For Columbus Day: Four Italian Guys Who Played Native Americans

I was going to post this short listicle during November, Native American Heritage Month, but realized this morning that since it’s REALLY about Italians, and this is Columbus Day, and it’s about the DEPLACEMENT of Native Americans in latter day casting practice, today is really the day. You can go ahead and read this as a criticism, not an endorsement, of the practice. Not to lay special blame at the feet of these guys, all talented men trying to make a living as actors and performers. But casting people and producers? Far less cool. I guess the general idea was “dark hair, brown eyes? Great! We’re good to go.” On this occasion we can’t help thinking of the great Cheyenne Chief Roman Nose. 


Frank De Kova (1910-1981) 

Well, you’re not much of a classic comedy fan if you don’t know the work of Frank De Kova, who played Wild Eagle on F Troop (1965-67), and many other native American characters in films and TV besides. Part of the joke with this character was that he talked like a New York garment industry factory owner instead of a tribal chief.

Guess which one?

Guy Marks (Mario Scarpa, 1923-1987)

Night club impressionist and singer played “Pink Cloud” on Tim Conway’s comedy western sitcom Rango (1967). We wrote more about Marks, a cohort of Al Martino and Eddie Fisher, here. That sure is a lot of brown shoe polish on his face.

Iron Eyes Cody (Espera Oscar de Corti, 1904-1999)

Okay. I take it back, you can go ahead and critically judge Iron Eyes Cody, who gave out that he was half Cherokee and half Cree and worked in Hollywood playing Native American parts in westerns for 30 years despite actually being 100% Italian (or half Sicilian, half Italian for those who make the distinction). Among scores of other relevant roles, you can see him in The Paleface (1948) with Bob Hope. He was best known for being the crying Indian in the early 70s litter commercial on television.

And last but not least…

Chief Jay Strongbow (Luke Joseph Scarpa, 1928-2012)

One of my WWF wrestling heroes as a tween! He belongs on this list only if you acknowledge pro wrestling to be “performance”, at least in part (some don’t, and far be it from me to criticize someone’s religion). And anyway, the Chief appeared in at least one legit movie that I know if, Bad Guys (1986) with Adam Baldwin, Mike Jolly, and Ruth Buzzi. The inspiration for Strongbow’s wrestling characters seems to have come from Wahoo McDaniel, who had more of an excuse — he was an actual Native American from Louisiana. By contrast, Scarpa was from Nutley, New Jersey.