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Ina Balin, 52; Movie and TV Actress Sought Lung Implant

June 21, 1990|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ina Balin, the raven-haired film and television actress whose long-ago brush with depression sent her to such disparate places as South Vietnam and the Deep South to find a more meaningful life, died Wednesday.

She was 52 and died at the Yale-New Haven Medical Center in New Haven, Conn., where she had been seeking a lung transplant.

Gertrude Brooks, a New York publicist and longtime friend, said the featured player in such films as "The Black Orchid," "The Greatest Story Ever Told" and "The Commancheros," died of pulmonary hypertension, a steady deterioration of the lungs.

Although Miss Balin was voted International Star of Tomorrow by the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. in 1961, it was as the adoptive parent of three orphan girls, two of them infants, and the rescuer of hundreds of other children from a Saigon orphanage that she attracted her most sweeping media coverage.

But it was not notoriety she had sought on what proved her third and final trip to South Vietnam. On her first trip, in 1967, she had gone as an entertainer of U.S. troops and there first became aware of the plight of the children orphaned by war. Her second visit in 1969-70 was as a concerned visitor to the Al Lac Orphanage that the late Dr. Tom Dooley had started years earlier. Her last was to save some of the children she had met there five years earlier.

The Saigon government--as it was falling to Hanoi--had banned the removal of orphans to safer lands and it was to change minds that she and a longtime friend, Betty Tisdale, made the journey.

Through determined persuasion, she and Tisdale, former secretary to Sen. Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.), managed to load 217 orphans aboard an Air Force cargo plane and fly them to Manila.

Two of those orphans, Ba-Nhi Mai, then 7 weeks old, and Kim Thuy, 14 weeks, came to Los Angeles where Miss Balin became their mother. Later she adopted a third An Lac orphan, then a 16-year-old named Nguyet, now Mrs. Nguyet Balin Baty.

Born Ina Rosenberg in Brooklyn, Miss Balin studied drama and psychology at New York University while working as a photographic model.

She made her Broadway stage debut in "Compulsion" before being cast as Anthony Quinn's daughter in the 1959 movie "The Black Orchid." She was hailed as a rising star for her performance in "From the Terrace," the 1960 film adaptation of the John O'Hara novel starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.

Life magazine put her on its cover as "Ina Balin, an Early Look at a Star to Be."

She went back to Broadway as Gertrude Berg's daughter in "A Majority of One." Between films and plays she appeared in such TV dramatic shows as "The DuPont Show of the Week," "Kraft Television Theatre" and "The U.S. Steel Hour." She had won Golden Globe, Theatre World and Film Daily awards.

By 1965 she was earning $50,000 a film and had homes in New York and Los Angeles. But a broken romance and the death of a close friend found her standing in her bathroom one night, counting the sleeping pills. There were not enough for what she was contemplating.

Within a few days she had decided to find a life away from the theater. "I wanted to get out of myself . . . out of my own problems," she said in an interview with The Times in May, 1975, shortly after she had returned with her orphans.

She joined Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his civil rights campaign in the South, particularly in Selma, Ala., and worked for the American Cancer Society, the Leukemia Foundation and organizations fighting muscular dystrophy and cerebral palsy.

Miss Balin never did return to the theater, opting instead for a contemporary art gallery in Santa Fe, N.M. But the altitude aggravated the lung condition that was to eventually kill her and she moved to Connecticut.

She did experience one final, tangential brush with drama when a TV movie, "The Children of An Lac," was made based on her experiences in Vietnam.

Besides her daughters she is survived by her father, a brother and two grandchildren.

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