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Iron Eyes Cody

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 Tony Corti, Tony Cody, 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 born in Louisiana. Going by the name of Iron Eyes Cody, he portrayed Native Americans in Hollywood films.[1] In 1996, his 100 percent Italian ancestry was confirmed by his half-sister.[2]

Early life

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 William and Frank Henry, 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 anglicized his name as 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 surname to Corti. The brothers moved to California as young men, where they began acting in movies. At that time, they changed their surname to Cody. Joseph W. 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.[2]


Cody began acting in the early 1930s, and continued to work in film and television until his death. He claimed to be Native American, saying that he had Cherokee-Cree ancestry. He frequently changed his place of birth when providing documentation. He lived as if he were of indigenous Native American descent, on and off the screen. He was said to have supported Native American causes.[citation needed]

At a time when numerous Westerns were featured in film and television, Cody appeared in roles as the "noble Indian in more than 100 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. He had roles in another 100 films as other characters.

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 episode, "The Burying of Sammy Hart," on the ABC western series, The Rebel, starring Nick Adams.

Cody was widely known as the "crying chief" in the "Keep America Beautiful" public service announcement (PSA) of the early 1970s.[3] 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 ad was created by the New York office of Marsteller, Inc.[4]

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.

Marriages and family

In 1936, Cody married Bertha Parker, a Native American woman.[4] She was active in archeological excavations during the late 1920s and early 1930s; she became an Assistant in Archaeology at the Southwest Museum, serving in that role from 1931–1941. The couple adopted two children of Native American descent, said to be of Dakota-Maricopa ancestry. Bertha Cody died in 1978.

Son Arthur Cody served in the United States Marine Corps, seeing combat during the Vietnam War. He died in 1996.[4] Son Robert "Tree" Cody is a musician specializing in Native American flute. He was interviewed about his father's film career in the 2009 documentary Reel Injun, which explores the portrayal of Native Americans by Hollywood filmmakers.[4]

In 1992, Iron Eyes Cody married Wendy Foote. They divorced the following year.



Cody died on January 4, 1999 at the age of ninety-four. He was buried at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.[7] He was survived by his adopted son, Robert.


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
1932 The Big Stampede Crews Indian Servent Uncredited Role
1947 The Senator Was Indiscreet Indian
1947 Unconquered Red Corn
1948 Indian Agent Wovoka
1949 Massacre River Chief Yellowstone
1949 Sand Indian Uncredited
1950 California Passage Indian
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 Old Indian 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)
1983 Newhart American Indian Episode, Don't Rain on my parade (1983)
1986 The A-Team Chief Watashi Episode, Mission of Peace (1986)


  1. ^ a b 'Iron Eyes Cody' at Snopes. Retrieved August 31, 2014.
  2. ^ a b 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. 
  3. ^ 1970s PSA
  4. ^ a b c d [ Amy Waldman, "Iron Eyes Cody, 94, an Actor And Tearful Anti-Littering Icon"], New York Times, 5 January 1999, accessed 31 August 2014
  5. ^ Chris J. Walker, "Larry Klein Is Doing It All",, June 1, 2002
  6. ^ Palm Springs Walk of Stars by date dedicated
  7. ^ Iron Eyes Cody at Find a Grave


  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 totally Italian ancestry. Cody supported American Indian-related causes most of his life.

External links

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