Mental Floss

Native or Not? The True Stories behind 5 "American Indian" Actors

Kara Kovalchik
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Over the years, plenty of Hollywood stars have fudged their resumes and claimed to be American Indians. Today, Kara Kovalchik is shaking the roots of those family trees to see just how authentic those claims really are.

1. Is Cher short for Cherokee?

Prior to 1973, Cher's biography always listed her father (John Sarkisian) as being of Armenian heritage, while her mother, Georgia Holt, was of Irish and German extraction. But when Cher's single "Half Breed" started climbing the Billboard charts (it would eventually hit number one), suddenly she remembered that she was 1/16th Cherokee on her mother's side. That biographical revision probably helped stem protests from the Native community when Cher performed her hit in a full feathered headdress on an episode of The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. (Watching this clip now, Cher's costume seems pretty tame, but back in 1973 I clearly remember my dad's and brothers' tongues rolling out of their mouths like unfolding red carpets when she rode out on that horse.)

2. The Truth about Tonto

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3. The Boy who Cried Pollution

If you children of the '80s and '90s have ever wondered what all this "give a hoot, don't pollute" hoo-rah was about, you have Iron Eyes Cody to thank. From the late 1960s until the early 1980s, litter was a major cause of roadside, park and beach pollution in America. Discarded beer and soda cans, as well as paper bags with left-over fast food debris, were a blight on the American landscape. Thanks to a tearful Indian, however, all of that slowly changed. The Iron Eyes Cody public service announcement used Cody's careworn face to reflect the disappointment of the people who'd founded this land. Not long after, various laws were put into place that significantly reduced roadside litter. Here's the kicker though: Even though the pollution problem was very real at the time, the Native American in the commercial was not; Iron Eyes Cody was actually Espera de Corti, the son of Sicilian immigrants.

4. Emergency! Ethics

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5. Indian Wrestling

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