Today is the birthday in 1904 of the film and TV actor Iron Eyes Cody.
He he has a lengthy list of feature film appearances on the Internet Movie Database , but was famous to most Americans as the “crying indian” in this landmark anti-pollution Public Service Announcement from 1971.
Iron Eyes Cody was an American, but not a Native American. He was born in Louisiana to Italian parents. His given name was Espera de Corti. He shortened his last name to “Corti” and when he went to Hollywood it became the much more marketable “Cody”.
He appeared on screen with luminaries like John Wayne and Richard Harris. And also with lesser lights like Jim Varney and Mr. T. But perhaps the most fascinating character in any of his films was Cody himself. He maintained throughout his life that he was of Cherokee and Cree ancestry, and stuck to that story even after researchers uncovered his true background.
He married a Native American woman, donated to Native causes, adopted Native children and seems to have lived an exemplary life of devotion to those who were his people in every sense except through a direct blood connection. But how important is that?
Thanks to that ubiquitous PSA, in the minds of millions of people “of a certain age”, Iron Eyes is an iconic Indian, and a constant reminder that we should pick up after ourselves.
Forty years ago, keeping America clean was an important part of the national conversation. That’s not so true today, though I don’t sense that we’ve come anywhere close to winning the war against litter.
I’d like to think that no one would throw a full bag of trash at the feet of an indigenous American standing by the highway in 2012 – not that that would have happened in 1971 either. What’s more likely today is that someone would call the police because some suspicious guy was standing too close to the road, crying.
What do you do to Keep America Clean?