IRISH McCALLA ON TV
Part 2 - Filming In Mexico
Page 4 - The Location

                                                                                                                          

I'm sure many fans of the 1950s Sheena series are curious about where it was filmed.  The opening credits of the show feature a close up of Kenya in east Africa but the Nassours' tight budgetary considerations prevented filming on The Dark Continent.  In many interviews Irish has said that the series was filmed "near Cuernavaca in the Sierra Madre Mountains".  It appears that when the crew first went to Mexico they were housed in fairly luxurious accommodations close to Cuernavaca but were soon transferred to more basic lodgings closer to the filming location.  Christian Drake has said in an interview that they initially stayed at a fancy farm where Hernando Cortez had bred horses in the days of the Conquistadors.  He said there were overhead aqueducts that brought water right into the building (Ultra Filmfax).  Irish has said that they were first put up in a pretty hotel with a beautiful pool and the first thing they would do after work was "hit the water" (The TV Collector).  They were almost certainly talking about Hacienda San José Vista Hermosa, now a luxury hotel, which is only 15 kilometers (9 miles) from Cuernavaca.   Click HERE to read about Hacienda San José Vista Hermosa.

Irish has also described the area they were filming in as "Zapataville" (Ultra Filmfax).  In Tease magazine No. 3 (1995) Irish said that she and the crew stayed in a little town called "Cuatla", which she said was "a long way from Cuernavaca".  She has described it as "a little town that had probably twenty Americans in the whole town", although she rarely saw any of them, possibly because of the their own early shooting schedule.  She said that they lived in a "crummy little ramshackle hotel" where the electricity and hot water were both infrequent and the only air-conditioning available was opening the window. ("I had a swimming pool right outside my window; it was called a crick.")  She has described the manager as a "fat, old, Spanish fellow" who watched cartoons and soap operas on the television in the lobby. The only entertainment available was just sitting around playing dominoes to pass the time and some of the crew, including Christian Drake, would occasionally drink.  Irish would also practice her Spanish and if she wanted to go into town, which was only comprised of about twenty blocks, some of the crew would accompany her ("It was not because it was dangerous; it was just not considered proper for a woman to go out in the evenings unescorted").  They would go into Cuernavaca on the weekends as often as they could because there were a lot of tourists and big hotels there.  Sometimes they would commandeer a car from the car pool and drive into Mexico City (The TV Collector).

The town that Irish called "Cuatla" is actually spelled Cuautla (pronounced "kwa-oot-la"). The name means "where eagles abound" in the ancient Aztec indigenous language.  The town is the second most important city in the State of Morelos, after Cuernavaca.  It is located 42 kilometres (26 miles) southeast of Cuernavaca and 127 kilometers (80 miles) southeast of Mexico City.  Cuautla is located in the middle of a fertile sugarcane and rice growing area and as a result was dominated by a lot of haciendas.  The region was once the stomping ground of Emiliano Zapata, the famous revolutionary and land rights activist, and his grave is located in Cuautla, hence Irish's "Zapataville" designation.  The 1990 population was about 110,000, but was probably less than half that in the Fifties when the Sheena crew were staying there.
 
So, where exactly is "Sheena's jungle"?  Irish said that the site where they were filming was the beginning of a river that bubbled up out of the ground from a big underground spring and this was what created the small jungle they used.  Black and Feret identify this location as "Las Estacas", but they erroneously state that the crew were staying in an "isolated resort town" of that name, not Cuautla, as Irish mentioned.  El Parque Natural Acuático Las Estacas ("the stakes"), which is very close to the small town of Ticuman, is now a popular tourist destination that features a spring that produces 7,500 litres of fresh crystalline water each second.  This spring develops into a beautiful kilometer long stretch of river surrounded by tropical vegetation (right).  Christian Drake, possible talking about the same location, said there was a spot where huge bubbles continually emerged from the ground.  He said they reached a diameter of about twenty feet (6 meters) and were about four feet (120 cms) high.  I have been unsuccessful in finding any mention of unusual giant bubbles in any of the tourist literature for Cuautla.  If this phenomenon occurred at Las Estacas it appears that the conditions that produced them have altered since the 1950s.  Christian Drake also said that the crew did some work at a location nearby where three rivers have their origin.  Cuautla has a nearby tourist attraction named Tres Rios (three rivers) (Ultra Filmfax).  The photo of Irish McCalla in her Sheena costume at the top of the page was taken by Christian Drake in 1955 or 1956 while they were working on location at Las Estacas (Frank Bonilla and I are deeply indebted to the late Christian Drake for donating the photo to Frank's collection).

The map below shows the location of Las Estacas in relation to both Cuautla and Cuernavaca.  Cuautla is located in the top right of the map and the southeastern suburbs of Cuernavaca are visible in the top left.  It is apparent from the map that Las Estacas, which is about 10 kms (6 miles) to the west, was slightly more accessible from Cuautla than from Cuernavaca.  I believe that economic considerations may have also prompted the Nassours' decision to accommodate their cast and crew in Cuatla instead of Cuernavaca.  Hacienda San José Vista Hermosa, the luxury hotel where the crew stayed when they first arrived in Mexico, is located just off the bottom left corner of the map.
 
 
Both Irish and Christian Drake have both said that they would go into Mexico City, which was a two-and-a-half hour drive away, to watch the rushes of the show.  Ishmael Rodgriguez (see Page 1: The Nassour Brothers) had a studio located at the famous Churubusco Studios, where most of the films of the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema were shot.  Irish said she used to go there to watch the rushes on the Moviola, the hand-cranked editing machine that was the backbone of the movie industry for almost seventy years (Femme Fatales & Ultra Filmfax).
 


OTHER SHEENA PAGES
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.

SOURCES
Ultra Filmfax magazine, Apr/May 98
The TV Collector magazine, Jan/Feb 97
Femme Fatales magazine, Jan 99
PHOTOS
• The photo of Irish McCalla at Las Estacas was taken by Christian Drake - kindly donated by Frank Bonilla
• The map of central Mexico is from National Geographic Atlas of the World, revised edition Oct 95

• Photo of El Parque Natural Acuático Las Estacas jungle is from a Morelos state tourist information website
• Detailed map of location of El Parque Natural Acuático Las Estacas is from a Morelos state tourist information website
LYNX
• Read about Las Estacas, the modern tourist attraction at ClickonCuernavaca.com

IRISH BIOGRAPHY INTRO

SHEENA © is the property of Sony Pictures Corporation
This independent, fan-based analysis of the Sheena material is copyright © 2006-2007 Paul Wickham
This page updated May 2007