|IRISH McCALLA - THE FINAL
Page 2: The Personal Appearances Circuit - Again
| - 63); Margaret O'Brien;
several elderly Playboy playmates; Sixties pop idol Bobby Sherman;
ventriloquist Paul Winchell and one of his popular dummies, Jerry Mahoney;
Alan Young (of Mr Ed
- 1961-66); most of the cast of George Lucas' American Graffiti
(1973); Phyllis Diller; and of course, Irish McCalla.
Irish's segment runs for just over a minute and begins with her sitting on the balcony of her home in the Malibu artist's colony, overlooking the ocean (middle photo above). She describes herself now as "queen of the beach", rather than Queen of the Jungle and she invites the camera inside to see what she has been doing. She proudly shows off a large seascape she painted of the coast near her studio (bottom photo above) and also displays paintings of her two grown sons, Sean and Kim. The piece concludes with Irish back on the seaside balcony, looking very relaxed and contented as she delivers the line, "I'm an artist. I'm a painter. That's what I am. I won't ever go back." Throughout this brief, but fascinating, segment Irish comes across as a strong, confident woman. She would also have benefited considerably by this exposure on a national network as it would certainly have generated a lot of interest in her at fan conventions at the time.
In 1981 Irish was also offered a role in an NBC miniseries called The Star Maker, which focussed on the topic of the Hollywood casting couch. The plot centered around a movie mogul, played by Rock Hudson, and the actresses that he helped propel to stardom. Irish was offered the role of Delores Baker, a former world famous pin-up queen. Melanie Griffiths, who was then a blossoming starlet, played her daughter, one of a string of young women that Rock seduced, married and then discarded. Once she is Rock's mother-in-law, Delores proceeds to show an unhealthy interest in seducing her new son-in-law. Irish declined the role because of her commitment to her art and the role was given to Brenda Vacarro (Black & Feret and IMDb).
|In 1982 Irish married her third husband, Chuck
Rowland (see Page 3: Those Three
Husbands). Soon after, the couple decided to seek a quieter
life in the central mountains region of Arizona. Their rustic log
cabin style home above Prescott,
Arizona was on the edge of the Yavapai Indian Reservation. Prescott
(2003 population: 38,244) is an hour-and-a-half's drive north of Pheonix.
Irish described it as being in the forest with acres of trees and
a beautiful little creek with a waterfall (Prevue and Black &
Feret). She began to achieve
a significant amount of success as an artist in the region, with several
galleries in Prescott displaying and selling her work (see the Art
page for more details). This success, however, was short-lived and
her health began to deteriorate again. In 1983 she
was diagnosed with cancer of the groin, but this new affliction was
successfully banished by a series of radiation treatments (Glamour Girls).
In 1983 Irish appeared on another program devoted to tracking down forgotten celebrities - Where Are They Now?. Unlike Whatever Became Of...?, described above, this program had a relaxed pace and devoted a substantial amount of time to the four guests featured on this half-hour program. At the beginning of the show the two local TV hosts, Bob Surat and Kerry Cochran, explain that in the past few months since the last program they have received hundred of suggestions for "where are they now" stories, indicating the program was only screened intermittently. Two of the celebrities featured - Sixties pop idol, Bobby Sherman and ventriloquist Paul Winchell also appeared in Whatever Became Of...?. Winchell was also a talented voice artist who had contributed to many Hanna-Barbera and Disney cartoons, most notably the role of Tigger in several Winnie The Pooh specials. The other guest, Mary Wilson, the founding member of The Supremes, is shown taking drama classes to fulfill her aspirations of breaking into theatre or television.
Irish's segment runs for over four minutes and does contain a couple of errors. Firstly, Antonio Vargas, the famous pin-up artist who helped Irish get noticed in the early-Fifties, is mistakenly identified as Arturo Vargas, an LA Latino rights activist in the 80s. The program also claims that only twenty-six episodes of Sheena were made before the company went bankrupt, which is false. I suspect this information was probably provided by Irish herself, either as her own vengeful joke on the Nassour Brothers, who she abhorred, or as convenient shorthand to avoid the vague ambiguity of the truth (see Page 11: Series Cancelled in the Filming In Mexico section for the full story).
The introduction to the segment reports that the New York Times said that the Sheena series was "so bad it was fascinating." It goes on to say that the show had very little plot or action, terrible dialogue, hokey costumes, cheap nature scenes and tinny music, but reports that it was a very big hit with several generations of males because of the presence of Irish McCalla. The program contains several extended interview segments with Irish (photo top right) in which she relates some of her well-known stories about working with Chim, the chimpanzee - how he would sometimes pinch her very hard and how she once chased him with a spear (see Page 7: Neal in the Filming In Mexico section). The commentary explains that Irish now lives in a cabin high in the Arizona mountains, and there is a wonderful brief scene of her shoveling snow in her driveway. There are also several nice shots of her working in her art studio (photo right). One amusing part is when the interviewer asks her about her fan mail and Irish replies that when she was Sheena she used to get a lot of mail from kids saying, "I wish my mom looked like you." Irish says that she doesn't worry about the fact that Sheena was a lousy actress because God didn't mean her to be an actress, he meant her to be an artist. "And I'm a good artist." she says confidently. At the end of the segment the presenter announces that screen testing is under way for a new Sheena to appear in a movie to be released in the summer of 1984. "Irish McCalla says she has no interest in the part," she says, "but she would like to draw the poster." (see the Tanya Robert's 1984 Sheena pages)
|In 1984, the benign brain tumour that had first afflicted her in the late-60s returned (see Page 1: From Sheena to Professional Artist). She began suffering from terribly bad headaches, which continued for extended periods of time. She eventually had her second brain tumour operation in 1984 and Irish said that this episode was well-publicised in Phoenix (Glamour Girls & Femme Fatales).|
|Soon after moving to Arizona Irish began working
part time during the summers as a real estate broker. She eventually
studied, acquired her real estate license and began operating out of Hidden
Valley Real Estate in Prescott. The real estate business gave her
on opportunity to get out into the mountain air, especially after spending
many hours indoors painting. Additionally, she had always had a pleasant
disposition and was good with people. She found that she was able
to use her artist's eye, and innate sensitivity, to match property with
the proper individual and she said that she found this the most challenging
aspect of the work. In the late-80s, having overcome the health difficulties
she experienced earlier, Irish devoted her energies to this new career and
the continuation of her artistic output. She made no appearances at
fan conventions during this time (Black & Feret).
In the early-90s Irish again began accepting invitations to attend fan conventions and made appearances at nostalgia shows in Atlanta and Memphis. In August 1991 she accepted an invitation by Bob Gallagher, the organiser of the Movie Convention and Collectibles Show in New York, to appear as his "star" personality. The convention was held at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan and it was Irish's first trip to the Big Apple in 25 years. She and second husband, Patrick Horgan, had lived there for several years in the early-1960s (see Page 3 :Those Three Husbands) Irish delighted the convention attendees with her charm, wit and still formidable loveliness. She recounted stories of the days when she rubbed elbows with Marilyn Monroe, Mamie Van Doren and Elvis Presley. She was a very valued guest and the adoration she received from devoted fans seems to have inspired in Irish a fresh enthusiasm for the memorabilia circuit. She entered into a partnership with her son Kim, who also lived in Prescott, and together they began merchandising Irish McCalla memorabilia. With the same characteristic energy she had displayed ten years earlier, Irish devoted what little free time she had left from her work in art and real estate to the promotion of McCalla Enterprises.
Another major project that Irish became involved in in the early-90s was the production of her biography by two dedicated fans, Bill Black and Bill Feret. Both men were writers and artists and were also zealous enthusiasts of the jungle girl genre. Bill Feret had included an article about Irish in his wonderful book, Lure of the Tropix (1984), still the bible for enthusiasts of exotic women in films, serials, television and comics. He also interviewed her for the August 1985 edition of Heroic Fantasy magazine, largely inspired by the renewed interest in Sheena generated by the Tanya Roberts film. Bill Feret had been instrumental in organising Irish's appearance at the Movie Convention and Collectibles Show in New York in August 1991, where the photo at top right was taken. Bill Black, his buddy and collaborator, was well placed in this venture as the editor and publisher of AC Comics, a publication devoted to keeping alive an appreciation of Good Girl Art from the Golden Age of American comics.
For a couple of years Irish, Feret and Black traded correspondence and phone calls about this work. Irish sent them many photographs of herself and also provided access to the journal she had written on location in Mexico in the mid-1950s (see the Filming In Mexico pages). The book included full colour reproductions of two original Sheena comics from Fiction House comics but AC Comics were prevented from producing any new original Sheena stories for the book because the name had been copyrighted by Columbia Pictures in the early-80s. This obstacle turned into a boon when Bill Black decided to write a new comic adventure featuring Irish herself as the heroine. He enlisted the aid of AC artists Brad Gorby and Mark Heike and Black himself did the colouring and lettering. Irish of the Jungle was an inspired piece of work and allowed these talented fans to let their imaginations run wild (middle right). Irish was very flattered and gave the production her full blessing. The book was originally planned for release in January 1991 but as new material became available from Irish this date was postponed to August 1992. Further delays were caused by the production of the original artwork and the book, TV's Original Sheena - Irish McCalla, was eventually launched at the TNT Collectibles Show in Tampa, Florida in January 1993. Irish was in attendance to promote the book and sign copies for fans. Author Bill Black finally got an opportunity to meet Irish in person ( photo bottom right).
At about this same time Irish was plagued by a recurrence of the brain tumours that she had been fighting for over twenty years. She had her third brain tumour surgery in I992, during the period she and Black and Feret were putting together her biography. That operation was again successful, but for several months her energy levels were severely affected (Black).
In the mid-90s two items were produced that gave a clear indication that Irish McCalla, the "cult icon", was beginning to achieve a level of status far in excess of what she had attained up to that point. In 1995 the famous Knifeworks Co. issued the Irish McCalla Novelty Pocketnife, featuring art very similar to the Brad Gorby art used in the Irish of the Jungle comic (right). It features the logo, TV's Original Sheena - Irish McCalla, the title of her biography. The following year, artist Ron Van Gilder imortalised Irish in a painting that he called The Royal Pair (bottom left). It was issued as a lithograph, signed by the artist, and sold for $125. Irish sent Bill Black a copy personally inscribed by her. When Bill queried Irish about the fact that Van Gilder appeared to have exaggerated her endowments in the picture she explained that when she met the artist (top left) he went to great pains to explain to her, in almost scientific detail, that the size of her breasts rendered in the painting was completely accurate (Black).
a 1994 interview Irish said that she was attending about one fan convention
a month on average (Glamour Girls). In April 1993 she appeared
at the Hollywood Collectibles Show with the legendary Gordon Scott (right),
star of five Tarzan films in the late-50s
including two of the best films in the whole Tarzan catalogue - Tarzan's
Greatest Adventure (1959) and Tarzan
the Magnificent (1960). Irish and Scott had posed together
for a mutual publicity photo shoot in early 1955, before the Sheena series
had been filmed (left). Scott had already made his first Tarzan film,
Tarzan's Hidden Jungle (1955),
but Irish would not depart to film the Sheena series in Mexico until several
months later. She had, however, already made the three pilots, filmed
in California, that were to become Forbidden
Cargo, The Renegades and Touch
of Death (see also Sheena Image 11 on the Sheena
Image Galleries page).
In September 1994 Irish attended Glamourcon 1, the first of a series of conventions to celebrate pin-up art, still running to this day. The significance of this for Irish was that virtually all of the fan conventions that Irish had previously attended had invited her because of her fame as Sheena. Glamourcon, however, principally wanted Irish for her fame as an early-50s pin-up model. The fact that she was also Sheena was an added bonus. Fortunately, her supply of memorabilia covered both her glamour model phase as well as her jungle girl period. It was at this event that Irish was approached by the Las Vegas collector who had been fortunate enough to purchase Antonio Vargas' personal collection of photographs and negatives. Included amongst these items was a set of eight 4 x 6 inch black and white photographs of Irish naked, taken by Vargas in 1948 when she was 18-years-old. This was the only occasion in her life when Irish had posed naked for an artist or photographer and until that time she had never seen those photos (read the full story on Page 6: Nudity in the Modelling section). The photo at left was taken at Glamourcon 1.
|Irish still had that old Sheena costume from the mid-50s in 1997, preserved intact in a safety deposit box in Prescott. She also still had the Sheena armband she had worn in the show, complete with the souvenir chip out of it from when she had been attacked by her costar, Neal the chimpanzee. Neal had been forced to work too hard by a zealous director in very hot, steamy conditions and had reached the end of his patience on this particular day. He had lashed out at the nearest thing to him, ie. Sheena, his on-screen master, and had attempted to take a bite out of Irish's upper arm. Neal bit down savagely on the leather armband Irish was wearing and his teeth took a nick out of it.|
|In a private letter to Bill Black, dated 13 July 1997, Irish spoke of feeling overwhelmed at the work involved in preparing her own cookbook for release. In another interview around this time Irish told the interviewer that she was teaching her granddaughters how to cook so that they could grow up to be good cooks, "just like their grandma". Black had provided some assistance with completing the cover of the cookbook, which she hoped would prove an incentive to inspire her to finally complete the book. She mentioned that she had been doing a lot of marketing for the book and expressed gratitude to Black for suggesting that she send them copies of the completed cover as a useful marketing tool. In the same letter she also mentioned that she had met a man at a party somewhere in the Prescott environs who claimed to have a copy of the colour original 16 mm movie reel of the of the first Sheena pilot (see The Renegades page). Irish said that she was attempting to establish some communication between this man and Larry Urbanksi, the President of Moviecraft, the company with the best collection of surviving episodes of the Sheena series. In recent correspondence between Frank Bonilla and Larry Urbanski it was established that this never eventuated. In the same letter she mentioned that Larry had also recently acquired a slightly damaged copy of Five Bold Women (1960), the only colour film she appeared in, as well as a copy of the 1954 episode of The George Gobel Show that she was in (see Page 1: Early Experience in the Personal Appearances section for more details). Irish's cookbook, which was to be called The Creative Bachelor's Cookbook, was never completed (Black).|
|In May 1998 Irish was one of the featured guests at the Knoxville Film Festival in Tennessee (see photo left). She appeared on a discussion panel with Peter Brown, who appeared in both Lawman and Laredo on Fifties and Sixties TV; Lois Hall, a regular guest star in TV westerns and the star of the famously bad Daughter of the Jungle, a Forties jungle girl cheapie; Gary Gray, a prominent child actor in the Forties who went on to appear in westerns in the Fifties and Sixties; and Johnny Sheffield, who played Boy in the Tarzan films and later played Bomba the Jungle Boy in a series of films of the 50s. The first question posed to Irish from the audience is about her recent illnesses. She explains that she had two brain tumor operations in August and September the previous year and these have affected her peripheral vision and forced her to stop driving ("If you see me driving, go to the other side of the road. I'm dangerous!" she jokes). The operations have also caused her to go deaf in the right ear, but she says she hopes that this might only be temporary. Throughout the hour long panel discussion Irish answers three or four questions and among the things she discusses are the difficulties she and the other actresses faced while filming Five Bold Women (1960). In the 1995 interview available on the Audio Visual pages Irish revealed that she would have liked to retire to Mexico because she loved it so much down there, but was forced to make a decision say close to her surgeon (Ultra Filmfax) (see also the Filming In Mexico pages).|
|In the January 1999 edition of Playboy
magazine, which was the 45th anniversary edition, the editors published
a list called "The Top 100 Sex Stars of the Century". Irish
made the list and in a personal letter to Bill Black dated 14 December 1998
she said, "We've all gotten a kick out of that. They show a Sheena
photo. My sister-in-law said 'You're easy to find there because you're
one of the few with clothes on.'" (Black)
Irish continued to attend fan conventions until her failing health prevented her from doing so. She was still charging a modest fee for signing autographs, but now most of the money she collected went to the American Cancer Society. The story of Irish's last few years, and the fatally serious decline of her health, is described on Page 4: The End. She once said, "I still can't understand why I'm a cult icon, but it's bought me many more fans fans who were too young to have seen Sheena, and I find it fun and refreshing to talk to them. I don't really know what I had that made so many fans so loyal over the years, but I'm very happy for every one of them. What fun to get such attention at my age - a real treat!" (Glamour Girls)
Glamour Girls: Then and Now magazine, premiere issue Mar-Apr 94
TV's Original Sheena - Irish McCalla by Bill Black & Bill Feret, Paragon Publications 1992
Internet Movie Database (IMDb)
Prevue Pin Up Special 2 magazine, Aug-Oct 94
Femme Fatales magazine Jan 99
Irish of the Jungle magazine, written and edited by Bill Black, Paragon Publications 2003
The TV Collector magazine, Jan/Feb 97
Ultra Filmfax magazine No. 66, Apr-May 98
Celebrity Sleuth magazine Vol 9 No 9 1996
The photo of Angela Cartwright, Dick Van Patten and Irish from Whatever Became Of...? is from my private collection
The screenshots from Whatever Became Of...? and Where Are They Now? are from a DVD-R generously provided by Tom Kleinshmidt - see Tom's VHS & DVD Trading site
The colour photo of older Irish in Sheena costume on left is from Celebrity Sleuth magazine Vol 9 No 9 1996
The colour photo of older Irish in Sheena costume on right is from Starlog magazine No. Vol 9 No 9 1996
The photo of Irish and Bill Feret Aug 91 generously provided by Frank Bonilla
The Irish of the Jungle splash page from TV's Original Sheena - Irish McCalla by Bill Black & Bill Feret, Paragon Publications 1992
The photo of Irish and Bill Black is from Good Girl Art Quarterly No 11, Winter 1993, AC Comics
The image of The Royal Pair and photo of Irish and Ron Van Gilder are both from Tease No. 3 magazine, 1995
The photo of the Irish McCalla Novelty Pocketknife is from my private collection
The photo of young Irish and Gordon Scott is from People magazine, Aug 56
The black and white photo of older Irish and Gordon Scott is from Jungle Girls No 14, Winter 1993, AC Comics
The colour photo of older Irish and Gordon Scott was donated by Frank Bonilla
The photo of Irish at Glamourcon 1 convention, Sep 93, is from Glamour Girls: Then and Now magazine, premiere issue Mar-Apr 94
The photo of Irish's granddaughters, Chelsea and Halley, with Ghost Hawk, is from TV's Original Sheena - Irish McCalla by Bill Black & Bill Feret, Paragon Publications 1992
The screenshot of Irish at the 1998 Knoxville Film Festival is from the video of that event (generously provided by Frank Bonilla)
Many of the publications quoted from here are available from the official AC Comics site
You can buy a print of Ron Van Gilder's Royal Pair painting, signed by both the artist and Irish McCalla, at Marianne Ohl Phillips' Pinups website
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