A Brief Tribute to Christian Drake

Christian Drake was born on 11 December 1923 in Elmont, Virginia and when he was ten the family moved to California.  He joined the Marines when he was 18, soon after the attack on Pearl Harbour.  He was involved in heavy fighting at Guadalcanal as part of Carlsons Raiders, an elite Marine battalion.  In 1942 he received a bad knee wound and was shipped home to spend lengthy periods of recovery in military hospitals.  In 1944, in his early 20s, he was given a one-year contract with RKO.
His first film role was a small part in Step Lively (1944), which starred Frank Sinatra.  He also had small roles in The Falcon in Hollywood (1944);Music in Manhattan (1944); My Pal, Wolf (1944); Youth Runs Wild (1944) and Delightfully Dangerous (1945).  In 1945 he also appeared in a minor thriller called Strangler in the Swamp, which starred Blake Edwards, who would later achieve fame as the creator of The Pink Panther series of films and as husband of Julie Andrews (see photo below).  Drake said that his favourite film of that period was A Walk in the Sun (1945), a war film starring Richard Conte, Dana Andrews and Lloyd Bridges (see clip below).
In 1952 he was given a leading role in Forever My Love, a postwar romance about an American soldier and a Japanese girl.  In 1954 he made movie history as the first victim of the giant ants in Them!, one of the most-remembered science fiction films of the era.  After the Sheena series, it is the work he is best known for (see the video below of Drake's appearance in Them!).  In late-1955 and early-1956 he worked with Irish McCalla on the Sheena series.
In the late-1950s Drake drifted into television work, appearing in the pilot of the TV series, Have Gun Will Travel, with Richard Boone, several episodes of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, with Hugh O'Brian, and Dragnet, with Jack Webb.  In 1958 Drake married his wife, Peggy, and began working in real estate as a more stable source of income.  He retired from that profession in 1990, and returned to his native Virginia, where in died on 9 July 2006, aged 82.  No cause of death was released.
In a 1998 interview Chris Drake said, "I have been lucky my entire life, and I had a fun career.  I did well in business, and I have wonderful wife and family, and now, I am enjoying my grandchildren." (Ultra Filmfax)
Read more about Chris Drake's work on the Sheena series on Page 10: Other Sheena Anecdotes in the Filming in Mexico section.

Frank Bonilla, an avid Sheena fan, was in regular contact with Chris Drake for several years by phone before he died.  Frank composed these words shortly after Chris Drake died and I promised him I would include them on this tribute page (read about Frank and Irish McCalla on the Sheena Intro Page:
           A 2004 Christmas surprise was receiving a phone call from Christian Drake.  I had written to him six weeks before asking about his impressions of working on the Sheena series.  He said that Irish would always be the best Sheena, as far as he was concerned.  He promised to send me some photos from the set and he kept his word.  Included were a couple of wardrobe check photos and a beautiful one of Irish in costume resting by the river, very tired after a hard-day's filming.  He also signed my copy of Bill Black's Sheena biography, that was also signed by Irish McCalla.

He said he never watched the show but his friends would sometimes see the reruns of them in South America.  He began collecting the old episodes because his family and grandchildren were keen to see them.  He was completely surprised to find out after 50 years that he was in a Sheena movie because the producers never told him about it.  "Probably so they wouldn't have to pay me" he laughed, so I sent him a copy on DVD.  His family played his Sheena movie for guests at his birthday party

I found Mr. Drake to be a kind man with a lot of integrity, as you would expect from a World War II war hero who served in Carlson's Raiders.

When he mailed me the photos he also wrote a nice letter which he signed:
"Your friend, Chris Drake (Bob, The Great White Hunter)"

I am very happy that I had an opportunity to get to know him a little better and am sad he has left us.


Below are the photos Drake sent Frank - two candid costume check photos and a photo of Irish by the river, taken by Drake:

Stranger in the Swamp (1945) - Drake (right), with Rosemary La Planche and Blake Edwards
A Walk in the Sun (1945)
Drake (left) with Richard Conte
Operation Pacific (1951)

Forever My Love (1952)
Drake with Mitsuko Kimura
Them! (1954) - Drake (centre) with
Sandy Descher and James Whitmore
Sheena Queen of the Jungle (1955-56)
Drake with Irish McCalla


Visit pages with many clips of Chris Drake as Bob Rayburn in the series, Sheena Queen of the Jungle, on the Sheena Episodes Pages.

Click on the image below to see a montage of Chris Drake's scenes from A Walk in the Sun (1945).

Click on the image below to see a couple of Chris Drake's scenes from the beginning of Them! (1954).

TV's Original Sheena - Irish McCalla by Bill Black and Bill Feret, 1992, Paragon Publications
The TV Collector magazine Jan-Feb 97
The colour photo of Chris Drake as Bob is from an unidentified Argentean TV magazine.
The colour photo of Chris Drake as an older man in 2003, the two candid costume check photos, the colour photo of Irish relaxing by the river, and the photo of Drake and Irish Mccalla were kindly donated by Frank Bonilla, courtesy of Chris Drake
The photos from Stranger in the Swamp, A Walk in the Sun, Operation Pacific, and Forever My Love are all from Ultra Filmfax magazine No. 66, Apr-May 98
The photo from Them! is a screenshot from the Warner Home Video DVD, 2003
The video of Chris Drake in Walk in the Sun (1954) was uploaded to Youtube by me specifically to embed in this web page
The video of Chris Drake in Them! (1954) was uploaded to Youtube by me specifically to embed in this web page
Read a Chris Drake filography 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 © 2005-2008 Paul Wickham