There is a direct line between the early American novels and the films. James Fennimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans has been made into a Hollywood movie five times.
Between roughly 1920 and 1970, there were more than 350 Euro-American actors who portrayed Native Americans—including Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Debra Paget, Donna Reed, Jennifer Jones, Julie Newmar, Jeff Chandler, Rock Hudson, Delores Del Rio, Linda Darnel, Sal Mineo, Anthony Quinn, Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Chuck Connors and Ricardo Montalban.
But it was not until 1970 that the first actual Indian tribal member appeared in a lead role in a motion picture. That actor was Chief Dan George cast as Old Lodge Skins in Little Big Man.
For more on the influence of movies, see Why Pop Culture Matters and Valenti: Movies Are Merely Movies. For more on the subject in general, see The Best Indian Movies.
Below: Iron Eyes Cody, one of the fake Indians.