Part 1 - The Sheena Audition:
Page 5 - Irish as Sheena

One much-quoted story claims that when they ran Irish's screen test, Don Sharpe, the Nassour's coproducer, supposedly shouted, "Look at that girl lope.  No turned-out feet.  No funny switching.  No shoulder sway.  And look at those legs.  That's Sheena!" (TV Star Parade)  This is a concocted story because Don Sharpe was the coproducer brought in by ABC television after the Nassours had sold the series to ABC syndication (see the full story on the next page - link above).  However, the statement does go a long way to explaining why the Nassours' considered Irish a suitable replacement for Ms Ekberg.  As mentioned on the previous page (link above), the Nassours informed Christian Drake as his screen test that they had another actress ready to step in if necessary.  However, it appears that no one ever informed Irish of this intention.  In other words, the Nassours never had a contingency plan with Irish on "stand by" in case they needed her.  According to her there was a delay of about twelve months between the audition and when the Nassours first called her to offer her the part without any prior notice.  In the meantime she did the usual pin-up assignments and she began to try out for films and TV shows because she started to know her way around the studios.  She did modelling bits on comedy shows like the George Gobel Show and tried out for the role of Miss Kitty on Gunsmoke, but Amanda Blake won the part.  Amanda Blake also appeared as a harem girl in The Adventures of Hajji Baba (1954) (mentioned in the discussion of Laurette Luez on Page 3: The Audition) and even had a turn as a jungle girl in Miss Robin Crusoe (1954) (see photo right).

Another common, and curious, story told by Irish is that the Nassours were in a panic when they contacted her to offer her the part of Sheena because Anita Ekberg "didn't show up for shooting" the pilot of Sheena.  Irish was supposedly signed in such a rush that they offered her Anita's contract at $365 per week and just crossed out Anita's name and wrote in Irish's.  The story of Anita not appearing to shoot the pilot is bizarre because two production companies with a lot of resources were involved.  It is difficult to
believe that Nassour Pictures was unaware of the fact that John Wayne's company had acquired the contract of their principal star, or that Anita or her agent had neglected to inform the Nassours of her predicament.  Secondly, the story of the rush to sign contacts is unusual.  Irish has said that she was pregnant when contacted by the Nassours and the fact that she clearly isn't pregnant in The Renegades, the pilot episode of the series, clearly shows a passage of time since the Nassours contacted her.  It appears that Irish may have been in the advanced stages of her pregnancy when the Nassours contacted her and was available to film the pilot a few weeks later.  This, however, raises the question of why there was such an extreme urgency to have her sign Anita's contract when she wasn't available to start work immediately.  I think it is safe to conclude that some of the stories were embellished slightly with the passage of time to add a little drama to them when Irish related them to glamour magazines and, much later, fan conventions.   Irish was certainly offered the same rate of payment as Anita Ekberg's contract.  She was paid $360 per week for shooting the three pilot episodes in LA and $365 per week while they were shooting in Mexico (see Page 2: Irish's Contract of the Filming in Mexico section).  ("I didn't even have an agent, and one happened to be there at the time, so they said to use him.  He got 10% for doing
nothing.") (Prevue)

The curious photo of Irish and Anita shaking hands (right) was published with the caption, "Anita (in street clothes) shows good sportsmanship; congratulates Irish."  It was obviously taken at the audition in Ed Nassours' back yard before Irish handed the costume to Anita.  Anyone following the story this far knows this to be an impossible situation.  Irish was still under contract to the Globe Photos syndicate when she attended the audition in late 1953 and it is obvious that one of their staff photographers accompanied their high-profile model to the audition (see Page 8: The Vegas Showgirl in the Modelling section).  He probably captured this photo of Irish shaking the hand of the former Miss Sweden, Miss Universe candidate, and budding starlet, as a matter of routine.  When it was announced in mid-1954 that Irish was to play Sheena the agency dug these photos out of their archives and made it appear that Irish outperformed Anita in all aspects of the audition.  She had, but it was only a series of fortuitous accidents that resulted in her actually making it to the small screen.

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.

TV Star Parade magazine, Feb 56
Prevue Pinup Special 2 magazine, Aug/Oct 94
• The photo of Irish as Sheena is from Scene magazine, Jul 58
• Photo of Amanda Blake in Miss Robin Crusoe from Lure of the Tropix by Bill Feret, Proteus Books 1984
• The photo of Irish McCalla and Anita Ekberg shaking hands was provided by Frank Bonilla.  The name and date of the magazine in which the photo was published has been lost.


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 updated May 2008