When Universal Pictures brought the Broadway musical Mexican Hayride to the screen in 1948, they threw away a big chunk of Herbert and Dorothy Fields' book -- and all of Cole Porter's score -- and they rebuilt it all around the talents of rotund, roly-poly movie comic Lou Costello in place of Bobby Clark, who'd done it on Broadway. The only thing they kept from the play, apart from its title and a few character names, was Luba Malina. In the play, she was Dagmar Marshak, the overeager phrenologist who torments Bobby Clark, and in the movie she was the gorgeous, tempestuous confidence woman Dagmar, who torments Lou Costello. It was Malina's only feature-film role, but it was enough to leave generations of young male Abbott & Costello fans totally enamored with the fiery actress.
Luba Malina was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, the daughter of Vatali Malina, a member of the Moscow Art Theater. She started her career on-stage at the age of five, as a member of Anna Pavlova's children's ballet. The family fled the hardship of post-revolutionary Russia when she was seven and came to America after seven years in Shanghai and three years in London and Paris. Malina studied in Greenwich Village, and her good looks opened lots of doors for her as a performer, although she was initially looked upon as a very serious singer, rather than a comedienne. She appeared in musicals produced by the Shuberts and sang in clubs such as the Copacabana and the Versailles in New York, and the Chez Paree in Chicago. Malina also showed up in a handful of "soundies" during the early '40s, including Cuban Pete, Minnie From Trinidad, and A Gay Ranchero, playing Latina roles of the Carmen Miranda type, although, with her physique, she more resembled Charo crossed with Katy Jurado. In fairness, those appearances, for which she was billed as Luba "Molina," and the fact that she was also apparently billed at one point as Raquel Malina, and some inconsistencies in the dates and accounts of her family's Russian and Shanghai travels, raise some questions about her background. Regardless of the details, however, she made her Broadway debut in Mike Todd's production of Priorities of 1942, in which she first showed off her comedic, tempestuous side. Her subsequent credits, in addition to Mexican Hayride, included Marinka, Festival, Roberta (as Scharwenka), and Noel Coward's Nude With Violin.
Malina worked steadily through the 1940s and '50s, juggling her career -- which included engagements in Las Vegas alongside veteran comic Bert Wheeler -- and a marriage to prominent New York attorney (and one-time Congressional candidate) Myron Sulzberger Jr. Among her later credits was the topical comedy Julia, Jake and Uncle Joe, with Claudette Colbert. She was a guest on Ed Sullivan's Toast of the Town early in its run, and her last small-screen appearance was a role in an episode of Diagnosis: Unknown in 1960. Whatever her origins, Malina proved in Mexican Hayride that she could mangle the English language as comically as Carmen Miranda, declaring to the hapless Lou Costello, "I will work my bones to the finger." ~ Bruce Eder, All Movie Guide