It was Earth Day in 1971 when one of the most powerful commercials ever aired on national television.
Keep America Beautiful launched the commercial, and indeed the Ad Council ended up calling it one of the “50 greatest commercials of all time.” It’s called the “The Crying Indian” and the one-minute PSA shows a Native American man who is paddling down a river. But this river is laden with junk, the air is heavy in smog and it’s a future vision of massive pollution. The canoe goes past plastics and garbage thrown out of car windows. Finally we see the camera pan to the man’s face as tears form, and proceed to roll down his cheek.
Very powerful ad and it did not go unnoticed. A couple of Clio awards and more important a whole lot of community involvement in which led to the reduction of litter by 88% across 38 states! “Iron Eyes Cody” stars in this commercial and went on to become known as the “face of Native Indians.” He even received a star on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood. Estimated to have been viewed at least 14 billion times, Iron Eyes Cody became the most recognized Native American of the century. It turns out though, there was one small catch. A secret that remained unspoken, and only became revealed years later.
Iron Eyes Cody was actually 100% Italian.
Nevertheless, the Native American community did honor him for his contributions, while carefully pointing out his true heritage. The impact of the commercial cannot be denied, despite the casting snafu of its lead.
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