The Crying Indian – full commercial – Keep America Beautiful Chief iron eyes, Cody

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Iron Eyes Cody

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Iron Eyes Cody
Cody (left), Glendale, California
at Charles Wakefield Cadman‘s funeral, 1947
BornEspera Oscar de Corti
April 3, 1904
Kaplan, Louisiana, U.S
DiedJanuary 4, 1999 (aged 94)
Los AngelesCalifornia, U.S
Resting placeHollywood Forever Cemetery
Other namesThe Crying Indian
Years active1927–1987
Spouse(s)Bertha Parker​​(m. 1936; died 1978)​
Wendy Foote​​(m. 1992; div. 1993)​
Children2, including Robert Tree Cody
External images
image icon President Carter with Iron Eyes Cody[1]
image icon Jimmy Carter with “Iron Eyes” Cody, Cherokee Indian

Iron Eyes Cody (born Espera Oscar de Corti, April 3, 1904 – January 4, 1999) was an American actor of Italian descent who portrayed Native Americans in Hollywood films,[2] famously as Chief Iron Eyes in Bob Hope‘s The Paleface (1948). He also played a Native American shedding a tear about litter in one of the country’s most well-known television public service announcements from the group Keep America Beautiful.[3] Living in Hollywood, he began to insist, even in his private life, that he was Native American, over time claiming membership in several different tribes. In 1996, Cody’s half-sister said that he was of Italian ancestry, but he denied it.[3][4] After his death, it was revealed that he was of Sicilian parentage, and not Native American at all.[2][3][4]


Early life[edit]

Cody was born Espera Oscar de Corti on April 3, 1904, in Kaplan in Vermilion Parish, in southwestern Louisiana, a second son of Francesca Salpietra from Sicily and her husband, Antonio de Corti from southern Italy.[4] He had two brothers, Joseph and Frank, and a sister, Victoria.[2] His parents had a local grocery store in Gueydan, Louisiana, where he grew up.[5] 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.[2]

When the three de Corti brothers were teenagers, they joined their father in Texas and shortened their last name from de Corti to Corti. Cody’s father, Tony Corti, died in Texas in 1924.[4] The brothers moved on to California, where they were acting in movies, and changed their surname to Cody.[6] 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.[4]


Cody began acting in the late 1920s. He worked in film and television until his death. Cody claimed his father was Cherokee and his mother Cree,[3] also naming several different tribes, and frequently changing his claimed place of birth. To those unfamiliar with Indigenous American or First Nations cultures and people, he gave the appearance of living “as if” he were 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.[2][4]

He appeared in more than 200 films, including The Big Trail (1930), with John WayneThe Scarlet Letter (1934), with Colleen MooreSitting Bull (1954), as Crazy HorseThe Light in the Forest (1958) as Cuyloga; The Great Sioux Massacre (1965), with Joseph Cotten; Nevada Smith (1966), with Steve McQueenA Man Called Horse (1970), with Richard Harris; and Ernest Goes to Camp (1987) as Chief St. Cloud, with Jim Varney.Iron Eyes Cody and Roy Rogers in North of the Great Divide, 1950

He also appeared in over a hundred television programs.[7] For example, in 1953, he appeared twice in Duncan Renaldo‘s syndicated television seriesThe Cisco Kid as Chief Sky Eagle. 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 ManDavy Crockett and Daniel Boone. In 1964 Cody appeared as Chief Black Feather on The Virginian in the episode “The Intruders.” He also appeared in a 1974 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.[8] The environmental commercial showed Cody in costume, 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.” The ad won two Clio awards, incited a frenzy of community involvement, and “helped reduce litter by 88% across 38 states”, according to one reliable source.[7] Cody was a participant in the documentary series Hollywood (1980), where he discussed early Western filmmaker William S. Hart‘s use of Native American Sign Language.[9]

The Joni Mitchell song “Lakota”, from the 1988 album, Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm, features Cody’s chanting.[10] He made a cameo appearance in the 1990 film Spirit of ’76.

Personal life and death[edit]

In 1936, Cody married archaeologist Bertha Parker. She was active in excavations during the late 1920s and early 1930s before becoming an assistant in archaeology at the Southwest Museum.[11] They adopted two children said to be of DakotaMaricopa origin, Robert Tree Cody and Arthur. The couple remained married until Bertha’s death in 1978.

Although the non-Native 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, who now wore his Hollywood costumes in daily life, denied the claim.[3][4]

Cody, at age 94, died of mesothelioma at his home in Los Angeles on January 4, 1999.[3] Before death, he had written this comment: “Make me ready to stand before you with clean and straight eyes. When Life fades, as the fading sunset, may our spirits stand before you without shame”.[7]


On April 20, 1983, he was inducted to the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6601 Hollywood Boulevard.[5]

In 1999, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, CaliforniaWalk of Stars was dedicated to him.[12]

Partial filmography[edit]

1927Back to God’s CountryIndianUncredited Role
1928The VikingIndianUncredited Role
1930The Big TrailIndianUncredited Role
1931Fighting CaravansIndian After FirewaterUncredited Role
1931Oklahoma JimWar Eagle
1931The Rainbow TrailIndian
1932Texas PioneersLittle Eagle
1942Ride ‘Em CowboyIndianUncredited Role
1947The Senator Was IndiscreetIndian
1947UnconqueredRed Corn
1947Bowery BuckaroosIndian Joe
1948Blood on the MoonIndianUncredited Role
1948The PalefaceChief Iron Eyes
1948Indian AgentWovoka
1949Massacre RiverChief Yellowstone
1950Broken ArrowTeeseUncredited Role
1951Ace In The HoleIndian Copy BoyUncredited Role
1952Lost in AlaskaCanookUncredited Role
1952Montana BelleIndian on horsebackUncredited Role
1954Sitting BullCrazy Horse
1955White FeatherIndian Chief
1958Gun Fever1st Indian Chief
1965The Great Sioux MassacreCrazy Horse
1966Nevada SmithTaka-TaUncredited Role
1970El CondorSantana, Apache Chief
1970Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico CountyCrazy Foot
1970A Man Called HorseMedicine Man #1
1977GrayeagleStanding Bear
1987Ernest Goes to CampOld Indian ‘Chief St. Cloud’Final film role
1953The Cisco KidChief Big Cloud / Chief Sky EagleTwo separate roles, Indian Uprising (1953) as Chief Sky Eagle and
The Gramophone (1953) as Chief Big Cloud
1955Cavalcade of American/aEpisode, The Hostage (1955)
1958The Restless GunGeorge Washington SmithEpisode “A Pressing Engagement”
1959RawhideJohn RedcloudEpisode, Incident of the Thirteenth Man (1959)
1959The Lucy-Desi Comedy HourEskimo PilotEpisode, Lucy Goes to Alaska (1959)
1959Mackenzie’s Raidersn/aEpisode, Death Patrol (1959)
1961The RebelSammy HartThe Death of Sammy Hart (1961) Season 2, Episode 25
1961Dick Powell’s Zane Grey TheatreNemannaEpisode, Blood Red
1962Mister EdChief ThundercloudEpisode, Ed the Pilgrim (1962) Season 3, Episode 9
1964The VirginianChief Black FeatherEpisode, The Intruders (1964) Season 2, Episode 23
1967The Fastest Guitar Alive1st Indian
1969Then Came BronsonChief John Carbona

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