Iron Eyes Cody

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Iron Eyes Cody
Cody (left) in 1947, in Glendale, California.
Born Espera Oscar de Corti
(1904-04-03)April 3, 1904
Kaplan, Louisiana, U.S.
Died January 4, 1999(1999-01-04) (aged 94)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Resting place Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Other names The Crying Indian
Years active 1927–1987
Spouse(s) Bertha "Birdie" Parker
(m. 1936–1978; her death)
Wendy Foote
(m. 1992–1993)

Iron Eyes Cody (born Espera Oscar de Corti April 3, 1904 – January 4, 1999) was an American actor. He portrayed Native Americans in Hollywood films.[1] He also played an Indian shedding a tear about litter in one of the country's most well-known television PSAs, "Keep America Beautiful".[2] In 1996, Cody's half-sister said that he was actually of Italian ancestry, but he denied it.[2][3]

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 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.[3]


Cody began acting in the early 1930s. He worked in film and television until his death. Like many other Native impersonators, Cody claimed Cherokee-Cree ancestry, also naming several other tribes and frequently changed his place of birth. He appeared to live as if he were of indigenous Native American descent, on and off the screen, and was said to have supported Native American causes.

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.

Cody was widely seen in his "crying chief" role in the "Keep America Beautiful" public service announcements (PSA) in the early 1970s.[4] 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."

The Joni Mitchell song "Lakota," from the 1988 album, Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm, features Cody's chanting.[5] He made a cameo appearance in the 1990 film Spirit of '76.

Marriage and family[edit]

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.[citation needed]

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.[2][3]

Cody died on January 4, 1999, at age 94.[2]


In 1995, the Hollywood Native community honored Cody for his contributions to the representation of Native American life, yet they tactfully pointed out his non-Native heritage.[1][N 1]

In 1999, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.[6]


Year Film Role Notes
1927 Back to God's Country Indian Uncredited Role
1930 The Big Trail Indian Uncredited Role
1931 Fighting Caravans Indian After Firewater Uncredited Role
Oklahoma Jim War Eagle
1947 The Senator Was Indiscreet Indian
1947 Unconquered Red Corn
1948 Indian Agent Wovoka
1949 Massacre River Chief Yellowstone
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
1977 Grayeagle Standing Bear
1987 Ernest Goes to Camp Old Indian 'Chief St. Cloud'
Year Title Role Notes
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
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)


  1. ^ a b Mikkelson, Barbara (August 9, 2007). "Was Iron Eyes Cody an American Indian?". 
  2. ^ a b c d Waldman, Amy (January 5, 1999). "Iron Eyes Cody, 94, an Actor And Tearful Anti-Littering Icon". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ a b c 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. 
  4. ^ "Pollution: Keep America Beautiful - Iron Eyes Cody". Ad Council. Retrieved August 20, 2015. 
  5. ^ Walker, Chris J. (June 1, 2002). "Larry Klein Is Doing It All". 
  6. ^ "Palm Springs Walk of Stars – Listed by date dedicated" (PDF). 


  1. ^ In 1996, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported Cody as having Sicilian heritage, but he denied it. He lived his adult life claiming he was American Indian; his half-sister and other relatives in Louisiana stated he was of Italian ancestry. Cody supported American Indian-related causes most of his life.

External links[edit]