Friday, May 9, 2008

Iron Eyes Cody - 'American Indian' of Italian Heritage

In keeping with the previous post's theme of western movie actors, now I'll write about an actor who appeared in many dozens of western movies, as an American Indian. His name is Iron Eyes Cody, and he claimed to be of Cherokee and Cree Indian heritage.

Late in his life, it was discovered that Mr. Cody was actually born to Italian immigrants, in Louisiana. His birth name has been given as Espera DeCorti. When confronted with this, he admitted it and said he was ashamed to be Italian, but never gave any reason (at least none that was made public). Instead, he embraced the culture of Native American Indians and re-named himself 'Iron Eyes Cody' (the last name is obviously a variant on his family name).

I had the opportunity to speak to Mr. Cody by phone, in 1982, when I was trying to find out whatever happened to another actor whom he'd known (Noble Johnson). He was listed in the Los Angeles phone directory under the name 'B.P. Cody' - it was his late wife's initials, Bertha Parker. He was very cordial and told me nobody seemed to know what happened to Noble Johnson. I thanked him for his time, and proceeded to compliment him on his movie roles, and he thanked me. I asked if I could send a photo for signing, and he welcomed it.

Two weeks later, I received the photo, signed, and he included this photo showing himself in full outfit for the Rose Bowl Parade in 1961. His notation on the latter: "My Rose Bowl outfit, made it with 102 eagle feathers. - Birdie my wife made my outfit 1937".

In the early 1970s, Mr. Cody appeared in a series of Keep America Beautiful public service tv ads. He was the "Crying Indian", shown with a tear rolling down his face after trash is thrown from a passing car and lands nearby. Below is a frame enlargement from one.
And here's a YouTube video of the ad.

1 comment:

Peter said...

So, essentially, Iron Eyes Cody was a Native Italian American!