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Borough Location

WELCOME TO THE NOME CENSUS AREA

ALASKA GENWEB PROJECT

"All roads lead to Rome, but no roads lead to Nome"

BIOGRAPHIES
W. LOUISE FORSYTHE WALSH

Here on the shores of Bering Sea, on June 24, 1899, Louise Forsythe, age 12, was the first girl to come to Nome, landed with her family from Lowell, Massachusetts. They had come on the steamer Corwyn from Seattle. Because of a lack of building materials, they, like many of their companions lived that first winter in a tent, and with no communication with the outside world.

On August 1, 1909 she married Michael Joseph Walsh, an immigrant from County Cork, Ireland. To this marriage ten children were born and reared in Nome.

On this fourth day of July, 1972 we honor our parents, Louise and Michael Walsh, and all the pioneers who adopted Nome as their home. They broke the trail for others to follow, clinging to the very edge of the continent in this remote area with the hostile climate, they raised their families and pursued their walk in life. Together they endured with fortitude the friendships and frustrations and rejoiced in their successes and achievements, remaining to build the enduring foundatins for the emerging State of Alaska, to their heirs and future generations they leave their heritage of independence and self determination in this ___ land. To their everlasting memory this site is lovingly and respectfully dedicated.

Louise Forsythe Walsh
Michael Joseph Walsh
1886 - 1971
1882 - 1963
 
RAY WISE MALA, the "ESKIMO CLARK GABLE"
       
Book recounts career of Ray Mala, the ‘Eskimo Clark Gable’
by Mike Dunham / Anchorage Daily News, Fairbanks Daily News Miner
Apr 09, 2011

In the prologue to her biography of Ray Wise Mala, Eskimo Star, historian Lael Morgan tells how she kept seeing a photo of the same man in house after house while doing research in the Kotzebue area in the 1980s. Who was that handsome man? she asked.

Cousin Ray, the movie star, she was told.

After years of work, Morgan has produced the first biography of the only Alaska Native to make it to the big time in Hollywood. Subtitled From the Tundra to Tinseltown: the Ray Mala Story, the book will be officially released this week. Appropriately, the release coincides with a statewide Ray Mala film festival probably the biggest screening of films by Alaskas best-known movie actor ever planned.

Lucky breaks

Mala was born in 1906 in Candle, on the north side of the Seward Peninsula. His father was a Jewish trader from Russia who wouldnt show any interest in his son until the boy started making big bucks in the movies. His mother was an Inupiaq who left the child with her mother and married a Swedish bar owner.

Bullied by the village kids on account of his mixed blood, Mala got tough fast. His grandmother, Nancy Armstrong, raised him very traditionally. She couldnt afford a gun, so he learned to bring home game with bows and spears, enduring arctic blizzards in hand-sewn furs. At the same time he took full advantage of the local school, learning everything he could about the outside world English, writing, math and machines during the few years of education available in Candle.

At 14, with his extended family devastated by the flu epidemic, he strapped on snowshoes and walked 100 miles to Nome. There he supported himself with odd jobs requiring brutal physical work.

His youth on the tundra had given him a rock-hard physique.

By the early 1920s, adventurous movie-makers were bringing their new-fangled cameras into Alaska for shoots in exotic remote locations.

Mala was hired, initially as labor.

But it was quickly discovered that he had natural-born camera skills.

Mala could crank the handle or rotate the lens smoothly in freezing temperatures that left other men incapable of moving their fingers.

His hunters eye helped him capture precisely focused images. When the footage was processed and reviewed back in Hollywood, producers and directors wanted to know the name of the artist who had shot it.

By the end of the decade, he was in California as an assistant cameraman for Fox Studios. Management noticed his good looks and took some head shots. In the early 1930s, he scored his first acting success in Igloo, a staged documentary shot in Barrow. Universal Studios press machine dubbed him The Eskimo Clark Gable.

In 1932 MGM sent an army of production people to Nome to film Peter Freuchens fictional drama Eskimo. It was billed as the biggest picture ever made and was, in fact, the first full-length major studio picture ever shot in Alaska.

Mala was suggested for the lead but the director rejected him because the cameraman from Candle was half-Jewish.He only changed his mind when the original lead actor walked out in a dispute involving his wife and a member of the crew.

It turned out to be a lucky break for everyone else. Mala wasnt just handsome, he had a face that the camera adored. There was no bad angle.

He also knew the language. Eskimo used Inupiaq dialogue, but bilingualism also came in handy for translating between local Natives and Hollywood people.

He was comfortably familiar with the traditional gear he wielded in the script. But, most importantly, he had considerable acting instincts honed by years of close observation of stars while working with them on the set.

Even before it debuted, Eskimo generated national industry buzz. Malas many friends in the business chatted it up enthusiastically. Awesome raw footage had been beautifully edited. (The film would win the first Academy Award for editing.) Rave reviews poured in from critics in both America and Europe. Eskimo was an instant classic and Mala became a matinee idol.

Hollywood elite

The roles that followed were largely, though not exclusively, those of indigenous characters including more Eskimos, a lot of Polynesians and the occasional bad Indian in westerns. But he played a number of other characters, including an extraterrestrial in Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe. Mala acted side by side with performers like Charles Laughton, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Vincent Price, Ray Milland, Dorothy Lamour, Jane Wyatt, Barbara Stanwyck, Anthony Quinn, Robert Preston and Ralph Bellamy.

But within the business, he was most admired as a cinematographer.

He worked camera for Howard Hawks, Otto Preminger and Alfred Hitchcock, among others. Big names on the other side of his lens included Betty Grable, Carmen Miranda, John Wayne, Joseph Cotton, Merle Oberon and, yes, Balto.

Morgan who is probably best known as the author of Good Time Girls of the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush provides details about Malas movie career, his friendships with people like Stan Laurel and Johnny Weissmuller of Tarzan fame. (Weissmuller envied Malas ability to land roles that required real dialogue and real acting.)

But she also documents the history of his Alaska years, his relatives and friends in the villages.

She follows the lines of parents, siblings, stepparents and, finally, his own wife and son, recounting private stories while searching out the personality somewhat obscured by studio hype and legend of a man who led, she concludes, an unusually lonesome life.

Morgan will be signing copies of her book at screenings of the Mala films planned over the next month.

Movies scheduled will include his first credited film, as the cinematographer in the 1925 Pathe News recreation of the Nome Serum Run, How Death Was Cheated in the Great Race to Nome, and his last on-screen work, the Cold War thriller Red Snow, released in 1952, the year of his death.

Still regarded as classics, Eskimo and Igloo are also to be featured in the festival, but fans may be especially delighted by his role as a tropical islander in Robinson Crusoe of Clipper Island, the campy 14-part serial in which he shared top billing with Rex the Wonder Horse one of the best-paid and most nasty-tempered stars of the time.

No actor in his right mind would take a job that included Rex, Hollywood pros said.

The fact that Mala did so reveals one facet of his personality that comes out again and again in the book.

He understood the studio system better than a lot of Hollywood folks whose rising fame splattered against their own egos. He worked past or overlooked indignities with the same grace as he handled a harpoon or finessed the most technically complicated mechanical camera.

He knew there was nothing to be gained by reacting harshly, Morgan writes with regard to one occasion that roused anger in others. A naturally quiet man, Ray just let it slide.

He may have let his health slide too.

He died at age 45 of heart problems exacerbated by a strenuous shoot in the steaming jungles of Mexico.

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, needed adroit cinematographers and photogenic actors who did not look their age.

In Malas case, the cliche is fact: He really did die too soon.

By Mike Dunham. Mike is the arts and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.

 



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