Irish McCalla is Sheena Queen of the Jungle


Sol Lesser, who produced seventeen Tarzan films between 1933 and 1958, had plans to produce a Sheena film as early as 1952, according to entertainment gossip in Quick magazine in September of that year. That project never came to fruition unfortunately, but plans to produce a Sheena movie didn't die. Somehow the Nassour Brothers acquired the rights to the Sheena film property but they eventually changed their minds and decided to make a television series instead.

Twenty six episodes of Sheena Queen of the Jungle were filmed on a shoestring budget in the jungles of Mexico over a seven and a half month period in late 1955 and early 1956. The series was a joint production by Rodriguez Productions in Mexico and Nassour Studios, an American company run by two brothers. The series began screening in syndication while the crew were still filming in Mexico and Irish McCalla was a major star by the time she returned to California.

Despite the show being a big hit on both American and overseas television the Nassour Brothers decided not to continue with the venture and no more episodes were made. The same 26 episodes were continually repeated both locally and abroad over the next few years and Irish managed to survive on income from personal appearances for several years.

Not many people challenge the idea that Irish McCalla was the "definitive" Sheena - she looked exactly like the Fiction House Comics character and her understated, naïve delivery made you believe she was raised in the jungle. Other pretenders to the crown, Tanya Roberts and Gena Lee Nolin, are very disappointing by comparison. However, the generations exposed to these more modern Sheenas do appear to have a preference for the Sheenas they were first introduced to.

Sheena aficionados disagree on the dates of the first screening of the Irish McCalla series. In their definitive book on Irish, TV's Original Sheena - Irish McCalla, Bill Black and Bill Feret claim that the first episode aired was Forbidden Cargo on 16 September 1956. They also claim that the final episode screened was Touch of Death on 17 March 1957. The TV Collector magazine, however, states that the series was first released for syndication in late 1955 and the earliest run they were able to track was in Springfield, Massachusetts in December 1955. They suspect that the much-quoted Black and Feret dates are probably from a later New York or Los Angeles run.

On the Entertainment page of the 22 September 1952 issue of Quick magazine it was revealed that Lesser was seeking actresses to play Sheena, a female version of Tarzan. The short article went on to say that the chosen actress would have to "move like a leopard, swim like a fish, hug like a bear and have an eye-popping figure". The article was accompanied by a small black-and-white photo of the shapely exotic dancer Lilly Christine, which revealed her qualifications for the role. Lesser never realised his dream and it is currently unknown how the property changed hands and ended up in the possession of the Nassour Brothers, whose production house would take the project to the next stage.


Irish McCalla was 74 when she died in February 2002. She faced some difficult times in her last few decades, and I'm also sure her life was full of her fair share of personal turmoil, but by all accounts she largely led a charmed life. She once commented that things just seemed to happen to her without really trying.

As a young woman she joined Bettie Page in becoming astronomically famous as a model, without having a movie contract. Her physical beauty so captivated the modelling industry that a new magazine, Eve, was launched specifically to feature her.

When the door to the entertainment industry opened for her soon afterward, she stepped into a role that fit her like a glove, and which guaranteed her lasting fame beyond her demise. However, it was not only her Amazonian features - slanted eyes, high cheek bones and towering curvaceous frame - that made Sheena legendary. Without the spunk of Irish's athleticism and tomboy background Sheena would not have been nearly as believable.

As her small screen fame began to decline Irish launched herself into yet another highly successful career - that of professional artist. She had been artistic as a child and art had always held an enthusiastic fascination for her, but now Irish proved herself to be a highly gifted artist in the Americana genre.

She continued to bask in her Sheena glory by making personal appearances at fan conventions for many years and in interviews expressed how blessed she felt to have the best of both worlds - the satisfaction of success at artistic achievement and the loving adoration of her fans.


Popular posts from this blog

Sigourney Weaver Confirms Original Cast Are Returning For 'Ghostbusters 3'

Quentin Tarantino Confirms ‘Star Trek’ Script Is Written

MeTV Super Sci-Fi Saturday Night Should Become "Sci-Fi Saturday"

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)(Legendary/Warner Bros)

Retro Saturday Morning: The Bugs Bunny / Road Runner Hour (1960-2000)(ABC/CBS)

The Final Trailer For Godzilla King of the Monsters Is Insanely Cool!

Godzilla vs. Kong writer Michael Dougherty compares that fight to Rocky vs. Ivan Drago

New Legend Of Boggy Creek Poster Takes A Jab At Godzilla

Superman "Tales of the Bizarro World!"