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…


The Dating House

Big Brother Logo
Big Brother Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had a dream last night that has really stuck in my head. In the world of my dream, the noxious and odious television show Big Brother had finally been cancelled. “Hooray!” I hear you cheer. But don’t celebrate too much. In my dream Big Brother was replaced with (drum roll, please)…The Dating House.

I know, it’s not too overly imaginative, but that’s what it was called in the dream.

Okay?

The rules were simple. Young people in their twenties were chosen from nightclubs and discos from around the country to come and audition for the new show. Once you had gotten past the first stages of audition you then had to ‘walk the gauntlet’ which consisted of walking miles through a main city street and hope that someone had sponsored you to the house.

The way you found out you’d been sponsored was a group of very pretty Asian girls (dressed like the Gangnam dancers in PSY’s video) called out the name on the sticky backed name tag  they had been given. If your name was called, you had been chosen to go in the house. By the time the potential contestants walked through the city, the numbers would dwindle as names were not called or folks just got tired of waiting.

After reaching the outskirts of the city the contestants who received a name tag, with a number, would be called to verify their identity and to get their ‘official’ name tag. You were then given keys to your room in the house. Once you had received these two important items you were led to a huge party area where the contestants were greeted and introduced to one another.

All this was televised and you could, at any given moment, see yourself in these huge television monitors that were set up around the area. After the long introductory party the contestants are led to the house and the first hurdle of The Dating House would commence. If your room key did not also open the entrance door to the Dating House, you were not allowed in.

The numbers dwindled further after this sly key trick. Now there were only ten men and ten women. You each had your own room and you were expected to take part in all the group activities. If you were late to an activity or decided that you did not want to partake in that particular one, you were out of the house.

They way you won the Dating House was to get paired up with a girl or guy via public vote. The public would vote at the end of each episode for the contestants they thought should be together. If you did not get enough votes, or weren’t voted on at all, you were ejected from the house.

Just like the current series of Big Brother, cameras were everywhere in the house. The show, in my dream, was wildly popular and young people fought to be on it.

Now in my dream, I’d somehow managed to get into the house. I not sure how, because I was still in my 50’s. I do know it was some sort of mistake. I had lied about my age when asked in the nightclub (I said I was 51) and apparently I looked a lot younger as well.

In the dream my activities were not overly viewed. The dream centered around the long walk to get in, the politics behind the scenes (amongst the contestants) and the end voting results.

I was (amazingly) voted to be paired up with an adorable brunette in her late twenties. I say adorable, because when she learned of the voting results she came and knocked on my door. When I opened it, she stood there in tears and said, “I like you a lot, Mike, but I love Simmy. I’m sorry.” She then stumbled down the hallway, presumably to find Simmy and tell him or her the bad news. Either way, it was adorable that she’d personally come to ‘let me down’ and in tears yet.

After leaving the house, I was once again in a nightclub and then magically I was once again walking the long walk to get into the Dating House.

And that’s the dream.

Now what is interesting  and downright weird about me having this particular dream is as follows:

I don’t dance. Well not very well and not for years. Back in the day,  I had to be pretty damn lubricated with alcohol to even attempt it.

I don’t go to Nightclubs or discos for essentially the same reason as mentioned above.

I don’t lie about my age. I’m fairly proud that I’ve reached 54 years of life without too much trauma. (well, compared to most folks)

hate reality television shows like Big Brother and I would most definitely hate The Dating House.

*Just for posterity, I will go on record as stating the I hate all reality tv. Britain’s Got Talent, The X-Factor, et al. I think the people who dream these damned things up and the participants should all be lined up against a wall and shot. Repeatedly.*

Lastly, I am not ready to date…anyone. I can solemnly put my hand over my heart and say that if I never date again, it would not bother me. I’ve been married twice, I think I’ve fought long enough in the wars.

Gangnam Style

So I cannot really figure out why I had the dream. I can understand the Asian girls dressed Gangnam Style, I am a huge PSY fan and love the video. But none of the rest of it makes any sense.

Unless…

I wonder (at the risk of taking myself out and lining up against a wall to be shot) if I’ve not been given a germ of an idea for a new television reality dating show.

No, it would never work. Where on earth would you find that many young people with noxious and odious enough personalities to fill the house?

Hmmmm.

Racism

The word racist is an ugly word. It immediately conjures up images of white robed people burning crosses and hanging black people from trees. No, not a pleasant word at all.

It is also “over-used.” Let me explain.

My heritage is strong Native American. Both sides of my family tree in the not too distant past married “full-blooded” Native Americans. Cherokee on my mothers side and Choctaw on my fathers side. We also have a smattering of Wyandot (goodness knows where that came from). In essence, using the Old West term for it, I am a ‘breed.’

Granted, through the “watering down” process that comes with generational growth, I am only about one-quarter Native American. Not a lot, but enough that the US government uses that as a gauge for handing out benefits. Interestingly, none of my family are eligible. Why? Because our ancestors did not have reservation numbers. The reasons for this I won’t go into here.

So when I fill out the ethnicity forms I always have to pick the “other” box. Because I am not “White Caucasian” and living in the UK, they do not have a box with “mixed” that includes Native American. At any rate I do not think of myself as “white” nor do I think of my self as Native American. I just think of myself as a person.

The same way I think of other people.

But I have had people in the past accuse me of racism. Generally because I am upholding a rule that they do not like. I have said in the past, “I am not racist, the white man slaughtered my ancestors and stole their land, they were forced to live in hellish places and were given numbers that were in most cases tattooed on their bodies. I’ll put my ethnic background against yours any day.” This usually stops the accuser dead in their tracks.

It bothers me though, that people feel the need in this day and age to pull the “racism card.” Yes I know that racism still exists. But people who suffer these out-dated attitudes are ignorant. I don’t just mean academically. All racists maintain that “pure blood-lines” are tantamount to superiority. I think if they were a little more intelligent, they would realise that “pure blood-lines” are practically non-existent.

As for the people who continually throw out the Racist Card. Please stop. Just because you hear something you do not like or feel like you’ve been ignored or even mistreated. Stop for just a moment and see if maybe these things happened because of you personally and not just because of your ancestral background or ethnicity.

Like I said racist is an ugly word. And until we can get people to stop bandying it about, it will continue to blight the English language with it’s ugliness. Let’s try to eradicate this word’s existence by refusing to utilise the word and  its definition.