By Alex DeMarban
It won't happen easily for the late Ray Mala, the tall, chiseled performer from the Northwest Alaska village of Candle who died in 1952 at the age of 46.
That's exactly what author Lael Morgan's doing. She learned about Ray Mala in the early 1970s as she traveled to more than 200 villages writing articles for Alaska magazine. In Northwest Alaska homes, she kept seeing his handsome black-and-white mug on the walls. "I thought, 'Boy, I have to meet him. Then they said, 'That's Cousin Ray.' I out found he'd been dead since 1952," she said.
She learned that Mala became a big movie star and cameraman beginning in the 1920s after leaving Candle at the age of 13. He was known as Ray Wise in his youth, but eventually changed his last name. After meeting moviemakers in Nome, he filmed the last musher coming into that community during the famous serum run to stop a diphtheria epidemic. He sent the work to filmmakers and that helped launch his movie career, said his grandson, Ted Mala Jr., who's working with Morgan on the effort to get his grandfather a Hollywood star.
After making his way to Hollywood, Ray Mala became the first non-White leading actor. He was the real deal, an Eskimo who spoke Inupiaq and knew how to hunt. In 1933 at the age of 27, he appeared in Eskimo, shot by MGM in the Alaska village of Teller and dubbed "the biggest picture ever made." The movie won the first Oscar for film editing and even made waves in Europe, where it was dubbed Mala the Magnificent.
Winning a posthumous star is difficult, said Martinez. An average of 24 stars are added each year to the Walk of Fame, but only one or two are given posthumously.