Iron Eyes Cody: "Crying Indian"

Iron Eyes Cody was one of Hollywood's most famous Native Americans –– except for the fact that he was Sicilian.

Born Espera Oscar de Corti on April 3, 1904, in Louisiana to Sicilian immigrants, Cody changed his name when he moved to California as a young man to look for work in the movies. A prolific career followed with appearances in more than 200 movies, but there's one iconic role for which he's best known –– a TV commercial that inspired many children of the 1970s to stop littering. Cody played a Native American who shed a single poignant tear at the sight of a bag of garbage tossed from a car window.

It was Cody's most prominent role, still vividly remembered by many who watched TV in the 1970s. But it was not the only time Cody played a Native American. He was in The Big Trail with John Wayne and Nevada Smith with Steve McQueen; he played Crazy Horse in Sitting Bull and a host of other Native Americans over a career that spanned 60 years. Cody "played" a Native American in real life, too: He claimed to be of Cherokee-Cree ancestry and supported Native American causes. He married a Native American archaeologist, Bertha Parker, and the couple adopted two Native American boys.

Cody died on Jan. 4, 1999. Four years before his death, he was honored by Hollywood's Native American community for his contributions to the representation of Native American life.


Written by Linnea Crowther. Find her on Google+.