Ray Mala was an Inupiat actor born in Candle, Alaska on December 27th, 1906. In 1925 Mala made his way to Edendale and got a job as a cameraman with Fox Film Corporation, which relocated the following year to Movietone City, in modern Century City.
In 1932, Mala was featured as an actor in Edwin Wing‘s “documentary,” Igloo, which was distributed by Universal and became a hit. The following year, he appeared as “Mala the Magnificent” in the big budget MGM film, Eskimo. The pre-code film titillated audiences with displays of wife-sharing and co-stared, as Mala’s second wife, Japanese-Hawaiian actress, Lotus Long. An enormous success, it led to his becoming the first Native star of the Hollywood Studio Era.
In 1935, he rejoined Lotus Long, returning the cultural casting favor playing a Pacific Islander with her in Last of the Pagans (1935). He went on to play mostly Pacific Islanders and Native Americans in Northerns like Robinson Crusoe of Clipper Island and The Jungle Princess (both 1936). June 2, 1937 he took as his bride Galina Kropotkin, a Russian Princess sometimes known as Galina Liss. He then took the year off from acting.
He returned the following year with Call of the Yukon, The Great Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok and Hawk of the Wilderness (all 1938); Union Pacific, Mutiny on the Blackhawk and Coast Guard (all 1939); Green Hell, Zanzibar, Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe, Pago Pago, Girl from God’s Country and The Devil’s Pipeline (all 1940); Hold Back the Dawn and Honolulu Lu (both 1941); Son of Fury -The Story of Benjamin Blake, The Mad Doctor of Market Street, The Girl from Alaska, The Tuttles of Tahiti and Sgt. Koovuk (all 1942).
At that point, Mala also spent a considerable amount of time behind the camera as a cinematographer. He worked with Joseph LaShelle on many pictures including Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Laura (1944), The Fan (1949), Meet Me After the Show (1951) and Les Misérables (1952). He and his wife had one son, Ted, around 1949.
Mala appeared in front of the camera in one more film, Red Snow (1952). He died after suffering a heart attack on a Hollywood set on September 23rd, in 1952, just 45 years old. His granddaughter, Galina Mala Liss, is a model/actress who has appeared on CSI – Miami, among other titles.
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One thought on “Ray Mala – Hollywood’s First Native American Star”
Ray Mala was not the first Native American actor or star. Many preceded him. IMDB has Red Wing, Yowlatchie, Eagle Shirt, Edwin Carewe and others. It’s a stretch to refer to Ray Mala as a Star. He was never a major figure in the public eye and never had his name above the movie title or received the salary of stars in his time. There was even an Inuit actor, Nancy Columbia nee Eneautseak. in Hollywood before Ray.