Iron Eyes Cody (born Espera Oscar de Corti, April 3, 1904 – January 4, 1999) was an Italian-American actor. He 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, "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.[3][4][2]

Iron Eyes Cody
Cody (left), Glendale, California
at Charles Wakefield Cadman's funeral, 1947
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 active1927–1987
Bertha Parker
(m. 1936; died 1978)

Wendy Foote
(m. 1992; div. 1993)
Children2, including Robert Tree Cody
External images
President Carter with Iron Eyes Cody[1]
Jimmy Carter with "Iron Eyes" Cody, Cherokee Indian

Early lifeEdit

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 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 1948.


Cody began acting in the early 1930s. 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.

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 in the episode "The Intruders." He also appeared in a 1968 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.[7] 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 Joni Mitchell song "Lakota", from the 1988 album, Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm, features Cody's chanting.[8] He made a cameo appearance in the 1990 film Spirit of '76.

Personal life and deathEdit

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.[9] 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 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]


On 20 April 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.[10]


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
Oklahoma Jim War Eagle
The Rainbow Trail Indian
1947 The Senator Was Indiscreet Indian
1947 Unconquered Red Corn
1948 The Paleface Chief Iron Eyes
1948 Indian Agent Wovoka
1949 Massacre River Chief Yellowstone
1951 Ace In The Hole Indian Copy Boy 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
Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County Crazy Foot
A Man Called Horse Medicine Man #1
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 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
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)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c d e Mikkelson, Barbara (August 9, 2007). "Was Iron Eyes Cody an American Indian?".
  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 Aleiss, Angela, "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. May 26, 1996.
  5. ^ a b "Iron Eyes Cody - Hollywood Walk of Fame". Retrieved 12 September 2018.
  6. ^ George De Stefano (23 January 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. ^ "Pollution: Keep America Beautiful - Iron Eyes Cody". Ad Council. Retrieved August 20, 2015.
  8. ^ Walker, Chris J. (June 1, 2002). "Larry Klein Is Doing It All". Archived from the original on March 8, 2014.
  9. ^ "Verdugo Views: The true story of Iron Eyes Cody". 28 August 2014 – via LA Times.
  10. ^ "Palm Springs Walk of Stars – Listed by date dedicated" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-10-13.

External linksEdit