Monday, January 6, 2014

Remembering Iron Eyes Cody April 3, 1904 - January 4, 1999

On America's first -ever Earth Day in 1971, he paddled his canoe up a polluted stream past a belching smokestack and walked to the edge of a busy highway strewn with trash.  As the camera moved in for a closeup, a single tear rolled down his cheek as a narrator said, "People start pollution and people can stop it."  The man that created that powerful message and is remembered for that "Keep America Beautiful" announcement was Iron Eyes Cody. The public service announcements  took place in the early 70's.  He was known as the "Crying Chief."

Iron Eyes Cody was born Espera Oscar de Corti in 1904 in southwestern Louisiana and was one of three children.  His parents ran a small grocery store in Gueydan, Louisiana until his father left his family and moved to Texas.  His mom remarried and had five additional children.  During Cody's teenage years, the three children joined their dad in Texas and shorted their last name to Corti.  They eventually relocated to California and began acting in movies in the early 30's.

Iron Eyes Cody claimed to be of the Cherokee-Cree ancestry and from an early age supported numerous Native American causes.
Earth Day campaign

He appeared in more than 200 films during his career that included "The Big Trail" in 1930 with John Wayne.  His first film was D.W. Griffith's "The Massacre" in 1912.  Other successful films followed that included "The Scarlet Letter," played Crazy Horse in "Sitting Bull," "Nevada Smith," with Steve McQueen, "A Man Called Horse" with Richard Harris and took on the role as Chief Split Cloud in "Ernest Goes to Camp"  He also played in numerous successful television productions that included "The Restless Gun" "The Tall Man" and "The Rebel."

Through his dedication to the Native American culture, Iron Eyes became very popular with many tribal chiefs as well as his close relationship with heads of government.  He became one of the most recognized faces of generations of Americans.  He touched the lives of virtually every actor who had appeared in movies during the era.

Iron Eyes Cody memorial program
He was known to provide costumes and props from his vast private collection of Indian clothing and artifacts.  He donated many of his works to various museums around the world and did so in honor of his late wife, Birdie, who was an archaeologist for several prominent southwest museums.

During the pinnacle of his career, it was revealed that Iron Eyes was not a Native American but instead of Italian descent.  The Native American community continued to honor him because of his charitable deeds and his dedication to the Indian heritage.  Iron Eyes continued to claim his Indian heritage up to his final breath.

That final breath occurred on January 4, 1999 following a series of strokes.  He was 94 years old.

Following his memorial service in the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles (program pictured), Iron Eyes Cody was laid to rest beside his wife, Bertha in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.

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