IRISH McCALLA ON TV
Part 2 - Filming In Mexico
Page 11 - Series Cancelled

                                                                                            

The syndicated Sheena series was a smash hit in both the US and abroad, especially in Latin and South America.  The image below, which is taken from a promotional publication that the Nassours produced in August 1956, indicates that Sheena did very well in the in the ratings.  KABC-TV was the local Los Angeles ABC station and ARB is the American Research Bureau, one of the two companies responsible for measuring television audiences.  As there were only 26 episodes of the series made the stations were forced to begin repeating them once each episode had been screened in it's weekly slot.  These 26 episodes were rescreened repeatedly over the next two years.  This raises a fascinating question - why were only 26 episodes made if the series was a tremendous success?

Irish has said that both the network and the syndicate were keen to continue producing the series to exploit its success but the Nassour brothers had no interest in continuing with the project.  Both she and Christian Drake thought at the time that they would soon be be returning to Mexico to produce more episodes and despite the gruelling conditions she had endured on location she felt disappointed when she learned they weren't returning to Mexico.  Irish even made several attempts to acquire the rights of the series herself ("I came off the plane and everybody knew who I was.  I couldn't believe it; I was really hot!").  In interviews she said she had "several people who were willing to back me" and "I had people in England who wanted to buy the rights" (Ultra Filmfax).  She also said "I had backers with tons of money" (Prevue).  It was all to no avail, however.  The Nassours steadfastly refused to sell the property and Irish said that they always refused to explain why.  They simply weren't interested in further capitalising on Sheena's remarkable success despite the fact that they could have sold it at a profit.

There were also offers to merchandise the character.  Irish said she remembered a meeting with a merchandising company who were prepared to guarantee her $50,000 a year to use her likeness on Sheena dolls, swimming costumes and other items.  "Man, I thought.  I'm set!" she recollected, but the producers rejected the offer.  This also confused Irish because she figured that if she was being offered that kind of money then the Nassours stood to make considerably more.  Irish would almost certainly have become a millionairess if this deal had eventuated.  Consequently there is almost no Sheena merchandise around for the avid collector.   Irish told Frank Bonilla that a fan once showed her a Sheena doll made in Irish's image.  She believed the doll was made in England , but it was almost certainly an unlicensed product.  The fascinating plastic toy Sheena horn (below left) was acquired by Frank several years ago and he has since learned that Irish used to distribute them to children when she was making personal appearances as Sheena to promote the series.

There has been a lot of discussion by various people over the years about why the Nassours did not want to continue with Sheena.  I will now attempt to examine all of those theories in some detail:

• Irish said that the Nassours claimed they had lost money on Sheena but she didn't believe them (Prevue).  It is difficult to believe that the Nassours were such poor businessmen that the total costs of the series, including taking the cast and crew to Mexico for seven-and-a-half months and hiring the Mexican crew, actors and extras, were not offset by the enduring income produced by this phenomenally successful series running in syndication across the US and in foreign countries for the next few years.

• An article in Heroic Fantasy magazine claims that the producers "were not the best of businessmen" and goes on to suggest that the project as a whole was not taken seriously.  It also says that the Nassours were not in a position to film further episodes because they were caught unawares by the unprecedented success of the series.  On Page 1: The Nassour Brothers of this section I began by describing the Nassours production company as "mediocre and unprolific".  All indications are, however, that they were competent producers who knew how to achieve their goals economically (some would say parsimoniously) and punctually, as evidenced by the discussion of the series shooting schedule on Page 10: Other Sheena Anecdotes.  I disagree that the Nassours didn't take the Sheena series seriously.  They devoted several years to actualising the project, invested a lot of money in the production and went to a great deal of trouble in setting up the infrastructure of film production in Mexico.  I also feel that if the principal catalysts of the series were disinterested then this would be reflected in the overall quality of the shows themselves.  While the series is no masterpiece, neither is it carelessly slipshod.  The whole show appears reasonably well crafted and there is evidence that some care and effort has been placed in the production, despite the low budget.  Lastly, the claim that the Nassours were caught unawares by the incredible success of the series is absurd because they never at any time showed any interest in producing more episodes, despite overtures from several sources.  The implication they "they would have if they could have" is clearly spurious.

• In an interview in Ultra Filmfax magazine Christian Drake postulated that perhaps the Nassours were overextended.  He also said he was "really surprised" by the Nassours business decision not to continue with the series.  As mentioned above, I have elsewhere described the Nassours' company as "unprolific".  Edward Nassour was the creative member of the team and if you examine his filmography (see Lynx below) you quickly see that these guys did not have their fingers in a lot of pies in the film and television industry.  My brief summary of their career on Page 1: The Nassour Brothers pretty much covers their whole creative output. They were not highly flyers in the industry dabbling in many different projects, and if they were financially overextended it certainly wasn't because of widespread investments in film and television projects,

• In correspondence between Christian Drake, Irish's costar, and Irish McCalla aficionado, Frank Bonilla, Drake said that he thought the reason the Nassours would not sell the show to Irish was because the series was being shown in South America and Europe.  This initially seems like a reasonable idea because it presents a logical financial incentive for why the Nassours would be reluctant to part with their lucrative property.  However, in his interview with Ultra Filmfax magazine, Drake himself said that he "believed" that Ishmael Rodriguez, the Nassour's Mexican collaborator, "got all of the Spanish rights to the series."  If Rodriguez had exclusive rights to the Latin American television market then the Nassours had nothing to gain from that sphere.  Nevertheless, the Nassour Brothers would almost certainly have been receiving income from screening the series in Europe.  It is also possible that Christian Drake did not know the full details of the business deal between Rodriguez Productions and Nassour Studios.  The American producers may have received a sizable percentage of the very profitable Latin American market.

• It is also possible that the Nassours were reluctant to sell the Sheena series in late 1956 or early 1957, when Irish McCalla was manoeuvering to acquire the property, because of the sizable income being generated by the domestic US television screenings.  The series was still riding the peak of the wave of its success at that stage and we now know that it continued to run for another two years in the US and longer in foreign markets.  I can personally attest that the series was screening here in Australia as late as the mid-1960s.  Irish has said that she managed to live off personal appearance tours as Sheena for almost a decade.  The Nassours would have continued to reap the financial benefits during that entire period.  Irish has said that the Nassours could have sold the Sheena series at a profit so possibly the deals being offered by Irish's backers were designed to compensate the Nassours for the loss of that income.  It is also possible that the Nassours were patient and long-sighted and could see that they were assured a steady income from the 26 episodes for the foreseeable future without the need of further financial outlays and the need to endure the gruelling ordeal of a return to Mexico.

• I have my own theory about why the Nassours were not interested in continuing with the Sheena series, probably suggested by Christian Drake's comment that the Nassours may have been overextended.  The fact that the Nassours and Ishmael Rodriguez embarked on The Beast of Hollow Mountain together almost immediately after finishing Sheena (see Page 1: The Nassour Brothers) suggests to me that they had begun planning that film while Sheena was still in production.  There is certainly some continuity between the two projects and the producers utilised some of the same infrastructure.  Eduardo Noriega, who played Pepe in The Sacred River episode of Sheena appears in the film and Louis DeWitt and Jack Rabin, who provided special effects for Sheena, were also hired to work on The Beast of Hollow Mountain.  We should also keep in mind that this was a stop-motion animation film, a very time-consuming process.  While there isn't a lot of footage of the monster in the film a significant amount of time would still be needed to complete the work at the Nassours Studio on Sunset Boulevard, where the animation was filmed, according to Edward Nassour Jr (see the link to an article about that studio in Lynx below).  The film was released in the latter part of 1956 and appears to have been in production for a few months in mid-1956.  Filming wrapped on the Sheena series sometime in May 1956 and Irish was back in the US to appear on the The Milton Berle Show on 2 June 1956.  The Beast of Hollow Mountain appears to have been produced surprisingly quickly between the wrapping of shooting on Sheena and its release date.  In my discussion of the shooting schedule for the Sheena series on Page 10: Other Sheena Anecdotes I pointed out that production seems to have slowed considerably at the beginning of 1956, possibly because the Nasours were distracted by preparations for The Beast of Hollow Mountain.

Frank Bonilla managed to make contact with Edward Nassour Jr, who also provided a theory why the series was cancelled.  Ed Jr worked in television for 35 years and was Senior Vice President of Post Production at 20th Century Fox Television when he retired in 2003.  He claimed that the series ended because ABC Syndication refused to pay for another season, but he could not offer any substantial reasons why this would have happened.  He said that possibly the company was not seeing a lot of returns in advertising revenue from the sponsors.  The sponsors of a high rating program might decide not to sponsor a program any further if they do not see an increase in profits from the advertising money invested.  He also commented that his father was disappointed that the series was dropped.  If this is true then it undermines my theory about Ed Snr losing interest in the Sheena project to concentrate on The Beast of Hollow Mountain.

Irish has said that the Nassours would never explain why they wouldn't sell the rights of the Sheena series to her.  If my theory that Edward Nassour was not interested in continuing with Sheena because he was singularly focussed on his unrealised dream to make his "big dinosaur picture" is true, then much is explained.  If it isn't, then one of the other of the explanations given here need to be relied on.  He had begun to develop his interest in stop-motion dinosaurs a few years earlier on Lost Continent (1951) and even patented a new stop-motion animation technique called Regiscope, or "replacement animation", that he developed specifically for The Beast of Hollow Mountain. (Read much more about Edward Nassour on Page 1: The Nassour Brothers)  I suspect that the Nassours could see that Sheena was a reliable little money spinner for them without the need to invest further in that project.  I am, however, as mystified as everyone else as to why the Nassours turned their backs on the fortunes to be made from marketing Sheena merchandise.
 


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
Prevue Pinup Special 2 magazine, Aug/Oct 94
Heroic Fantasy magazine, No. 3 Aug 85
PHOTOS
• The video captures of Irish looking gorgeous as Sheena are from my DVD-Rs of the Sheena Queen of the Jungle series
• The image of Sheena's ratings performance and the photo of the plastic toy Sheena horn were donated by Frank Bonilla

LYNX
• See a brief filmography for Edward Nassour at The Internet Movie Database (IMDb)
• Read an article about The Nassour Studio written by Edward Nassour Jr
CAPTURE
Bag yourself Sheena Queen of the Jungle on VHS at Moviecraft


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 July 2007