Part 2 - Filming In Mexico
Page 1 - The Nassour Brothers

The mediocre and unprolific production company responsible for finally bringing the Fiction House jungle heroine to the screen was run by two brothers of Lebanese descent, Edward and William Nassour.  Edward (photo left), the brains of the operation, was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado on 7 April 1911.  I have not been able to uncover any biographical details about William Nassour (photo below right).   Both brothers joined The Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers in 1949, the year they both worked on the famous Abbott and Costello farce, Africa Screams.  Edward is credited as one of the film's producer and William as executive in charge of production.  One of the actors in that film, Buddy Baer, an ex-heavyweight boxing champion, would work with the Nassours again in the Bull Kendall trilogy of Sheena Queen of the Jungle (also see individual entries for The Lash, Land of the Rogue and The Rival Queen).

In 1951, Edward Nassour, who appears to have had a special interest in visual effects, worked as animation supervisor on a low budget dinosaur film called Lost Continent (below right).  The film featured the gorgeous Acquanetta, of Tarzan and the Leopard Woman (1946) fame, as a native girl.  The following year he produced For Men Only, a gratuitous drama about fraternity hazing.  An young actor named Chris Drake had an uncredited role in that film and several years later the Nassours would hire him to play white hunter Bob Rayburn in the Sheena series.
1953 saw the brothers working together again and their production company, called Nassour Pictures, produced an undistinguished thriller called Street of Shadows.  Their next venture would be Sheena Queen of the Jungle, which would occupy their time during 1955 and early 1956.  They had changed the name of their company to Nassour Studios Inc.  Edward was credited as producer on Sheena and William shared Executive Producer credits with Don W Sharpe, who represented ABC Film Syndication (American Broadcasting Company), the series' distributor.  Don Sharpe (photo below left) would have a moderately distinguished career as a TV producer on programs such as Four Star Playhouse (1952-56), Cavalcade of America (1952-57) and Yancy Derringer (1958-59), which featured Jock Mahoney.  Irish McCalla dated Mahoney, an experienced stuntman and television actor, in the late 1940s (see Page 5: Boyfriends in the Modelling section) before they would both go on to play the two most famous jungle heroes of all time - she to play Sheena and he to play Tarzan in Tarzan Goes To India (1962) and Tarzan's Three Challenges (1963). (IMDb)

Apart from the three pilots of Sheena that were shot in California, the entire Sheena series was filmed on location in Mexico (see Page 4: The Location).  To facilitate the production Nassour Studios Inc. joined forces with a Mexican production company, Peliculas Rodriguez Productions. This company was headed by Ishmael Rodriguez (bottom left), who received Production Executive credits on the series.  Rodriguez's company had been making films in Mexico since the early 1940s and Rodriguez himself had worked as either a writer and/or producer and/or director on about thirty films by the time he worked on Sheena.  He also appeared as an actor in a hand-full of films, the first being Santa (1932), generally considered to be the first Mexican film to utilise sound.  Sporadic work as an actor, and in one case as sound assistant, led to opportunities in production and direction.  He eventually formed his own company in 1944.  Christian Drake has said that he understood that Rodriguez had all of the Latin American distribution rights for the Sheena series and that he also directed a couple of the Sheena episodes (uncredited) (Ultra Filmfax).  For more on Ishmael Rodriguez see the Page 6: Working Conditions section below.  In personal correspondence with Frank Bonilla, Ed Nassour Jr said that he believed each of the Sheena episodes cost about $35,000 to produce in the mid-1950s.  "Today a half-hour series costs around a million, and that's for a lousy sitcom." he added.

Immediately following Sheena the Nassours embarked on another project with Ishmael Rodriguez, The Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956).  The film utilised Edward Nassour's animation effects experience gained on Lost Continent, and for the first time he took over the director's position, ably assisted by Ishmael Rodriguez as co-director.  The film is of interest for several reasons - it was the first feature film to combine stop-motion animation with widescreen and colour; Willis O'Brien, the stop-motion animation legend, worked on the project; and the film utilised a new technique called Regiscope.

Willis O'Brien, Creator of the Impossible, Don Shay's lengthy article on the life and work of Willis O'Brien, mentions O'Brien's involvement with the Nassours.  In 1955 69-year-old O'Brien, who achieved fame in 1933 as the creator of the original King Kong, wrote a film treatment called The Beast of Hollow Mountain.  He took it to the Nassour Brothers and Edward Nassour, who liked the idea, bought it inexpensively, promising to hire O'Brien as animator when the time came to produce the film.  The Nassours announced production the following year but their screenwriters had altered the original concept almost beyond recognition.  Furthermore, Edward Nassour announced that he himself had decided to do the animation effects on the film and Willis O'Brien was not even permitted past the front studio office.

In an attempt to convince the world at large that he had devised something completely unique Edward Nassour met openly with the media to discuss Regiscope, the revolutionary new process to be used on The Beast of Hollow Mountain.  He claimed that the process had resulted from eighteen years of experimentation and development and explained Regiscope as an electronic animation system that fed actuating impulses to the animation figures in some mysterious manner.  "The Regiscope machine," he asserted, "predetermines every movement of an inanimate object to be used in the motion picture and records it on a tape. The 'actor' is then electronically controlled in all of its motions."  Nassour was claiming that the process was a precursor to motion control puppet animation, which it wasn't.  Edward Nassour did in fact hold several animation patents but Regiscope, sometimes called "replacement animation", involved creating several models of the same character in slightly different positions.  The illusion of movement was created by filming the different models a few frames at a time, a process similar to that used in puppet cartoon work, but which had never been used realistically in a feature film (Shay).

The plot of cowboys encountering a prehistoric carnivore predated by 13 years the similarly-themed dinosaur classic, The Valley of Gwangi (1969) by stop-motion animation genius Ray Harryhausen, and partially inspired that work because of Harryhausen's connection with O'Brien.  Guy Madison, who was already well known to American audiences as television's Wild Bill Hickok, featured as a rancher whose cattle were being decimated by a mysterious beast.  He was accompanied by an all Mexican supporting cast, including Patricia Medina, as his love interest.  Robert Hill, a bit of a B-movie screenplay legend, developed the script from Willis O'Brien's ideas.  Hill was also responsible for the dire script of the 1959 remake of Tarzan the Ape Man. (IMDb)  Interestingly, the two men who provided all of the special effects for the Irish McCalla Sheena series, Louis DeWitt and Jack Rabin, also worked on The Beast of Hollow Mountain.  Willis O'Brien was eventually only credited with "story" on the film.  Ed Nassour Jr said that the film was made for about $400,000.

It is possible that the development of Regiscope could by Edward Nassour's contribution to the legacy of film history, although whether anyone ever used it again is questionable.  He died at Sherman Oaks, California on 15 December 1962, aged only 51.  No details for William Nassour are available at this time.  Ishmael Rodriguez continued to work until the late 1990s.  He eventually worked on 25 films as a producer, 51 as a writer, and an impressive 63 films as director.  He died of respiratory problems in Mexico City on 7 August 2004.  He was almost 87 (IMDb).

Ed Nassour Jr provided some illuminating comments about his uncle, William Nassour, his father's partner in the Sheena project (see photo at top of page).  He said that Uncle Bill was not the most talented businessman and that almost every project he became involved with eventually failed.  One of his more memorable poor business decisions was forcing Ed's father, against his better judgement, to sell The Beast of Hollow Mountain to United Artists for the same amount that it cost to produce it.  Bill was keen to launch a new cosmetics venture called Royalty and needed the money quickly, but that project was also unsuccessful.  Ed Jr felt that Bill's involvement in the business acted as a disincentive for many people in Hollywood who respected his father and would have otherwise have been glad to do business with him.

Irish has mentioned in interviews that a third Nassour brother, Freddie, who she described as "one of the producers", accompanied the crew to Mexico.   Ed Nassour Jr provided useful additional about his Uncle Fred, who had invested money in his father's business.  He described him as a "wise, old bird" and said he was a fair man with a great sense of humour.  He raised chinchillas in the San Fernando Valley, was an avid hunter and had many trophies hanging on his walls.  Ed Jr said that he died quite rich, unlike his father and Uncle Bill (The TV Collector).  See Page 6: Working Conditions for an amusing Fred Nassour story.

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.

The Internet Move Database (IMDb
Ultra Filmfax magazine, Apr/May 98
The TV Collector magazine, Jan/Feb 97
Willis O'Brien, Creator of the Impossible, an essay Don Shay
published in Cinefex magazine No. 7, Jan 82
Many thanks to Ed Nassour Jr for allowing me to use his comments and to Frank Bonilla for sharing them with me
• The photo of Irish McCalla and Edward Nassour is from People Today magazine, 11 Aug 54
• The photo of William Nassour was pilfered from a web page about the Nassour studios written by Edward Nassour Jr (see Lynx)
• The photo of Don W Sharpe is from a 1950s Nassour Studios promotional brochure - kindly donated by Frank Bonilla

• The photo of Ismael Rodriguez was pilfered fromm the Ismael Rodriguez Wikipedia article
• The posters for The Lost Continent and The Beast from Hollow Mountain were pilfered from eBay auction items

• Read an article about The Nassour Studio written by Edward Nassour Jr
• See a brief filmography for Edward Nassour at The Internet Movie Database (IMDb)
• See a comprehensive filmography for Ishmael Rodriguez at The Internet Movie Database (IMDb)


SHEENA © is the property of Sony Pictures Corporation
This independent, fan-based analysis of the Sheena material is copyright © 2006-2008 Paul Wickham
This page was updated May 2008