Part 3 - Personal Appearances:
Page 4 - Irish on Tour


As discussed on Page 2: Irish's Contract in the Filming In Mexico section, when Irish agreed to accept the offer to play Sheena she was advised to ensure that personal appearance rights were included in her contract by her old friends, Bill Williams and Jock Mahoney, who were experienced in the television industry.  They told her that the small studios had not yet realised that there was a substantial amount of money available to actors on the personal appearances circuit.  Williams and Mahoney both suggested that she ask for her personal appearance rights when the Nassours refused to pay her more money, which they felt they were certain to do (see also Page 1: The Nassour Brothers in the Filming In Mexico section).  The Nassours were happy to agree and this fortunate piece of advice was to provide Irish with a good income for most of the next decade (The TV Collector).

Irish revealed in her 1997 interview with The TV Collector magazine that she initially felt a little apprehensive about going on the road to promote Sheena.  Despite her fame as a glamour model (see Page 3: Success in the Modelling section) and seven-and-a-half months spent in an isolated part of Mexico (see Page 4: The Location in the Filming In Mexico section) Irish was still basically a country girl who had travelled very little.  When she began touring she was relieved to find that many of her her fans were young kids.  "I come from a big family, I was used to children, and I didn't have any fear." Irish said.  "I usually talked 'Sheena talk', which was: 'You know, Sheena talk like child.  Sheena not talk like other people, which is very easy talk Sheena talk.'  And the kids loved that; it wasn't very far what they were talking.  And one of the things that I noticed with children was that they take it for granted when you're a star that you know everybody and that they are your friends.  And one question I would hear every once in a while is, 'Does God watch you on TV too?'  And you have to watch out when kids ask personal questions about religion, but that was a simple one.  I'd just say 'Now, you know God no need TV.  God can look at everybody all time anyway.'  And they'd say, 'Oh yeah, that's true'.")  

Immediately after her appearance on The Milton Berle Show (click on link to read the full details) Irish went on a 21-day tour of the eastern and southern US, which was funded by the ABC television network ("I was immediately aware of how popular I'd become almost overnight.") (Glamour Girls).  In those days Mother's Cookies and Dad's Root Beer were some of her sponsors and they would fly her out to the east or the Midwest and pay her to visit a grocery store or a market where their products were sold.  Irish would sign autographs and appear on the local television station ("And that's how I made my money, just wandering around") (Femme Fatales).

Only one series of Sheena Queen of the Jungle was ever produced (see the discussion of the cancellation of the show on Page 11: Series Cancelled in the Filming In Mexico section).  The show was so popular that the same twenty-six episodes were repeated continuously on television stations throughout the US during the late 1950s.  The series was also incredibly popular in the foreign market where it also ran for many years.  I can confirm that it was definitely screening here in Australian in the mid-1960s, and I remember racing home after school to see it.  The show was also dubbed into numerous foreign languages around the globe.  Irish said that she felt the actress who dubbed her voice in Japanese was much better than the woman who dubbed the Spanish version of Sheena (Femme Fatales).  Christian Drake, who played Sheena's sidekick, Bob Rayburn, said that who would sometimes get calls from his old war buddies, many of who were now commercial pilots working in South America, complimenting him on his Spanish.  He said that they did such an expert job on the dubbing, even matching the sound of his voice, that his friends were fooled into thinking it was him (Ultra Filmfax).

In interviews Irish also told several stories about her overseas trips promoting Sheena.  She said that when she got off the plane in Puerto Rico and Cuba she felt like Elvis Presley because there were so many people there at the airport waiting to see her.  She was truly surprised to learn that a tall, busty blonde with a chimpanzee could prove to be equally popular in Spanish countries.  In 1959 Irish accompanied six Disney Mouseketeers and Duncan Renaldo, who played The Cisco Kid, on a promotional tour of Australia and Japan.  An old TV magazine I found said their plane arrived in Sydney at 3:30 pm on Wednesday 6th May.  Irish initially felt a bit apprehensive about working with "show business brats", but she found them all to be completely charming and a lot of fun.  The Mousketeers did a number of musical performances in Sydney and Brisbane while Irish and Duncan Renaldo were kept busing with newspaper interviews and television appearances.  The tour continued up the coast to tropical Queensland where they were hit by a cyclone (the northern hemisphere calls them hurricanes).  Irish remembered sitting on the balcony of their hotel with Bobby Burgess, Cheryl Holdridge, and a couple of other Mousketeers, wrapped in blankets like sports fans, watching the huge waves crash over kiosks and beach houses.  After the worst had passed the locals came out to brave the winds and Irish and the Mousketeers were still there watching them ("Walt Disney certainly knew how to pick kids!") (Tease & TV News-Times).  The photo above left shows Irish with Jimmie Dodd, the leader of the Mousketeers, helping to celebrate Jimmie's birthday in March 1959.  The photo was taken in California on the same promotional tour and the dates suggests that they may have covered the US for several months before embarking for Australia and Japan.

While in Australia Irish also had some time for some modelling duties.  She posed for several photos for a Villawool knitting catalogue, one with Mouseketeer Bobby Burgess (right).  Irish's hair is short because before leaving the US she had spent several days working on a feature film called The Beat Generation, which was also released in 1959 (click on the link to read my page about that film).

Irish also visited Cuba slightly before Castro came to power in 1959.  While there on a press junket she had a candlelit dinner with legendary Latin star, Cesar Romero (left), and learned that his grandfather had been a hero there and that a statue had been erected in his honor.  While they dined the other guests of Jack Paar's Tonight Show, including Paar's regular guest French singer Genevieve, tried their luck at the hotel's gambling tables ("I wasn't about to lose more than a couple of dimes at the slot machines because paychecks were sometimes few and far between... and not great big ones like actors receive now.  Besides, I'm a lousy gambler!").  A New York newspaperman organised for Irish to visit Castro's rebel camp, but she cancelled that and headed home when a Cuban politician was blown up outside the hotel where she was staying ("Those rebels are called Freedom Fighters by many newspapers in the States, but I didn't intend to be caught in the crossfire.")  The photo at right was taken on the balcony of the Hilton Hotel in Havana. (Tease)

In late 1959 Irish visited the set of The Alamo, John Wayne's long-winded, hagiographic film about the defense of the Alamo mission in San Antonio, Texas, by 180 "Texicans" against the might of the Mexican army, led by General Santa Anna.  Irish was in Texas on a personal appearances tour and she was invited to spend Thanksgiving with Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, who had earlier costarred with her in Five Bold Women (1959).  A friend in Houston offered Irish the use of his plane and she flew out to William's ranch a few days before Thanksgiving.  Williams' had a small part in The Alamo playing Lt. "Irish" Finn, and the morning after Irish arrived, Williams' wife, Toddy, drove her over to the Alamo set at Brackettville to look around.  As soon as Irish arrived the place erupted in wolf whistles and catcalls; it was an all male cast and Irish was well known for her Sheena role.  John Wayne marched over to her and Irish said her heart sank because she was expecting to be balled out for disrupting the filming.  Wayne, however, was all smiles and greeted her by saying, "You're that jungle girl from TV, aren't you?" He made her feel very welcome and invited her back the next day because they were filming one of the big battle sequences.  He was certain she would get a big kick out of it ("He was right!  It was really astounding!  Much later, when I was kindly invited to the premiere of The Alamo I had to smile as I recalled how they had used the same Mexican army first on one side, and then on another, making it look even bigger.")  Irish was also delighted to see Richard Widmark again, who was playing the role of Jim Bowie in the film.  They had meet in Mexico several years before when she had visited the set of Run For The Sun (1956) in full Sheena costume, because she had commandeered a car during a break in their filming schedule to visit the set of that film (read the full story on Page 8: Hollywood Visitors in the Filming In Mexico section). (Tease)

The crew of The Alamo took a break from filming for Thanksgiving and Williams invited Ken Curtis (below) who was playing the role of Captain Dickinson, and some of the stuntmen to share dinner with them.  Curtis had a truly incredible history.  He was the son of a deputy sheriff from Colorado, he began his entertainment career as a big-band vocalist for the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and from 1949 to 1952 was a member of America's premier western harmony group, The Sons of the Pioneers.  Curtis was also the son-in-law of legendary western director, John Ford, and had teamed with both Ford and John Wayne in several films (Rio Grande, The Searchers, The Horse Soldiers, et. al.).  He also appeared in a string of low-budget westerns like Song of the Prairie (1945) and Stallion Canyon (1949) (main image below). In 1959 he produced two low-budget monster movies, The Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews, and appeared as an actor in the latter.  He is, however, best known for his portrayal of Matt Dillon's crusty deputy, Festus Haggen (insert below), in the long-running television western Gunsmoke, from 1964 to 1975.  As mentioned already on this page, Irish had auditioned for the role of Kitty Russell in Gunsmoke back in early 1955 before the Nassours were successful in selling the Sheena series to ABC Syndication.

Ken Curtis, Big Boy Williams and the other men staying at Williams' ranch decided to go out hunting early on Thanksgiving morning, while Irish and Toddy Williams decided to sleep in.  Irish said that she would never forget the sight that greeted her when she awoke that morning, went to the kitchen window and looked out towards the old barn and corral.  Here is her account of the scene: "Men were sitting and having a smoke beneath the tree from which hung a deer and the wild turkey we would have with cornbread at dinner.  They wore their buckskins from the movie and the only modern thing about the scene were the guns and cigarettes.  The rest of the picture was strictly last century.  I loved it!"  That night after dinner Ken Curtis entertained the group by singing very old cowboy songs. Irish said he performed songs she hadn't heard since she was a child in Nebraska, and some of them were tunes she had only read in an old book of cowboy songs that her grandmother had. (Tease)

Irish once told a story about making a personal appearance at a zoo in front of a group of school children and the elephant mistook her blonde hair for cornsilk and lifted her five feet off the ground by her hair.  On another occasion under similar circumstances, while she was all made up in her Sheena costume, an elephant sprayed her with a gruel-like mixture of mash and ground grains used for elephant food.  She said she was standing there, trying to look regal as Sheena in front of a group of child fans, covered from head to foot in a speckled gooey mush.  She didn't have a change of costume so she was forced to do the whole show in a dirty costume and with her head, arms and legs covered in spots of sticky elephant food ("Now you see why Sheena no like elephant in Sheena movie.")  Black and Feret's book says that somewhere throughout all of these travels Irish lost her six-foot long (1.8 m) Sheena spear.  Irish thought it was while she was passing through the airport at New Orleans.  In a 1982 interview with Starweek magazine Irish said that she did personal appearance tours for "eight or nine years" after the Sheena series was cancelled, balancing it with her painting career.

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 TV Collector magazine No 87, Jan-Feb 97
Glamour Girls: Then and Now magazine, Editor Steve Sullivan. Premiere issue Mar/Apr 94
• Femme Fatales magazine, Jan 99
Ultra Filmfax magazine, APR/May 98
Tease magazine No. 3, 1995

Starweek Magazine, Aug 82
• The photo of Irish appearing at a supermarket in the 1950s, the photo of Irish appearing in the front of a crowd in the southwest US (courtesy of Randy Strait), the photo of Irish and Jimmy Dodd, and the photo of Irish on the balcony of the Havana Hilton were all donated by Frank Bonilla
• The photo of Irish and Bobby Burgess from the Australian Villawool knitting catalogue is from my personal collection
• The photos of Cesar Romero, The Alamo poster and both photos of Ken Curtis were pilfered from eBay auction items


• Read a Ken Curtis filmography 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
This page was updated May 2008