Part 3 - Personal Appearances:
Page 2 - The Milton Berle Show


Irish's first real promotional task when she returned from Mexico was her appearance on The Milton Berle Show on 5 June 1956.  Marj Walker, Irish's press agent, met her at the airport when she returned from Mexico and informed Irish that she was now a major "star" and that she would soon be appearing on this incredibly popular coast-to-coast networked program.  Irish was obviously unaware that the particular program she was to appear on would be of significant historical interest because one of the other guests on the show would be Elvis Presley, making his eighth national television appearance.  Presley's performance that night, gyrating wildly to Hound Dog, outraged the conservative forces of 1950s America.  Berle, affectionately called "Uncle Miltie" by his fans, received hundreds of thousands of vitriolic letters expressing their disappointment at his support for this "talentless delinquent", as many viewers expressed it.

Irish, however, was largely oblivious to much of the fuss surrounding Elvis.  They had heard very little American music during their seven-and-a-half months in Mexico because all of the television and radio they were exposed to was in Spanish.  Irish had simply never heard of Elvis Presley and she was wondering who he was.  The guests on Berle's show attended several days of rehearsals in preparation for the live broadcast but Presley was unable to attend the first day because he was performing somewhere on the East Coast.  Debra Paget, who had auditioned for the role of Sheena (see Page 3 - The Audition in the Sheena Audition section), was also appearing on the show, and when Elvis arrived she and Irish sat out front in the audience with all of the dancers to watch as he came in.  Irish's immediate impression was that he didn't look any different from the guys back home in Nebraska where she grew up ("I thought he was another 'in-joke' or something.")  When Presley smiled, however, she saw something boyish and shy in that smile that reminded her of James Dean and she said that it made her want to "ruffle his hair".  When the music started and Presley began singing Irish turned to Debra Paget and said, "It's a good beat, but what's he singing about... a hound dog?"  Paget, obviously a fan, was entranced and replied laughingly, "Who cares!"  Irish said that it was obvious to her even then that Presley could sing the first page of the dictionary and the girls would still go wild.  Over the next couple of days she got to know him better and learned to love the rhythmic music and Presley's voice as well.  She was somewhat astonished and delighted when Presley told her that he was a big fan of hers because he had seen Sheena on television ("I showed him Tahitian dancing and how it differed from his rock and roll.  He was a real nice kid").  Irish also remembered that the dancers were all over him and he loved it.

Several publicity shots were taken of Irish and Presley together at the time (see photo above).  The photo at right indicates that Elvis also enjoyed playing around during the photo shoot.  Irish said that she and Elvis ran into each other several times after that but it never came to anything more than friendly acquaintances.  She also said that the fan magazines of the day, however, tried to make quite a bit more out of it.  "I guess they always do." she said (Tease).

The Sheena segment in the Berle show is a fairly long spot that runs for almost fifteen minutes, which is a sizeable portion of a one hour show.  The skit is a take-off of Ralph Edward's popular This Is Your Life program in which celebrities are reunited with people from their past as the audience is acquainted with obscure biographical details of the celebrities life.  Berle's This Is Your Life - Sheena Queen of the Jungle section is quite funny in some parts and painfully tedious in others.  The most noticeable thing about Irish is that she looks very tall and lean, obviously the result of the repeated bouts of amoebic dysentery she suffered during her entire stay in Mexico (see Page 6: Working Conditions in the Filming In Mexico section).  Irish manages the comedy skillfully and is lucky enough to have a few great lines.  Irish's comedic talents (and Sheena's limited verbal skills) are not sufficient to carry the whole segment.  She spends quite a lot of time reacting silently to the dense verbage of Berle and the other comics involved in the skit via surprised, shocked or amused facial expressions.  Arnold Stang, who would later provide the voice of Top Cat in the famous Hanna-Barbera cartoon show, reworks his trademark bespeckled nerd routine to play a scrawny milquetoast Tarzan to Irish's Amazonian Sheena.  Another lame comedian, who is not identified in the opening or closing credits, is introduced as "Doctor Bwana Steiner" and he has a short segment as a witchdoctor, but it is a one gag segment used merely for padding.  A performer wearing a gorilla suit playing Sheena's foster mother also gets a few laughs.  Irish's highly animated and effusive performance in this segment is both uncharacteristic and delightful (see photo above).

Berle handles the whole segment with his usual easygoing confidence.  He delivers the lame jokes written by his team of gag writers with tongue-in-cheek bravado and excessive enthusiasm.  Unfortunately, throughout the program "Uncle Miltie's" interactions with all of his guests - Presley; Debra Paget; precocious child star, little Barry Gordon; and to some extent with Irish in her segment - give the general impression that he is an abrasive jerk.  His snide offhand remarks and insincere delivery obviously won over the unsophisticated viewers of Fifties middle-America, who probably found his manner novel and unconventional.  Today, in a much more cynical world, he just appears annoyingly rude and disingenuous.  Here are Irish's impressions of working with him - "Milton was a nice man, but he yelled at people a lot.  He could get pretty rough when he was working.  He would yell at people when everything didn't go right.  Then he'd turn around and apologize.  I notice a lot of comedians do that." (Ultra Filmfax).  A few years later Barry Gordon would appear in Hands of a Stranger with Irish (click on the link to read my page about that film).

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.

Tease magazine No. 3, 1995
Ultra Filmfax magazine, Apr/May 98
• Both photos of Irish with Elvis Presley were donated by Frank Bonilla
• The photo of Milton Berle and Elvis at rehearsals was pilfered from eBay auction items
• The screenshot of Irish's appearance on the program is from my DVD-R of this program
• Read a Milton Berle 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