Brooklyn-native actress Ina Balin (née Rosenberg) was born on November 12, 1937, into a Jewish family of entertainers. Her father, Sam Rosenberg, was a dancer/singer/comedian who worked the Borscht Belt. He later quit show business to join his family's furrier business. Her mother was a Hungarian-born professional dancer who escaped a troubled family life by marrying at age 15. Sam was her third husband at age 21. They divorced when Ina and her brother, Richard Balin, were still quite young and the children were placed in boarding schools (she at the Montessori Children's Village in Bucks County, Pennsylvania) until their mother married a fourth time to shoe magnate Harold Balin. He later adopted the two children.
Ina always wanted to be an actress and her mother encouraged her to take ballet lessons while young. Her first big break occurred in New York at age 15 when she appeared on Perry Como's 1950s TV show. She went on to attend New York University majoring in theater and also studied with Actors Studio exponents Lonny Chapman and Curt Conway while gathering additional experience on the summer stock stage. She made an auspicious Broadway debut in a female lead with "Compulsion" in 1957. Two years later, the dark-haired, olive-skinned beauty won a Theatre World Award for her outstanding performance in the Broadway comedy, "A Majority of One", starring Gertrude Berg. Producer Carlo Ponti saw her Broadway performance in "Compulsion" and requested her for a prime role in his film The Black Orchid (1958). Starring Ponti's wife, Sophia Loren, and Anthony Quinn, Ina received impressive notices as Quinn's sensitive, grownup daughter. Considered one of 20th Century Fox's most promising new talents, she received a special "International Star of Tomorrow" Golden Globe for this early work. A major career disappointment occurred when the film version of Compulsion (1959) was made and Ina's ethnic role of "Ruth Goldenberg" was transformed into a non-ethnic part (Ruth Evans) that wound up starring Diane Varsi. Ina was given an unbilled part in the movie. The sting of that studio transgression was somewhat softened when she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for "Best Supporting Actress" for her intensive performance in the Paul Newman/Joanne Woodward soaper, From the Terrace (1960), as Newman's love interest. Due to her strong exotic features, she found herself confined by the studio in her casting and she eventually felt compelled to leave.
A soft, slender, but intent-looking actress who could play various types of ethnicities (Jewish, Italian, Mexican, Spanish, Greek, et al.), she had a lovely, quiet glow to her, but could easily display the fiery temperament of an Anna Magnani when called upon. In the 1960s, however, she was overshadowed by a number of her leading men in their respective showcases. There was little room for any actor to generate interest upon themselves when playing opposite the likes of an Elvis Presley, Jerry Lewis and/or John Wayne. In other situations, her roles were merely decorative, less showy, or proved less integral to the main plot, such as her secondary role as "Martha" in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). While Ina maintained a fine balance of TV roles ranging from the dramatic ("Bonanza" (1959), "Mannix" (1967), "Quincy M.E." (1976), "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" (1964)) to the humorous ("The Dick Van Dyke Show" (1961), "Get Smart" (1965)), the one big acting role that could have set her apart from the others never materialized. Subsequent pictures such as the cult film The Projectionist (1971) and The Don Is Dead (1973) and her assorted appearances in several TV-movies failed to advance her status in Hollywood. And then her life changed...dramatically. As the first woman to ever participate in a handshake tour of a South Vietnam military hospital in the late 60s, Ina toured Vietnam with the USO in 1970 and was greatly affected by the entire experience. It also triggered a series of trips back to the war-torn region. As a Board Member of the An Lac orphanage in Saigon, she courageously took part in the full-scale evacuation of nearly 400 orphans in 1975 during the fall of the city to the Communists. She eventually adopted three of the 219 children who managed to be flown out of the country. In 1980, the dramatic rescue was replayed via a TV film in which Ms. Balin portrayed herself. The well-received The Children of An Lac (1980) (TV) also starred Shirley Jones (as fellow rescuer "Betty Tisdale") and Beulah Quo (as the concerned Vietnamese woman who ran the An Lac orphanage).
From this point on, Ina's professional career took a back seat to the raising of her children and her ongoing interest in foreign relief. She appeared throughout the 1980s with a sprinkling of guest shots on TV's "Battlestar Galactica" (1978), "Murder, She Wrote" (1984) and "As the World Turns" (1956), among others. As for film, her last movies (The Comeback Trail (1982), Vasectomy: A Delicate Matter (1986) and That's Adequate (1989)) were unworthy of her obvious talents.
Ina never managed to fulfill her promising, Golden Globe-winning potential for she was diagnosed and eventually succumbed, at the age of 52, to a rare case of pulmonary hypertension. A single parent, she was survived by her three children.
Helped evacuate hundreds of Vietnamese orphans at the end of the Vietnam War.
She adopted 3 Vietnamese girls in 1976: Nguyet Baty, Ba-Nhi Mai and Kim Thuy.
In the TV-movie The Children of An Lac (1980) (TV), Shirley Jones starred as real-life Red Cross volunteer Betty Tisdale, who along with Ms. Balin, rescued 219 orphans right before the fall of Saigon. While Balin adopted three children, Betty and husband Patrick adopted 5 Vietnamese girls from An Lac and continued to raise funds for An Lac from their home base in Ft. Benning and Columbus, Georgia.
Was also a published photographer and was the co-owner of the Balin-Traube Art Gallery in New York, which operated on East 74th Street for three years in the early 1960's.
Once while traveling in Madrid, she witnessed a car accident in which a car had overturned. With a sheer rush of adrenalin, the petite actress managed to get to the motorist first and turn the car right side by herself, freeing the man, by the time a crowd formed and applauded her efforts.
Stepfather was Harold Balin, a shoe magnate. He adopted Ina and her brother, Richard Balin.
Her father, Sam Rosenberg, was once a song-and-dance performer who worked the Borscht Belt with Danny Kaye. Sam's parents were prominent furriers and threatened to cut him off if he didn't leave show business. He left and was became very successful in the fur business in his own right.
Has two stepbrothers, David Balin and Richard Rosenthal, and one stepsister Arline Kronengold. Richard was a top Wall Street executive until his death after crashing his private Beechcraft airplane. Flying from Syracuse, New York to Washington D.C., Richard was able to guide the malfunctioning plane into a sparsely-populated area that probably saved many people's lives. He was the only casualty. The Richard G. Rosenthal Jewish Community Center of Northern Westchester was created in his honor by the family.
The cause of Ina's primary pulmonary hypertension, which resulted in her death, is unknown but suspected to be something she may have either breathed or ingested while in Vietnam. Many Vietnamese women who developed pulmonary hypertension may have gotten it from the herb fen-fen. The only help for Ina would have been a full heart/lung transplant; at age 52, she was too old to be placed on the list. Some reports list her as having had chronic lung disease but this is not so.
The oldest of Ina's children, Ngyuet, who is part Black and Vietnamese, has three children -- one of them is named Ina.
Ina was about 15 years old when she was hired to play the Virgin Mary in Perry Como's nativity scene on his Christmas TV show, which she did for a couple of years.
All three of the orphans Ina adopted appeared in the TV film The Children of An Lac (1980) (TV).
Ina lost two big roles to Natalie Wood in her early career. She lost the title role in Marjorie Morningstar (1958) and was tested for and seriously considered for the part of Maria in West Side Story (1961).
Sister of actor Richard Balin.
Sister-in-law of Rochelle Balin.
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