Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski recently delivered remarks on the Senate floor celebrating the late Alaska Native actor Ray Mala, who would have celebrated his 105th birthday on December 27. Murkowski described Mala as “our nation’s first Native American international film star,” and concluded her remarks thusly:
“It is a great honor for me to reflect upon the life of this inspirational Alaska Native icon, and to offer a tribute to his spirited and really very triumphant journey from small town village boy to silver screen leading man. Alaskans look forward to the day when Ray Mala’s magnificent star might be posthumously added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a tribute to the nation’s first ever Native American film star.”
The last sentence is no idle speculation — Murkowski and others are actively lobbying for a Walk of Fame star for Mala. Ted Mala Jr., the actor’s son, and Lael Morgan, author of Eskimo Star: From the Tundra to Tinseltown, the Ray Mala Story, filed an application with the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce last summer, but Mala was passed over. Walk of Fame staffer Ana Martinez, affectionately known as Star Girl, told the Alaska Dispatch that getting a star for Mala won’t be easy. About 24 stars are awarded each year, she said, but only one or two of them are posthumous. Last year, the late soul singer Barry White was chosen over Mala and many other deceased nominees.
Ray Mala was born Ray Wise in 1906 in Candle, Alaska. His father was a Russian Jewish immigrant and his mother was Alaska Native. He was in his mid-teens when he worked as a cameraman for and acted in Primitive Love, a movie filmed in Alaska, and before his 20th birthday had moved to Hollywood. There he worked as a cameraman for Fox Film Corporation. He starred in Igloo, then Eskimo (also known as Mala the Magnificent), which was filmed in Alaska and released in 1933. Eskimo was the first film to win the Academy Award for editing. Mala appeared more than 20 other films, among them The Jungle Princess (1936), Hawk of the Wilderness (1938), and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940). He continued to work as a cinematographer on such films as Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Laura (1944), and Les Miserables (1952). Mala’s final film, released in 1952 — the year of his death — was Red Snow, one of the first films to deal with the cold war and the threat of nuclear warfare. In 2009, Time magazine named Ray Mala to a “Top 10 Alaskans” list published in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Alaskan statehood.
“He was an inspiration and his work was also important because it preserved certain ways of traditional hunting and dancing on film,” Mala Jr. told the Alaska Dispatch. “He always gave back and put his people first. In Los Angeles, he was known as the Famous Eskimo and he represented his people in a good way.”
Getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame isn’t simply a matter of selection, as blogger Dan Bloom points out at HollywoodStarHoney.com. The “honoree” is also required to put up a hefty sum and to attract celebrities to the unveiling ceremony. “We know there is a $30,000 charge to get a star there,” Lael Morgan told Bloom, “and the price may go up we hear, but you don’t have to pay unless you win. We figured we’d cross that bridge when we come to it.”