Iron Eyes Cody was born Espera Oscar de Corti on April 3, 1904, in Kaplan in Vermilion Parish, in southwestern Louisiana, a second son of Francesca Salpietra from Sicily and her husband, Antonio de Corti from southern Italy. He had two brothers, Joseph and Frank, and a sister, Victoria. His parents had a local grocery store in Gueydan, Louisiana, where he grew up. His father left the family and moved to Texas, where he took the name Tony Corti. His mother married Alton Abshire and had five more children with him.
When the three de Corti brothers were teenagers, they joined their father in Texas and shortened their last name to Corti. Cody's father, Tony Corti, died in Texas in 1924. The brothers moved on to California, where they were acting in movies, and changed their surname to Cody. Joseph William and Frank Henry Cody worked as extras, then moved on to other work. Frank was killed by a hit-and-run driver in 1948.
Cody began acting in the early 1930s. He worked in film and television until his death. Cody claimed his father was Cherokee (and his mother Cree), also naming several different tribes, and frequently changing his claimed place of birth. To those unfamiliar with Indigenous American or First Nations cultures and people, he 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.
He appeared in more than 200 films, including “The Big Trail” (1930), with John Wayne; “Sitting Bull” (1954), as Crazy Horse; “The Light in the Forest” (1958) as Cuyloga; “The Great Sioux Massacre” (1965), with Joseph Cotten; “Nevada Smith” (1966), with Steve McQueen; “El Condor” (1969) with Lee Van Cleef and Jim Brown; “A Man Called Horse” (1970), with Richard Harris.
Cody was widely seen as the "Crying Indian" in the "Keep America Beautiful" public service announcements (PSA) in the early 1970s. The environmental commercial showed Cody in costume, shedding a tear after trash is thrown from the window of a car and it lands at his feet. The announcer, William Conrad, says: "People start pollution; people can stop it."
Cody was married twice, first to archeologist Bertha Pallan Thurston Parker (1936–1978), he had a stepdaughter Billie (Wilma Mae ‘Billie’ Pallan [1925-1942], the couple adopted two boys, a musician, singer, dancer Robert Tree Cody [1951- ], and Arthur William Cody [1952–1996], after Bertha died in 1978 Cody married Wendy Foote (Gwendolyn Foote) [1953- ] form 1992-1993.
Iron Eyes Cody died from mesothelioma on January 4, 1999. He was 94 years old.
CODY, Iron Eyes (Espera Oscar De Corti) [4/3/1904, Kaplan, Louisiana, U.S.A. – 1/4/1999, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A. (mesothelioma)] – film, TV actor, brother of actor J.W. Joe Cody (Joseph William De Corti) [1902-1978], actor Frank Cody (Frank Henry De Corti) [1916-1948], married to archeologist Bertha Pallan Thurston Parker [1907-1978] (1936–1978), stepdaughter Billie (Wilma Mae ‘Billie’ Pallan [1925-1942], adopted son musician, singer, dancer Robert Tree Cody [1951- ], adopted son Arthur William Cody [1952–1996], married to Wendy Foote (Gwendolyn Foote) [1953- ] (1992–1993).
El Condor – 1969 (Santana)