Blue-Eyed Apaches: Whites in Indian Roles

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 11, 2014

Casting of Whites in Indian Roles

 BlueEyedPagetWhiteFeatherReedSacajawea1955

Debra Paget as a Cheyenne princess in White Feather; Donna Reed in dark makeup as Lemhi Shoshone guide Sacajawea in The Far Horizons.  Both from 1955.

There have been real Indians in the movies since their earliest days.  John Big Tree, a Seneca from New York state, began in movies in 1915 and worked with both John Ford and Cecil B. DeMille (Drums Along the Mohawk, Western Union, North West Mounted Police, Unconquered, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, etc.).  He appeared in John Ford’s The Iron Horse in 1924 as an uncredited Cheyenne chief, and Ford also used many Navajos as extras in that film.  Ford tended to use Navajos for the Indians in his movies whenever he was filming in Monument Valley on the Utah-Arizona border, whether they were supposed to be Comanches, Cheyennes, Arapahoes or Apaches.  Charles Stevens, a Mexican-Apache grandson of Geronimo, was used as a character actor in Indian parts in the 1930s and 1940s (Frontier Marshal, My Darling Clementine, etc.).

Nevertheless, it was more common for decades to cast whites in dark makeup in Indian roles from the start of the movies through the 1960s.  Wallace Beery, for example, played the evil Huron Magua in the 1920 version of Last of the Mohicans, and Bruce Cabot played the same role in the 1936 remake.  Even John Ford could take authenticity only so far; he used the German actor Henry Brandon as the Comanche chief Scar in The Searchers (1956), and a trio of Mexican actors (Ricardo Montalban, Gilbert Roland and Dolores Del Rio, along with New Yorker Sal Mineo) as the Cheyenne leads in his last major movie, Cheyenne Autumn (1964).

BlueEyedIronHorseBlueEyedCheyenneAut

By 1970, westerns, like other movies, were moving more toward more ethnic authenticity in the casting of Indian parts.  Chief Dan George from the Burrard Band of North Vancouver, was terrific in Little Big Man (1970) and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976).  The trend had become even more notable by the time of the release of Dances With Wolves in 1991, with its large cast of Native American actors from various tribes playing Lakota Sioux and speaking real Lakota.

Still, for most of the history of the movies, whites most often played the prominent Native American roles.  Below is an incomplete list of some of the best-known examples of whites in Indian parts; if you’d like to add to the list, leave a comment, and we’ll be updating it from time to time.  There were a few movies with blue-eyed actors unapologetically playing Apaches, Cheyennes or other Indians, of which special note is made.  (Contact lenses had been available to change blue eyes to brown at least since 1950, when Debra Paget–everybody’s favorite Indian princess of the 1950s–wore them as an Apache maiden in Broken Arrow.)

Indians weren’t the only ethnic group to receive this treatment—actually, most ethnic groups have mostly had white actors of other ethnicities playing them in Hollywood.  For example, see the list of whites playing Mexicans of various sorts, even though there have been major actors of Mexican ancestry in Hollywood since at least the 1920s (Ramon Novarro, Dolores Del Rio, Gilbert Roland). 

There will be more on actual Indian (Native American) actors in westerns in a future post.

BlueEyedEdwardsVince Edwards as Hiawatha, 1952.

Bruce Cabot and Robert Barratt (Huron Magua and Mohican Chingackgook, in Last of the Mohicans, 1936)

Anthony Quinn (with his half-Mexican ancestry, Quinn played a lot of ethnic roles, including several as Indians and Mexicans [Ride, Vaquero!  Yellow Hand in Buffalo Bill, Crazy Horse in They Died With Their Boots On, The Plainsman])

Anthony Quinn (Cheyenne warrior in The Plainsman, 1936)

Anthony Quinn (Oglala Sioux Crazy Horse in They Died With Their Boots On, 1941)

Anthony Quinn (Cheyenne Yellow Hand in Buffalo Bill, 1944)

Linda Darnell (Cheyenne Dawn Starlight, in Buffalo Bill, 1944)

Boris Karloff and Katherine DeMille (western Seneca chief Guyasuta and his daughter Hannah, in Unconquered, 1947)

Robert Taylor (Shoshone Broken Lance, in Devil’s Doorway, 1950)

Jeff Chandler (Chiricahua Apache Cochise, in Broken Arrow, 1950, and The Battle at Apache Pass, 1952)

Debra Paget (an Apache woman in Broken Arrow, 1950)

Ricardo Montalban and Jack Holt (Blackfeet Ironshirt and Bear Ghost in Across the Wide Missouri, 1951)

Rock Hudson (Young Bull, in Winchester ’73, 1952)

Vince Edwards (Onondaga or Mohawk Hiawatha, 1952)

Hank Worden (Blackfoot Poordevil, in The Big Sky, 1952)

Cyd Charisse (a Chippewa maiden, in The Wild North, 1952)

BlueEyedCharisse

Dennis Weaver (Navajo Menguito, in Column South, 1953)

Jack Palance (Apache Toriano in Arrowhead, 1953)

Michael Pate (Apache chief Vittorio in Hondo,1953)

Keith Larsen and Joan Taylor (Taslik and Wanima in War Paint, 1953)

Henry Brandon and Dennis Weaver (Seminoles Waygro and Pino in War Arrow, 1953)

Charles Bronson (Modoc Captain Jack in Drum Beat, 1954)

Marisa Pavan [Italian] (Modoc maiden Toby in Drum Beat, 1954)

Burt Lancaster, Jean Peters and Charles Bronson (Massai, an Apache, and two others in Apache, 1954)

Lee Van Cleef (Cheyenne chief Fireknife in The Yellow Tomahawk, 1954)

Rita Moreno (Cheyenne maiden Honey Bear in The Yellow Tomahawk, 1954)

Donna Reed (Lemhi Shoshone Sacagawea, in The Far Horizons, 1955)

Victor Mature (Oglala Sioux Crazy Horse in Chief Crazy Horse, 1955)

Debra Paget, Jeffrey Hunter and Hugh O’Brian (Cheyennes Appearing Day, Little Dog and American Horse in White Feather, 1955)

Elsa Martinelli (Sioux maiden Ohnati, daughter of Red Cloud, in The Indian Fighter, 1955)

Debra Paget (Indian maiden—presumably Sioux—in The Last Hunt, 1956)

BlueEyedPaget Debra Paget in The Last Hunt.

Russ Tamblyn (red-headed half-breed in The Last Hunt, 1956)

Neville Brand (Rokhawah, a Mohawk, in Mohawk, 1956)

Mae Clark (Minikah, a Mohawk chief’s wife, in Mohawk, 1956)

Henry Brandon (Comanche chief Scar in The Searchers, 1956, Comanche Black Cloud in Comanche, 1956, and Comanche chief Quanah Parker in Two Rode Together, 1961)

Lex Barker, Apache chief Mangas Coloradas, in War Drums, 1957)

Vince Edwards (Chief Little Wolf, in Ride Out for Revenge, 1957)

Joanne Gilbert (Pretty Willow, in Ride Out for Revenge, 1957)

Michael Ansara (Apache Delgadito in Quantez, 1957)

Lisa Montell (Tula, daughter of Apache chief Victorio, in Tomahawk Trail, 1957)

Bert Convy and Kathryn Grant (half Sioux in Gunman’s Walk, 1958)

Henry Silva (Lujan in The Bravados, 1958)

John Russell, Ray Danton and Andra Martin (Sioux chief Gall and his nephew, and an Arapaho Maiden in Yellowstone Kelly, 1959)

Audrey Hepburn (Kiowa, in The Unforgiven, 1960; but to be honest, part of the point for most of the movie is guessing whether she’s Indian or not)

Chuck Connors (Apache Geronimo, in Geronimo, 1962)

Wende Wagner (Apache girl Sally in Rio Conchos, 1964)

Pierre Brice (Winnetou in Frontier Hellcat, 1964, and others)

Ricardo Montalban, Dolores Del Rio, Gilbert Roland, Sal Mineo (Cheyennes Little Wolf, Spanish Woman, Dull Knife and Red Shirt in Cheyenne Autumn, 1964)

BlueEyedCheyAut2

Martin Landau and Robert Wilke (Sioux Walks-Stooped-Over and Five Barrels in The Hallelujah Trail, 1965)

Michael Pate (Apache leader Sierra Charriba in Major Dundee, 1965)

Janet Margolin (Kiowa in Nevada Smith, 1966)

Howard Keel (Levi [Kiowa] in The War Wagon, 1967)

Royal Dano (Pretty Horse in The Last Challenge, 1967)

Warren Oates (Walter Charlie in Smith!, 1969)

Julie Newmar (vengeful Apache maiden Hesh-Ke in McKenna’s Gold, 1969)

Ted Cassidy (giant Apache Hachito in McKenna’s Gold, 1969)

Judith Anderson (Sioux Buffalo Cow Head, in A Man Called Horse, 1970)

Henry Silva (Chatto in Five Savage Men, aka The Animals, 1970)

Bruce Cabot (Sam Sharpnose in Big Jake, 1971)

Charles Bronson (Chato in Chato’s Land, 1972)

Paula Pritchett (a Central American Indian princess in The Wrath of God, 1972)

Desi Arnaz, Jr. (Billy in Billy Two Hats, 1974)

Trevor Howard (Cheyenne Windwalker, in Windwalker, 1981)

BlueEyedConnors

The quintessential blue-eyed Apache:  Six-foot five-inch Chuck Connors as Geronimo, 1962

Blue-Eyed Apaches

Robert Taylor as Lance Poole (Broken Lance, Shoshone) in Devil’s Doorway

Jeffrey Hunter as Little Dog (Cheyenne) in White Feather

Burt Lancaster as Massai in Apache

Chuck Connors as Geronimo in Geronimo

Paul Newman as John Russell in Hombre (authentically blue-eyed because he is playing a white man raised among the Apaches)

BlueEyedBogart Mexican bandido chieftain Bogart in Virginia City.

Anglos Playing Mexicans     

Humphrey Bogart as John Murrell in Virginia City (1940)

Linda Darnell as Chihuahua in My Darling Clementine (1946)

Linda Darnell as Elena Kenniston in Two Flags West (1950)

Natalie Wood as Maria-Christina Colton in The Burning Hills (1956)

Joan Collins as Josefa Velarde  in The Bravados (1958)

Horst Buchholtz (German)  in The Magnificent Seven (1960)

Eli Wallach as Calvera in The Magnificent Seven (1960) and as Tuco in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)

BlueEyedWallach

Eli Wallach as Calvera in The Magnificent Seven (1960): “If God had not wanted them sheared, He would not have made them sheep.”

Robert Loggia as Johnny Quatro in Cattle King (1963)

Tony Franciosa as Rodriguez in Rio Conchos (1964)

Jack Palance as Jesus Raza in The Professionals (1966)

John Saxon as Chuy in The Appaloosa (1966)

Omar Sharif (Egyptian) as John Colorado in McKenna’s Gold (1969)

BlueEyedSharif

John Saxon as Luis Chama in Joe Kidd (1972)

Save

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone