Part 1 - The Sheena Audition:
Page 3 - The Audition Process


The famous audition for the part of Sheena appears to have been held in early-1953.  Publicity said that over two hundred actresses tried out for the part of Sheena and the competition was stiff, but like many of these kinds of statements, this was probably an extreme exaggeration.  In personal correspondence with Frank Bonilla, Ed Nassour Jr, who was a child about six-years old at the time, said that he doubted that number as well.  Ed Jr, who entered the entertainment industry in 1968 working at the Metrocolor film lab, was the Senior Vice President of Post Production at 20th Century Fox Television when he retired in 2003.  He remembered his father shot the test footage without sound, in colour, on his own 16 mm movie camera.  He also said the test footage was filmed beside the pool in their huge Spanish home.  The footage was preserved because it had been edited together with a reel of Nassour home movies and it was currently in the possession of his mother, who wouldn't part with it.

Ed Nassour Jr had obviously seen the footage numerous times while he was growing up.  His most interesting comment was that only only four actresses were filmed that day, all wearing the same costume and all threw a spear at the appointed moment, obviously following his father's off-screen direction.  The four actresses were Debra Paget, Anita Ekberg, Irish McCalla and "a young, kind of pretty brunette who wasn't that tall."  He later added that the fourth actress was actually quite plain compared to the other three contenders for the part.  He also said she was "terrible" and "very flat".  He concluded by saying, "The name of the fourth girl will most likely remain a mystery".

Ed Nassour Jr said that Debra Paget (above) arrived with her agent and she was wearing a blonde wig.  He commented that she looked "gorgeous, but silly".  The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) confirms that five-feet-two-inch Debra Paget, a B-movie regular in westerns and swashbucklers, did test for the role of Sheena.  Her most famous role was as the Indian maiden Shonseeahray in Broken Arrow (1950), with James Stewart and Jeff Chandler, a much-lauded film because it was the first western to sympathetically portray the plight of American Indians.  She went on to make numerous exotic costume dramas - Bird Of Paradise (1951), Princess of the Nile, (1954), Omar Khayyam (1957), Tiger of Bengal and The Indian Tomb (both 1959).  A few years later Ms Paget would appear with Irish McCalla on the famous 5 June 1956 episode of The Milton Berle Show with Elvis Presley (see Page 2: Irish on the Milton Berle Show in the Personal Appearances section).

Another applicant for the role of Sheena was the famous striptease artist, Lilly Christine (right), although she was not chosen for a screen test.  She had been a contender for the part when Sol Lesser was auditioning for the role of Sheena back in 1952 and she was obviously still interested in the part ( see Page 1: The Sheena Movie Project for more details).  Lilly was a lithe and athletic figure on stage.  She earned the epithet, "The Cat Girl", because she possessed the suppleness of a cat through her unique muscle control.  She also gained a lot of fame for her scantily clad "voodoo dance".  She would probably have suited the role admirably.

Buxom Hollywood blonde bombshell, Joi Lansing (left), also applied for the part but was not screen tested.  The gorgeous Ms Lansing, who measured 39-23-35, began modelling in her teens and had an uncredited role in MGM's classic musical, Singin' in the Rain (1952), and appeared briefly as Zita, the dancer who is killed at the end of the famous opening tracking shot in Orson Wells' Touch of Evil (1955).  On television she appeared in The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok (1951-58), I Love Lucy (1951-57), made regular appearances as Shirley Swanson, a busty model, on The Bob Cummings Show (called Love That Bob in re-runs) (1956-59), and appeared in the "Superman's Wife" episode of The Adventures of Superman (1951-58), with George Reeves.  She also made sporadic guest appearances over five seasons as Gladys Flatt, the wife of renowned bluegrass musician, Lester Flatt, on The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-71).  She was also in the short-lived series, Klondike (1960-61).  Ms Lansing was a also Morman who didn't drink or smoke and practiced yoga for relaxation.  She was nicknamed "Baby Face" and it's debatable whether she had the necessary earthy grittiness to play a primitive jungle queen, which may explain why she was culled from the list.

Laurette Luez (below right), a stunningly beautiful exotic Hawaiian brunette, was another actress interested in playing Sheena who was not chosen for a screen test.  Both Jungle Gents (1954), a Bowery Boys film, and Prehistoric Women (1950) featured Ms Luez bedecked in animal skins.  Exotic costumes were her specialty. She appeared in a sarong in African Treasure (1952), a Bomba the Jungle Boy film with Johnny Sheffield, and appeared in harem outfits in several films - Kim (1950), with Errol Flynn, Siren of Baghdad (1953), and The Adventures of Hajji Baba (1954) (Glamour Girls).  Ms Luez is also famous for having claimed to have helped Norma Jean Baker develop her stage name during a brainstorming session when they were attending the same acting classes.  Marilyn was derived from the tempestuous Vaudeville/Ziegfield actress, Marilyn Miller, and Monroe came from the fifth US President, James Monroe.

Irish's real competition, of course, was from Anita Ekberg.  Ms Ekberg had won the Miss Sweden title in 1951 and had come to the US to compete in the Miss Universe competition, which she didn't win.  Ed Nassour Jr said that in the test footage Ms Ekberg "just oozed sex" was picked up by Universal, who in those days gave contracts every year to the six Miss Universe finalists (Love Goddesses).  She soon appeared in a handful of inconsequential roles that took advantage of her physical prowess.  Anita's debut was in an uncredited role as a maid-of-honour in Mississippi Gambler (1952) with Tyrone Power and Piper Laurie.  This was followed by an uncredited role as a dancehall girl in an early lightweight Douglas Sirk western, Take Me To Town (1953), with Ann Southern and Sterling Hayden.  She next appeared in Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953) as a Venusian guard, ably assisted by a handful of other Miss Universe candidates.  Her fourth 1953 film, an impressive accomplishment for a new arrival, was as a handmaiden in the lively adventure-comedy, Golden Blade, with handsome newcomer Rock Hudson and Piper Laurie (again) (IMDb).  It is not surprising, therefore, that she leaped at the opportunity to play the leading role in the Nassour Brothers' Sheena film.  She was on her way up and winning the starring role in the Sheena jungle adventure might just be the vehicle she needed to step into the spotlight and really get noticed (IMDb).

Irish and Anita tested for the Nassour Brothers on the same day and Irish has said that they were among the last ones to be filmed.  The auditions were held in Edward Nassour's large back yard because there were trees available to test the climbing ability of the actresses and large open areas for them to run across.  The applicants were asked to climb a tree to a height of about five feet, survey their domain, then jump out of the tree and run across the yard.  According to the large photo on the Audition Intro page (click on link to see photo) the actresses were also tested being threatened by a spear.  A makeshift leopard-skin costume with an over the shoulder neckline was provided and all of the actresses were shot wearing the same outfit.  When Irish had completed her audition the cameraman said to her, "Oh, you've got the part!  You look like you belong in the jungle.  You run like an open field runner."  "Well, I'm a country girl" replied Irish, "I know how to run." (see Tomboy section of the Childhood page)  Irish has recounted that she handed this costume to Anita after she had finished with it and Anita came out with a lot of cleavage showing ("That's when I knew I was in trouble" - see photo right).  She has also said that when it was her turn Anita ran like she was wearing high heels ("Like the way most girls run.  Sorta kickin' their heels out.") and that she climbed the tree awkwardly.  Irish has said that she will never forget Anita's performance up that tree.  When they called out, "All right now, Anita, jump down!" she looked at the producers who were standing nearby (Edward and William Nassour) and addressed one of them in particular.  "Can you help me down?" she said.  The producer put out his arms and Anita slid seductively down his body, as if she were descending a fireman's pole.  The same cameraman who had previously been enthusiastic about her chances looked at Irish and said, "Honey, you just lost this job" (The TV Collector & Prevue).  A comparison of the two photos of Irish and Anita "leaping" out of a tree on the next page (link below) clearly shows the differences in their levels of athleticism.  Ed Nassour Jr said that Ms Ekberg "just oozed sex" on the Sheena audition test footage and remembered that his dad wanted her for the role from the start.  She was tall like Irish, he said, (she was 5' 7"/169 cm) but he felt her thick Swedish accent was very inappropriate for the role.

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.  The whole Sheena story - comics, short stories, television and film - is available on the Sheena Intro page.

IMDb (The Internet Movie Database) website
Glamour Girls: Then and Now magazine, Editor Steve Sullivan. Premiere issue Mar-Apr 94
The Love Goddesses website - Anita Ekberg page
The TV Collector magazine, Jan/Feb 97
Prevue Pinup Special 2 magazine, Aug/Oct 94
Many thanks to Ed Nassour Jr for allowing me to use his comments and to Frank Bonilla for sharing them with me

• The photos of Debra Paget, Joi Lansing, Lily Christine and Laurette Luez were pilfered from eBay auction items
• The photo of Anita Ekberg in the Sheena audition costume is from Cavalier magazine, Feb 56 - personal collection


SHEENA © is the property of Sony Pictures Corporation
This independent, fan-based analysis of the Sheena material is copyright © 2006-2008 Paul Wickham
This page was updated May 2008