Iron Eyes Cody

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Iron Eyes Cody
Cody in 1977
Espera Oscar de Corti

(1904-04-03)April 3, 1904
DiedJanuary 4, 1999(1999-01-04) (aged 94)
Resting placeHollywood Forever Cemetery
Other namesThe Crying Indian
Years active1927–1990
(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] including the role of Chief Iron Eyes in Bob Hope's The Paleface (1948). He also played a Native American shedding a tear about pollution 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 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, 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] In 1953, he appeared twice in Duncan Renaldo's syndicated television series, The 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 Man, Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. In 1964 Cody appeared as Chief Black Feather on The Virginian episode "The Intruders". He played Seeba in S8 E26 "The Jarbo Pierce Story" on "Wagon Train", 1965.

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, first aired on Earth Day in 1971, depicted Cody in a Plains Indians/Hollywood Indian-style 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."[9] 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 Plains Indian Sign Language.[10][clarification needed]

The Joni Mitchell song "Lakota", from the 1988 album, Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm, features Cody's chanting.[11] 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.[12] 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.

Although the non-Native public who knew him from the movies and television thought of Cody as a Native American, 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][9]

Cody died at the age of 94 from mesothelioma at 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, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.[13]

Partial filmography[edit]

Film roles
Year Film Role Notes
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
1931 Oklahoma Jim War Eagle Uncredited Role
1931 The Rainbow Trail John Tom Uncredited Role
1932 Texas Pioneers Little Eagle
1942 Ride 'Em Cowboy Indian Uncredited Role
1947 The Senator Was Indiscreet Indian
1947 Unconquered Red Corn
1947 Bowery Buckaroos Indian Joe
1948 Blood on the Moon Indian Uncredited Role
1948 The Paleface Chief Iron Eyes
1948 Indian Agent Wovoka
1948 Train to Alcatraz Geronimo
1949 Massacre River Chief Yellowstone
1950 Broken Arrow Teese Uncredited Role
1951 Ace In The Hole Indian Copy Boy Uncredited Role
1952 Lost in Alaska Canook Uncredited Role
1952 Montana Belle Indian on horseback Uncredited Role
1954 Sitting Bull Crazy Horse
1955 White Feather Indian Chief
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
1970 Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County Crazy Foot
1970 A Man Called Horse Medicine Man #1
1977 Grayeagle Standing Bear
1987 Ernest Goes to Camp Old Indian 'Chief St. Cloud' Final film role
1990 Spirit of '76 Cameo

Television roles
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)
1957 Cheyenne Grey Wolf Episode: "Hard Bargain" Season 2, Episode 19
1958 The Restless Gun George Washington Smith Episode "A Pressing Engagement"
1959 Rawhide John Redcloud Episode, Incident of the Thirteenth Man (1959)
1959 The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour Eskimo Pilot Episode, Lucy Goes to Alaska (1959)
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
1961 Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre Nemanna Episode, Blood Red
1962 Mister Ed Chief Thundercloud Episode, Ed the Pilgrim (1962) Season 3, Episode 9
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)
1983 Newhart Hotel Guest Episode, Don't Rain on My Parade (1983)
1986 The A-Team Chief Watashi Episode, Mission of Peace (1986)


  • Indian Talk: Hand Signals of the American Indians, 1970, 1991, Naturegraph Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-911010-82-3

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Official diary" (PDF). Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e Mikkelson, Barbara (August 9, 2007). "Was Iron Eyes Cody an American Indian?". Snopes.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Waldman, Amy (January 5, 1999). "Iron Eyes Cody, 94, an Actor And Tearful Anti-Littering Icon". The New York Times.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g 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.
  5. ^ a b "Iron Eyes Cody - Hollywood Walk of Fame". Retrieved September 12, 2018.
  6. ^ George De Stefano (January 23, 2007). An Offer We Can't Refuse: The Mafia in the Mind of America. Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus, Giroux. pp. 279–. ISBN 978-0-86547-962-3.
  7. ^ a b c "The True Story of 'The Crying Indian'". Priceonomics. September 9, 2014.
  8. ^ "Pollution: Keep America Beautiful - Iron Eyes Cody". Ad Council. Retrieved August 20, 2015.
  9. ^ a b Strandis, Ginger (2008). "The Crying Indian". Orion Magazine.
  10. ^ "Out West". Hollywood. Episode 9. March 4, 1980.
  11. ^ Walker, Chris J. (June 1, 2002). "Larry Klein Is Doing It All". Archived from the original on March 8, 2014.
  12. ^ "Verdugo Views: The true story of Iron Eyes Cody". LA Times. August 28, 2014.
  13. ^ "Palm Springs Walk of Stars – Listed by date dedicated" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 13, 2012.

External links[edit]