One of most successful PSAs of all time was the 1971 anti-pollution campaign from the Ad Council and Keep America Beautiful known as "The Crying Indian," which, according to the organizers, helped contribute to a 88 percent reduction of litter in "300 communities, 38 states, and several countries."

The Crying Indian Cut Litter 88 Percent

Debuting on the second Earth Day, the ad features actor Iron Eyes Cody, who had played the "noble Indian" archetype in about 100 movies over the course of his career. In this role, he canoes down a river filled with garbage until he reaches a city covered in smog, and a beach strewn with litter.
He looks out at the car-covered landscape and the narrator scolds, "Some people have a deep abiding respect for the natural beauty that was once this country. And some people don't." Garbage is tossed at Cody's feet.

As the narrator intones, "People start pollution. People can stop it," a close-up creates the indelible image of the single tear trickling down the cheek of Iron Eyes Cody. A sequel depicts Cody on horseback, touting a former dumping ground that was cleaned up.

But Iron Eyes Cody Was Italian

The New York Times obituary notes that the "tear" was actually glycerine. But that's not the only thing fake about the ad: Iron Eyes Cody was not an actual Native American.

At least, that's what the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported in 1996. While he claimed to be born in Oklahoma territory from Cherokee and Cree parents, he was actually born Espera Oscar de Corti in Louisiana from Italian parents. He took the illusion as far it could go, marrying a Native American, adopting two Native American boys, and often wearing Native American dress. And he denied the Times-Picayune report, even though it was based on baptismal records and an account from his half-sister.

And yet, the Ad Council site memorializing the campaign characterizes Iron Eyes Cody still lists him as a "Native American" actor.

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