Eskimo Star: From Tundra to Tinseltown:
The Ray Mala Story

Epicenter Press, 2011
ISBN 978-1-935347-12-5

The biography of a traditionally raised Inupiat Eskimo who became the first and only Native American to attain international movie star status, and also pioneered the film industry as a cinematographer.

The blazing marquee of the plush Astor Theater in New York City billed the 1933 premier of Eskimo as "THE BIGGEST PICTURE EVER MADE," propelling a 27-year-old Inupiat Eskimo from Candle, Alaska, to overnight stardom. The handsome actor was not only the first Alaskan to become a Hollywood movie star but also the first non-white actor to play a leading role.

This is the story of Ray Wise Mala, the talented and enterprising son of an itinerant Russian trader and an Eskimo mother. Mala became part of the white man's world but most of his life struggled to find a place in it, discriminated against because of his mixed race and his father's Jewish faith.

At age l6 Mala got his break in Alaska in 1921 when hired to help film Primitive Love in which he was given the leading role. Mala appeared in more than 25 films over the next three decades, playing Hawaiians, South Sea Islanders, American Indians, and other "exotics."

Mala was a generous, sophisticated, self-made man from humble origins who straddled the gap between two cultures, never forgetting the debt he owed his own. ESKIMO STAR includes many historic photos and colorful movie posters.

 

"Mala’s story is a saga of remarkable determination and survival, a story that Morgan dedicates 'for those who, despite hard times, have the courage to dream that life might be fair.'"
 —Margaret Bauman, First Alaskans

"He had recently run cameras for "Les Miserables" and was being considered for a role in "The Ten Commandments" among other parts. Television, in its infancy, need adroit cinematographers and photogenic actors who did not look their age."

In Mala’s case, the cliché is fact: He really died too soon."
 —Mike Dunham, Anchorage Daily News

"Morgan is writing the only non-Palin histories of Alaska that regular people might actually read, so good on her."
 —Alaska Ear, Anchorage Daily News

"Lael Morgan brings to life the grit, pluck, and drive that enabled Ray Mala to become the most famous indigenous actor and cameraman in Hollywood. Despite poverty and racism, Mala succeeded in an profession far from home."
 —William L. Iggiagruk Hensley, author of Fifty Miles from Tomorrow

 

Eskimo Star

 

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