Part 3 - Personal Appearances:
Page 1 - Early Experience


Before being cast as Sheena Irish McCalla's only "screen" experience was in a "theatrical travelogue" called The River Goddesses, in which she and several models were filmed travelling down the Colorado River in wooden boats (click on link to see my page about that film).  She and the other athletic starlets were only required to look sporty and beautiful in outdoor settings, so the project did nothing to develop her acting skills.  Her only other show business experience was five months as a Las Vegas showgirl in 1952 (see Page 8: The Vegas Showgirl in the Modelling section).

Surprisingly, the Laurette Luez page on the Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen website claims that in May 1952 American Pictures was after Irish McCalla, Laurette Luez (who later auditioned for the role of Sheena - see the Page 3: The Audition in the The Sheena Audtion section), Dagmar, a famous large-breasted blonde, and legendary burlesque dancer Lili St Cyr, to appear in an upcoming film called Space Women.  It goes on to say that the story was about a group of women who dominate the solar system from a spaceship.  The site does not identify the exact source for this information but I assume it was gleaned from an old glamour or film magazine.  Unfortunately, it appears the film was never made - there is no entry for it on The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) or elsewhere on The Net.  It would have been a certainty for cult status by now, with that many glamorous non-actors in it, with or without Irish McCalla.  What intrigues me is the inclusion of Irish in the list, obviously based on nothing more than her (substantial) fame as a glamour model at that time (see Page 3: Success in the Modelling section).

As mentioned on Page 6: Promoting the Product in the Sheena Audition section, and Page 3: The Pilot Episodes of the Filming In Mexico section, there was a considerable delay of between six to twelve months waiting for the Sheena series to be sold in syndication.  Irish continued doing the usual pin-up assignments during this period but she also began trying out for film and television shows because she had started to know her way around the studio system.  Around this time she also did a few USO shows (United Service Organisations) in Korea, which gave her some opportunities to do lines and skits (discussed in more detail on Page 8: The Vegas Showgirl in the Modelling section.  Irish was a popular pin-up model during the Korean War and one of her most popluar poses with soldiers is shown above.

One television show that Irish appeared on in 1954 was The George Gobel Show, one of the most popular variety shows of the 1950s.  It ran successfully from 1954 through to 1960.  Gobel was a child singing star on radio who became a nationwide success with his own TV show, in which his easy-going humour was used to look at life from the viewpoint of a somewhat bewildered, henpecked little man with a crew cut (see photo right).   In his essay, Irish McCalla: The Last Decade (2003), Bill Black, Irish's biographer, explains that the show ranked number ten in 1954 and that Irish appeared on the program twice.  Lonesome George, as Gobel was known, "had an eye for the babes" according to Black, and considering Irish something of an Amazon he was keen to put her strength to the test.  Irish told Black that during one of the rehearsals George was "into his cups" (hitting the liquor) and bet Kirk Douglas, one of his guests, that Irish could carry him ten feet across the rehearsal stage.  The thought of a gorgeous woman lugging one of the silver screen's most outstanding tough guys around seem to appeal to George.  Irish, never one to shirk from a challenge (see the Childhood page and the Filming In Mexico section) hoisted Douglas over her shoulder and carried him the entire length of the sound stage and back again and deposited him at George Gobel's feet ("I knew I could do it if I employed the Fireman's carry that would evenly distribute the weight").  Black correctly points out that it was a shame that this incident happened at a rehearsal and wasn't captured on film (Black).

Irish's first appearance on The George Gobel Show is available on VHS from Moviecraft, but it is not the episode with Kirk Douglas.  In the skit Irish appears in, George is shopping for a present for his wife, Alice (two different actresses played George's wife Alice over the eight years that the show ran).  Fay Emerson, one of the guest stars, plays an assistant at a department store gift counter.  After declining the ususal offers, perfume, handbag, etc. Ms Emerson suggests a negligée and calls for a model to exhibit the garment.  Tall blonde Irish appears wearing a long, flowing, black nightdress and George is noticibly distracted by this stunning vision of womanhood.  Irish appears disdainful of George's cheeky comments.  She is dismissed but is soon called back so George can allegedly inspect the garment again.  Irish again treats George, who only comes up to her shoulder, with aloof disregard, before finally being discharged.  The curtain closes and George explains to his audience that he finally decided to buy Alice some golf clubs and when he calls for his caddy Irish again appears wearing the long black negligée but she has a leather golf bag slung over one shoulder.  This time she is smiling sweetly and after a few gags by George she walks off holding his arm, towering over him.  She has no speaking lines at all during any of her screen time.

During this period Irish also did a walk-on appearances on The Colgate Comedy Hour when it was hosted by Jack Carson, a congenial comedian and character actor, and Backstage with NTG, which was hosted by Nils T Grunland, a renowned burlesque and theatrical promoter. Carson and Grunland, like George Gobel, obviously enjoyed having a large buxom blonde to use as a foil.  Irish later commented, "As a model, I'd just come on as a girl - let's face it - with big boobs, and stand in the corner for everyone to make cracks about. Comedians used to love to have a big blonde on their programs." (Ultra Filmfax)

Some time in early 1955, before the Sheena series was bought by ABC syndication, Irish auditioned for the role of Miss Kitty in Gunsmoke.  She said that she tested with Richard Boone, who she would later appear with in Have Gun Will Travel (see Page 5: Non-Sheena Television Appearances) who was trying out for the part of Marshall Matt Dillon.  James Arness would win the leading role and Irish lost out to Amanda Blake, who would play the role of Kitty Russell for 19 of the 20 years that the program screened (Prevue).

Please don't forget to visit my pages devoted to the twenty-six episodes of Sheena Queen of the Jungle, if you haven't done so already. You will find plot summaries, numerous comments about the individual episodes and video captures from all of the surviving episodes.  There are also large-sized copies of a many of the photos used on these pages available to download on the Sheena Gallery page.

Irish McCalla: The Last Decade essay in Irish of the Jungle magazine, writer/editor Bil Black, Paragon publications 2003 (available from AC Comics site)
Ultra Filmfax magazine, Apr/May 98
TV's Original Sheena - Irish McCalla by Bill Black and Bill Feret, Paragon Publications 1992
Prevue Pinup Special 2 magazine, Aug/Oct 943

• The photo of George Gobel was pilfered from an eBay auction item
• Read a George Gobels filmography at the Internet Movie Database (IMDb)


SHEENA © is the property of Sony Pictures Corporation
This independent, non-profit, fan-based analysis of the Sheena material is copyright © 2005-2007 Paul Wickham
This page was updated August 2007