Thursday 20 July 2017

Iron Eyes Cody, the "typical" Cherokee of Italian origin

Iron Eyes Cody (1904-1999) was born (in Louisiana) Espera Oscar de Corti, second son of Antonio de Corti and Francesca Salpietra who were both from southern Italy. When he began acting in Hollywood in the 1930s, he also began telling people that his father was Cherokee and his mother Cree - a descent he seemed to be insisting on also in his private life and even after his history was revealed.

"To those unfamiliar with Indigenous American or First Nations cultures and people, he apparently 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." (via)
Iron Eyes Cody spent his life as an "Indian", more than that, a "typical Indian", became the "face of Native Indians" and was even said to be "America's favorite Indian" (via). Obviously, there was no need to be real in order to be (stereo)typical.
Only in 1996 did the public learn that Iron Eyes Cody was of Italian origin (via).

His face was viewed about 14 billion times on billboards, posters, and magazines. He played with Steve McQueen, Richard Harris, Ronald Reagan, and John Wayne and to those who did not know him from movies, he became a well-known face through his role in the commercial "The Crying Indian" (via) which was produced for Earth Day in 1971. At first he was reluctant to do the commercial as "Indians don't cry" but he later changed his mind (via).

Iron Eyes Cody got his knowledge about "Indians" from the time when he was touring the country with his father in a wild west show. It was during these tours that he taught himself "the sign language of other tribes of Indians" (via).
"But several (real) Native American actors soon came to doubt Iron Eyes’ authenticity. Jay Silverheels, the Indian actor who played “Tonto” in The Lone Ranger, pointed out inaccuracies in Iron Eyes’ story; Running Deer, a Native American stuntman, agreed that there was something strangely off-putting about the man’s heritage. It wasn’t until years later that these doubts were affirmed." (via)
Iron Eyes Cody apparently saw himself as an advocate of Native Americans and identified strongly with them. On tours, he reminded indigenous US-Americans of their traditions and admonished them against gambling and alcohol (via)
“Nearly all my life, it has been my policy to help those less fortunate than myself. My foremost endeavors have been with the help of the Great Spirit to dignify my People's image through humility and love of my country. If I have done that, then I have done all I need to do." Iron Eyes Cody
::: Rare TV interview with Iron Eyes Cody: WATCH/LISTEN

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