Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

CODY, IRON EYES (1907-1999)

Iron Eyes Cody was best known as the "Crying Indian" in the Keep America Beautiful advertising campaign of the 1970s, but his Hollywood credits span eight decades of film and television history. His place and date of birth are disputed, as is his ancestry, but he claimed that he was born in Oklahoma in 1907 to Cree and Cherokee ancestors. Whatever the case, he spent most of his life in Hollywood or on location. He is credited in forty-seven movies and performed uncredited in at least that many more. He not only acted in but also worked as a consultant for films such as The Oregon Trail (1959) and The Unconquered (1947). He counted among his friends film legends Gary Cooper, Tim McCoy, Cecil B. De Mille, John Ford, and many others.

One of Cody's first films was The Covered Wagon (1923). When the film premiered at Grauman's Chinese Theater, Cody was one of fifty Native Americans from the film who provided a prologue filled with Native American dancing and music. Cody danced and told stories in sign language, which Tim McCoy "translated." From that point on, Iron Eyes Cody was one of the most visible Native Americans in the entertainment industry.

About his involvement in the stereotypical depictions of Native Americans, Cody said, "When I first started in the film business, I had no power and was there to do what I was told: to make exciting Western entertainment. And in the days of the big studios, you either did what you were told or you didn't work. So we made movies, we 'gave them what they wanted,' as movies always did and continue to do." Cody died on January 4, 1999, in Los Angeles, California.

Jacquelyn Kilpatrick Governors State University

Cody, Iron Eyes. Indian Talk: Hand Signals of the American Indians. Healdsburg CA: Naturegraph Publishers, 1970.

Cody, Iron Eyes, and Collin Perry. Iron Eyes: My Life as a Hollywood Indian. New York: Everest House, 1982.

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