Editor’s Note: A few years ago I was in a graduate class at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). I was listening to two young female marketing student’s presentation about keeping Tennessee’s environment clean. The students told the professor “we thought about using the crying Indian from the old TV commercial — but we thought it was racist.”
I was rather surprised. I thought to my myself, “why would anyone think that commercial was racist?”
Most people over the age of 50 may remember the famous crying Indian commercial, his nickname — Iron Eyes Cody. The actor wearing Native American clothing in the Keep America Beautiful made his debut in 1971 in the public service advertisement for the anti-litter organization Keep America Beautiful.
I remember this commercial rather well. Personally, I think the public service announcements were very effective and made an impression on me. I recently asked my assistant Marvin and my MTSU intern Sarah to watch the old commercial and let me know their thoughts. They both stated “That’s a strange commercial. Why is an Indian rowing a canoe while everyone else is driving cars on the highways? Why is the Indian crying?
It’s interesting that these young folks look at things a little different from my generation.
I personally think it would be healthy as a society to bring back the old PSA Keep America Beautiful Campaign. Feel free to email me your thoughts at MikeSparkstn@gmail.com.
Keep America Beautiful Anti-Litter Campaign
Iron Eyes Cody could be seen everywhere — on television, in printed ads, and even billboards. He was known by the media and many as the “Crying IndIan.’
The actor was Espera Oscar de Corti who was born on April 3, 1904. Cody’s parents were both Sicilian immigrants (Antonio de Corti and wife, Francesca Salpietra). He grew up in Gueydan, Vermilion Parish, Louisiana, where his folks operated a grocery store.
Cody played Indian like parts in television shows and movies dating back to 1926. He portrayed Native Americans in Hollywood films famously as Chief Iron Eyes in A Bob Hope movie titled The Paleface (1948).
He played the part on and even off screen. He would even deny he wasn’t Native American as late as 1996 and until his death in 1999 at the age of 94.
I remember this commercial rather well. The public service announcement, in my opinion, was extremely effective. As a young boy this story hit home. We wouldn’t dare litter. After all, who wants to make an Indian cry?