The 1970s were a decade when Americans began to think seriously about the environment. The very first Earth Day was celebrated in 1970, and to mark the holiday's first anniversary, the nonprofit organization Keep America Beautiful wanted to do something special. The group made commercials and PSAs to raise awareness about littering, which most people didn't see as a serious problem back then.
Their 1971 Earth Day commercial, which came to be known as the "Crying Indian Ad," was a huge success. Narrated by actor William Conrad and starring Iron Eyes Cody, it changed the way Americans saw litter forever.
The ad was an overnight sensation, and in the next few years the organization says that littering was reduced by 88%.
It also made Iron Eyes Cody a household name. Today he's most famous for these commercials, but in his career he starred in over 200 western films, including alongside John Wayne in The Big Trail.
But "Iron Eyes Cody" spent his long career hiding a secret: he wasn't really a Native American at all, although he claimed that both his parents were.
Click the next page to learn about Cody's secret past.
The success of the "Crying Indian" ad made Cody instantly recognizable, and he quickly became the face of the growing environmental movement. He got the chance to meet President Jimmy Carter, and even Pope John Paul II. But while his career was taking off, other indigenous actors were raising doubts about him.
Other actors always got the impression that Cody was "playing" a Native American. In fact, his iconic braided hairdo was a wig.
In 1996 a reporter from New Orleans finally discovered the truth: Iron Eyes Cody was really Espera Oscar de Corti, and he was the son of Italian immigrant parents from a small Louisiana town.
While Cody's lie was revealed, it barely affected his career. He kept making public appearances and speeches, talking about "his" heritage and environmental issues.
He even had roles late in his career on TV shows like The A-Team, and by his death in 1999 he was still remembered by lots of people as "America's Favorite Indian."
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