Iron Eyes Cody: Living the Dream or a Delusion?

Iron Eyes Cody in full regalia.

A year ago, I bought Iron Eyes Cody’s autobiography in an entertainment specialist shop in Norwich. I’d often wanted to read the book as he was a pretty iconic character after his pollution advert back in the 1970’s. He also had always claimed tribal ancestry not too far from my own and I hoped that by reading the book I’d learn not just about Hollywood in the early years but also about his lineage.

I had completely forgotten that Iron Eyes had been “defrocked” as it were in 1996. A half-sister appeared from the sagebrush and claimed that not only did he not have Indian blood in his veins, he was in fact Sicilian. Even after a birth certificate was produced and records found that substantiated the woman’s claim, Cody denied vigorously that he was anything but a Cherokee/Cree Indian.

He stood up for many Native American causes and was awarded for his efforts. He never left his house unless he was dressed in beaded moccasins, buckskin clothes and wearing his braided wig. Even though the tribes he supported through his efforts ascertained that he was not of Native American Heritage, they still accepted him as one of their own; which he was, in spirit at least, if not through blood.

The question is, was Cody so enamoured of his role as the mistreated red man that he came to believe it? Was this part of his “Hollywood” image that he maintained in order to find more work as an actor? Or had he lived this lie so long that he believed it; the “role” he’d invented for himself in order to ingratiate himself to the acting community?

Cody had a long career as a “screen” Indian. He worked with big names in the western film making crowd. He’d been around Hollywood long enough to be able to “name drop” with the best of them. He knew the old silent film cowboys and stuntmen. He also knew retired lawman and living legend Wyatt Earp (although he maintained that if you asked Earp anything about his past he would just look at you and say he couldn’t remember) as well as some of the other less savoury remnants of the old west.

He also provided a treasure chest of “authentic” props for film makers that were used in other films besides westerns. He appeared in over 200 films and worked quite a lot in television as well. But Cody was more than a celluloid “red man” he also lived his life according to the Cherokee/Cree culture.

Cody’s book, titled My Life as a Hollywood Indian, was published in 1984 and was ghost written by Collin Perry (the book’s jacket actually says “As told to Collin Perry”) and includes a lot of photographs of Iron Eyes and his family and some of the Hollywood “big wigs” he worked with. As I’d hoped the book did have a few anecdotes and stories about some of the lesser known players in the old days of western film making. A lot of the stuntmen and extras in those days were rough and tough real cowboys who found that fist fighting and getting shot off of a horse paid a hell of a lot better that working on a ranch punching cows.

So in that area the book was interesting enough. He tells a bit about his married life and his peccadilloes. He also talks about Native Americans and their battles to retain their heritage and claim back their past.

Of course, as the book was written in 1984, he makes not one mention of his Sicilian heritage. The book is set up to sell the idea that Cody was Native American. He obviously believed it. Writing a biography, even with the use of a “ghost writer,” puts your personal “truths” in concrete form. There is your life story, in black and white, filling pages of a book.

You cannot retract your story. You cannot go to the publishers who paid you for your book and say, “Oh by the way, I may have stretched the truth a bit in the area of ancestry.” They may want their money back or worse sue you. That could be the main reason that Iron Eyes Cody, who was actually born Espera Oscar de Corti in Kaplan, Louisiana the second son of two Sicilian immigrants Antonio de Corti and his wife Francesca Salpietra, continued to deny his “real” roots.

So the idea of lawsuits might well have been Cody’s inspiration for denying his true lineage, but, when you take into account his lifestyle; the life he lead following the traditions of the Native American culture, he believed in his “reel” life completely. He may have adopted the ancestry because it was more romantic than his own or he could have gotten so caught up in the whole idea that he forgot his real life existed.

I guess that perhaps that is another “truth” of one’s ancestry or past; when the pretend memories become real, so real that they take over fact and become a deluded reality.

A delusion that can be used to benefit some and that harms no one. Then it is most likely a truth or reality much stronger and powerful than the reality of a father who deserted his wife and children and ran away to Texas.

The only sad thing is, Iron Eyes Cody never told anyone why he preferred the lie or if he was even able to recognise that it was a lie. The 1996 revelation casts an unfortunate tinge on the biography and the validity of its source. But it is still worth looking up just for some of the photographs and for the stories (true or not) of the characters who filled the backdrop in the early days of western film making.

Shedding a little tear…


All the World’s a Stage?

William ‘Willie’ Shakespeare – playwright, glove maker.

That guy Willie Shakespeare knew a thing or two. Not only could he make a mean pair of gloves, but he could write plays till the cows came home. What a guy.

Take for example his play, As You Like It. The All the World’s a Stage monologue was just genius. He imparts the wisdom of life and all it’s stages. He also sums up in one line, life itself. “And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances;…”

We do indeed. Shakespeare then goes on to talk about the seven stages of man, or to be more modern and succinct the seven ages of man. I suppose that I am at the stage of justice all frowns and severely cut beard bordering on the slippers and pantaloon stage.

Thankfully, due to modern diet and medicine, I’m not in the running for “shrunk shank” and reedy voice just yet.

I’ve always had a cock-eyed view of this monologue. When Shakespeare said seven stages (ages) I always felt that this could be changed to read parts or roles. Most of us find a role that we are comfortable in and we pretty much try to stay within the boundaries of that role. Sort of like actors who have to stay out of the stage wings and also have to avoid getting in another actors way.

But we also play many different parts in our life’s role. I will talk about man in the generic, i.e. it means both sexes, you remember, I’m sure, back in the old days before political correctness and having to spell out each and every time what gender the subject was.

We play husband or wife. We play parent and child. We are the job holder, the wise one, the jape and the naysayer – or in some instances – the yes man. We are the older retired individual who must scrape by on a pittance. We are the injured, the wounded, the dying.

When the world was less technologically advanced and theoretically simpler, we had one job that we strived to be the best at. If we could not do that, we did the best we could at not losing our job. Some people move from job to job, trying to fit in; trying to find that round hole that they can fit or, failing that, making themselves fit in a square hole.

Men change partners, introduce more babies into the world, or they practice an odd sort of hermitage. Evolution has demanded that we adapt to our constantly changing world. Men who cannot be flexible are doomed to fail. We must learn many different jobs and tasks as we all move to our inevitable end.

We learn, through trial and error, that not all plans work. We also learn that life is a crap shoot. The dice roll and fall where they fall. We cannot “load” the dice or cheat the numbers when they come up. Snake eyes still equals snake eyes when the dice stop moving. Men just have to learn to duck and dodge, serpentine if you will all the variants that life throws at us.

Some will decide that they cannot do it. They will opt for a deadly early retirement from life. The challenges prove to be overwhelming and unbeatable.

I have, in my short somewhat unremarkable life, been many things, done many jobs and had a great many injuries. Some of the injuries were of the physical sort and some were of the emotional sort. Both are extremely painful and once or twice I looked very hard at a deadly early retirement as a possible option.

A lot of people do and they will either discover that they do have it them to play one more role. It may take them a little longer to learn the blocking and the lines, but they will try and succeed or not.

My year, so far, has been one of wounding and injury. I have just managed to overcome both with a lot of help from modern medicine, and my daughter and my family. I have had  yet another role in my life come to an end. I will now have to find out what  happens next.

Another role is opening up to  me. I will need to learn everything I can to make this new role work. Will I succeed? I hope so. I think that Shakespeare’s stage of justice and pantaloons allows you to view any new “life changing” events with a cool head and a resoluteness that isn’t possible when you are younger.

So even though I am in imminent danger of having another “stage” thrust upon me before I was ready and I will have to learn (or rewrite) my life story yet again, I will not be frightened or uncomfortable about it.

Life is as stage just as the world is. I have made a few exits from roles and entrances as a new character, a new role, many times before. I will, no doubt, do so a few more times before I reach the “sans” stage of the Bard’s monologue.

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Picture life size…

Talent Should Not Equal Tantrums and Tedium

Deja vu for Messer Crowe

I was going to blog about the most obvious subject going right now. It’s being called many things, Frankenstorm, Superstorm, The Perfect Storm and of course it’s original moniker of Hurricane Sandy. But honestly? I think that what little I would have to say on the subject wouldn’t interest anyone. Afterall, I haven’t lived through it.

I’ve been “surfing” the net for news of the devastation that Sandy has visited on the US and I stumbled on an article that had been posted on blockbuster.co.uk.

If you bothered to follow the link, you’re probably as bored as I am. So my bored friend and neighbors what do you think of the casting choices? My immediate problem (apart from the fact that the film is based on a Biblical event) is that Russell “Bloody” Crowe is in the lead role. As Noah??

Now before I get started, I will state that I do not know Mr Crowe personally. We have never met, nor have we done business together. But after reading the miles of print on this man’s odious behaviour, I wouldn’t want to.

Crowe is a perfect example of how not to act if you are a “star.” Entire forests could be decimated in the effort to put to print his acts of rudeness and unpleasantness towards his fans and members of the paparazzi. *Okay, so some of the paparazzi probably deserve it. But not all of them are that obtrusive.*

It is inexcusable that Crowe can be so vile towards the members of the movie going public whose bums on seats have helped to cement his status as a film star. Thus far Crowe has been documented striking, assaulting (once with a mobile [cell] phone) verbally abusing, or just downright being rude to fans.

The only “good” thing I’ve heard about Crowe is his treatment of his co-workers. So far only Christian Bale has been seen to be vile and abusive to his fellow film crew members.

*Warning Contains Adult Language.*

Okay, fair enough that this poor bugger got in Bale’s line of sight. But come on! It’s a movie! Bale wasn’t working on a cure for cancer or  how to solve the world’s hunger problem was he.

Russell Crowe on the other hand has not lashed out at any of his co-workers.

Just his fans.

Oh and the occasional radio interviewer:

If you listen carefully, you won’t hear one hint of animosity from the interviewers tone. Crowe just decided to be insulted by the question and then rudely cut the interview short.

I will not knowingly put one penny in the pocket of either Russell Crowe or Christian Bale. Both actors seem to be of the opinion that their talent puts them above everyone else. Manners, disposition, and laws do not apply to them.

Wrong.

Like the title suggests, talent should not equal tedious behavior. Lashing out at co-workers and fans is not admirable nor is it acceptable. In this day and age where everyone is listening via the internet, it’s not a good idea. If you want people to continue to watch your films, straighten up.

I will mention that I did watch Terminator Salvation (the oh so important film that Bale verbally crucified his crew member on). I did this only to see if the film was worthy of such rage and obvious frustration from Bale.

It was not.

Eu tu Christian?

MikesFilmTalk Salutes Ellen Page

Cover of "Hard Candy"
Cover of Hard Candy

The first thing I ever saw Ellen Page in was the 2005 film Hard CandyHard Candy was like Sleuth  on drugs. Page turned in a tour de force performance that made me fall in love with her as an actress and fear her as a performer. It was plain that the young performer was already a seasoned actor and her co-star in the film, Patrick Wilson obviously had his work cut out for him.

Page was born February 21 1987 and she has been working professionally since 1997. If you look at her film and television credits you can see that this young Canadian actor has been busy. Not just working but working in the kind of films that makes sure folks notice you.

2007 was her busiest year to date, she worked in a total of five projects, three of which she was the ‘star’ player.

Juno , which had a wonderful cast: Michael Cera, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, and J.K. Simmons, in which Page played a young teen who suddenly finds herself pregnant after her first sexual dalliance with Cera’s character. Ellen proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that she could pull off a comedic role. Her timing was spot on and in my opinion she acted Michael Cera off the screen.

In An American Crime she played the doomed Sylvia Likens in the ‘true story’ of an urban nightmare that ends in murder endured by two girls in the 1960’s.

In the The Tracey Fragments she played 15 year old Tracey Berkowitz in a ‘coming of age’ film in which she must find her missing brother.

She was also in The Stone Angel and she provided her vocal talents for The Batman television series as an uncredited ‘additional voices’ according to IMDb.

After 2007 she continued to work steadily and she amassed a further five credits. Then in 2010 she worked on the film Inception.

Cover of
Cover of Inception

It was when I was starting to write a review on Inception that I got sidetracked by Page. I had an idle thought about her part and performance in the film. The idle thought was this, ‘Well at least they’re letting play her age for a change.’

That one thought made me look at her ‘track record’ and boy was it  impressive. While Hard Candy and Juno got her noticed, Inception raised her value as an actor just by being in the film. 2010 was her second busiest year with four projects to her credit.

From that year on she has averaged two projects per year.

Now she is joining an already long list of stars who are putting their voices (and in this case her image) in a video game. In  Quantic Dream‘s  Beyond: Two Souls  she provides her voice and likeness as Jodie Holmes, the main character in the game. But this is not the first time that Ellen’s features have been used in a game.

Naughty Dog ‘s  The Last of Us features a character that is the spitting image of Ellen Page. Quite flattering if not a little off putting game wise. Watching the trailer, I kept thinking what is Ellen Page doing there?

It was even worse when watching the trailer for Beyond: Two Souls. Every time Jode Holmes opened her mouth and Page’s voice came out of it, I again had that ‘what’s Ellen Page doing there’ moment. I have a feeling it might actually distract the player from David Cage‘s newest game.

Blessed with a youthful appearance that most female actors would kill for. Ellen will be able to play those teen and young adult parts for quite a few years yet. It is a little sad that, so far, only Inception has let her play her age. She is rapidly approaching her mid-twenties and she must be ‘chomping at the bit’ to play roles a bit older than she has historically been cast for.

So Ellen Page, MikesFilmTalk salutes you. I can’t wait to see what you work in next.

Ellen Page at the Paris premiere for Inception...

**This is a new feature on my site. If you like it or have a suggestion as to who I should salute, let me know.

Do I Know You?

Oxford Literary Festival
{Paul Heiney Oxford Literary Festival (Photo credit: lizsmith)

I have, in my short time on this earth, done many different jobs. I have also done these jobs in many different places. As a result of all this ‘chopping and changing’ I have met a lot of folks.

Now I may not remember your name or where you came from or what town/city/company you worked for, but, I will always remember your  face. If I’ve worked with you or met you before, I will recognise you.

You would think that this would be a handy thing to have, this almost automatic recall of a face. It admittedly has been an overall good thing.

I came to England in 1982 just after a gut-wrenching divorce from my first wife. I was keen to get here and escape the bad memories my last base held. My first day here, I kept seeing this guy around the base. I knew that I knew him. But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out from where or even when.

I was about to dismiss him as a mental mistake when he caught sight of me. “Hey Smithy, how the hell are ya.” The moment he spoke I knew it was Jerry. A guy who’d helped me get through Basic Training in the USAF. We had a great visit and my first day in a foreign country was made a bit easier by meeting an old mate.

Unfortunately as years went on my ability to always recognise a face let me down a few times.

I started working for the Her Majesty’s Ministry of Justice in 2003. I was a glorified ‘gate keeper’ for lack of a better term. My very first day, I parked up my car and started walking to the reception building. In front of the building a chap sat in his car with his window down. As I approached the car I realised that this fellow looked familiar.

Positive that I must have worked with this fellow before, I decided that the reason he looked so familiar was that I must worked with him before.

I approached him and his car with a big grin on my face. He turned and looked at me as I came up to his car. He had a tentative smile and he looked at me a bit expectantly. Just as I got within ‘hand-shaking’ distance of him I realised that I did not know him at all. Well not personally at any rate.

The man in the car was television presenter Paul Heiney. Just as he opened his mouth to either greet me or tell me to “bugger off” I made a sharp left without breaking my stride and detoured around his car and went in the building. My face was beet red with embarrassment when I realised that I had never worked with this man. I was grateful that the penny had dropped that I only recognised him from TV.  Goodness knows what he thought.

The next time I decided I recognised a stranger, it was written all over his face what he thought of it.

Roughly five years passed before I again saw someone who I was positive I knew. I was going into the Tesco’s supermarket about a mile from where I was then living. It was after work and I needed to nip in and get a few things. As I walked through the electric barriers I saw a familiar looking man in a long coat and fedora hat.

He looked to be a bit older than me, but once again, I was positive that I must have worked with this guy somewhere before. I made a beeline straight for him. Again I had that big ‘I know you’ grin on my face. He stood frozen in front of aisle one. As I got closer his eyes widened and he cocked his head, dog like, and peered into my face. As I got closer I realised two things.

Firstly that, no I did not know this man and secondly that he was about to either run, call security or get ready to defend himself from this grinning madman who he’d never before laid eyes on. It was then that I figured out who he really was.

I’d been watching a BBC dramatization all week about Steptoe and Son (a hugely popular comedy show from the 60’s and 70’s) and the older chap in front of me had played Wilfrid Brambell one of the original stars of the television sitcom. His name was Philip Davis and I had on the television the night before.

I veered off to the right of him, grabbed something off  a shelf and trundled on as if nothing had happened.

Since these two potentially embarrassing situations, I no longer trust my ‘face recognising’ ability. I do think though that the problem lies with England. It is only in this country that you can bump into celebrities in the strangest and least likely places.

On the day I married my second wife we had our reception in a little pub out in the middle of nowhere. I am pretty sure it was called The Hole in the Wall Pub. A very appropriate name. Halfway through the reception my father-in-law leaned over and told me that he had just had a word with the publican and that Trevor Howard was in the other part of the pub having a quiet meal with his wife.

English: Portrait of Trevor Howard. Portrait o...

And he was.

If I see anyone now that I ‘think’ I know, I just keep walking. I figure that if I really do know them, that they might recognise me. If not, well at least I won’t be arrested for ‘stalking’ anyone!