Wednesday 3 April 2019

Old Iron Eyes

Born on this day in 1904 was Iron Eyes Cody, the 'Native American' film star who, among many other roles, played Chief Iron Eyes in the Bob Hope vehicle The Pale Face. Later in life, he was also famous as the 'weeping Indian' in a 'Keep America Beautiful' public service ad, shedding a tear as litter tossed from a passing car lands at his feet. What's more, he provided some good old Native American chanting on the Joni Mitchell song Lakota (1968).
  The only problem was that 'Iron Eyes' was no Native American: he belonged neither to the Cherokee nation nor to any of the other tribes he named in the course of his career. He was in fact an American of Sicilian descent, born Espera Oscar da Corti. Because his facial features looked vaguely – very vaguely (see above) – 'Indian', he found himself landing Redskin roles in Westerns, and decided to 'become' a Native American, simply by staying in character off-screen, retaining his film costumes and acting like everybody's idea of a Native American. Though some questioned his origins, he stuck firmly to his story, and no real evidence of his ethnicity came to light until he was well into old age.
 This kind of deception was so much easier in those innocent pre-internet days – and besides, he was giving the public the kind of Native American they wanted to see. As was another great 'Native American' impostor, the Hastings-born Archibald Stansfeld Belaney, who had a very successful career – and did important work – in Canada as the pioneering conservationist 'Grey Owl'. You can read his story here...


  1. Actually, this photo reminds me of Princess Anne. Iron Eyes was one of my husband's favourite stars for some reason (I suspect the name).

  2. I see what you mean, Dee – Princess Anne with a touch of Sicilian...