cultures and people, he apparently gave the appearance of living “as if” he was Native American, fulfilling the stereotypical expectations by wearing his film wardrobe as daily clothing – including braided wig, fringed leathers and beaded moccasins – at least when photographers were visiting, and in other ways continuing to play the same Hollywood-scripted roles off-screen as well as on.
He appeared in more than 200 films, including The Big Trail (1930), with John Wayne; The Scarlet Letter (1934), with Colleen Moore; Sitting Bull (1954), as Crazy Horse; The Light in the Forest (1958) as Cuyloga; The Great Sioux Massacre (1965), with Joseph Cotten; Nevada Smith (1966), with Steve McQueen; A Man Called Horse (1970), with Richard Harris; and Ernest Goes to Camp (1987), as Chief St. Cloud.
In 1953, he appeared twice as Chief Big Cloud in Duncan Renaldo‘s syndicated television series, The Cisco Kid. He guest starred on the NBC western series, The Restless Gun, starring John Payne, and The Tall Man, with Barry Sullivan and Clu Gulager. In 1961, he played the title role in “The Burying of Sammy Hart” on the ABC western series, The Rebel, starring Nick Adams. A close friend of Walt Disney, Cody appeared in a Disney studio serial titled The First Americans, and in episodes of The Mountain Man, Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. He also appeared in an 1968 episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood featuring Native American dancers.
Cody was widely seen as the “Crying Indian” in the “Keep America Beautiful” public service announcements (PSA) in the early 1970s. The environmental commercial showed Cody dressed as a Native American, shedding a tear after trash is thrown from the window of a car and it lands at his feet. The announcer, William Conrad, says: “People start pollution; people can stop it.”
Marriage and family
In 1936, Cody married Bertha Parker. She was active in excavations during the late 1920s and early 1930s before becoming an assistant in archaeology at the Southwest Museum from 1931 to 1941. They adopted two children said to be of Dakota–Maricopa origin, Robert Tree Cody and Arthur. The couple remained married until Bertha’s death in 1978. In 1992, Cody married Wendy Foote and they divorced the following year.
Although the public who knew him from the movies and television thought of Cody as an American Indian, a 1996 story by The Times-Picayune in New Orleans questioned his heritage, reporting that he was a second-generation Italian-American. This was based on an interview with his half-sister, and documents including a baptismal record. Cody denied the claim.
Cody died on January 4, 1999, at age 94.
|1927||Back to God’s Country||Indian||Uncredited Role|
|1928||The Viking||Indian||Uncredited Role|
|1930||The Big Trail||Indian||Uncredited Role|
|1931||Fighting Caravans||Indian After Firewater||Uncredited Role|
|Oklahoma Jim||War Eagle|
|The Rainbow Trail||Indian|
|1947||The Senator Was Indiscreet||Indian|
|1948||The Paleface||Chief Iron Eyes|
|1949||Massacre River||Chief Yellowstone|
|1951||Ace In The Hole||Indian Copy Boy||Uncredited Role|
|1954||Sitting Bull||Crazy Horse|
|1958||Gun Fever||1st Indian Chief|
|1965||The Great Sioux Massacre||Crazy Horse|
|1966||Nevada Smith||Taka-Ta||Uncredited Role|
|1970||El Condor||Santana, Apache Chief|
|Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County||Crazy Foot|
|A Man Called Horse||Medicine Man|
|1987||Ernest Goes to Camp||Old Indian ‘Chief St. Cloud’|
|1953||The Cisco Kid||Chief Big Cloud / Chief Sky Eagle||Two separate roles, Indian Uprising (1953) as Chief Sky Eagle and
The Gramophone (1953) as Chief Big Cloud
|1955||Cavalcade of America||n/a||Episode, The Hostage (1955)|
|1959||Mackenzie’s Raiders||n/a||Episode, Death Patrol (1959)|
|1961||The Rebel||Sammy Hart||The Death of Sammy Hart (1961) Season 2, Episode 25|
|1964||The Virginian||Chief Black Feather||Episode, The Intruders (1964) Season 2, Episode 23|
|1967||The Fastest Guitar Alive||1st Indian|
|1969||Then Came Bronson||Chief John Carbona||Episode, Old Tigers Never Die—They Just Run Away (1969)|
|1986||The A-Team||Chief Watashi||Episode, Mission of Peace (1986)|
- Mikkelson, Barbara (August 9, 2007). “Was Iron Eyes Cody an American Indian?”. Snopes.com.
- Waldman, Amy (January 5, 1999). “Iron Eyes Cody, 94, an Actor And Tearful Anti-Littering Icon”. The New York Times.
- Aleiss, Angela (May 26, 1996). “Native Son: After a Career as Hollywood’s Noble Indian Hero, Iron Eyes Cody is Found to Have an Unexpected Heritage”. The New Orleans Times-Picayune.
- “Pollution: Keep America Beautiful – Iron Eyes Cody”. Ad Council. Retrieved August 20, 2015.
- Walker, Chris J. (June 1, 2002). “Larry Klein Is Doing It All”. Mixonline.com.
- “Palm Springs Walk of Stars – Listed by date dedicated” (PDF).