Part 2 - Filming In Mexico
Page 7 - Neal


Three actors were the regular stars of Sheena Queen of the Jungle - Irish McCalla, who played the jungle queen; Christian Drake, who played her white hunter friend, Bob; and of course, Neal, the chimpanzee who played Sheena's loyal (and frequently comical) companion, Chim.  Chim stands alongside Tarzan's Cheeta and Jungle Jim's Tamba, to form the great triumvirate of popular chimpanzee characters in the film and television industry.

Neal belonged to the World Jungle Compound at Thousand Oaks, California.  He was trained by Howard Bryant, who was also a reasonably talented character actor.  Howard appears in four of the surviving episodes of Sheena.  He plays the dishonest and manipulative fight promoter, Rowdy Regan, in The Ganyika Kid, and the fawning, heartsick storekeeper, Mr Evans, in Land of the Rogue and The Rival Queen (click in the links to explore the pages for these episodes).  Evans also appears in Eyes of the Idol.  According to IMDb, Howard did little outside these appearance.  Irish has said that to help pass the time on location Christian Drake and Howard would sometimes recount their WWII war stories (see photo below left of Howard Bryant as Mr Evans).

In the months between ABC Film Syndication committing to produce the series and the crew actually leaving for Mexico to start filming, Irish spent several days a week at the World Jungle Compound.  She practiced swinging through the trees to build up her arms and working with Neal to develop some rapport with the animal before shooting commenced (Prevue).

Irish was still under contract to the Globe Photos syndicate and her popularity with readers of Night and Day magazine meant that they were always looking for different photo opportunities in which to feature her (see Page 3: Success in the Modelling section).  Her association with the World Jungle Compound provided just such an opportunity.  A Night and Day story entitled "Chimp Sitter" explained that Howard Bryant, the trainer of Neal the Chimp at the World Jungle Compound, had to be away for the afternoon and Irish offered to baby sit for him.  The most curious thing about the article is the publication date - August 1953.  On Page 3: The Audition in the Audition section I stated that I believed the audition for the role of Sheena had occurred in early-1953.  In interviews Irish said that there was a delay of 12 months between the audition and Edward Nassour offering her the part after Anita Ekberg declined the role (see Page 5: Irish as Sheena in the Audition section).  The August 1953 date for the commencement of Irish's work familiarising herself with Neal casts serious doubt upon this story and suggests that the events involving the acquisition of Anita Ekberg's contract by John Wayne's production company and Irish taking over the role happened much faster than Irish later said it did.  The other curious thing is that the very young chimp identified as Neal in the 1953 photo shoot is much younger than the animal that appeared on screen in the pilot episodes filmed the following year (right).  Young chimps develop very slowly and the animal identified as Neal at the World Jungle Compound in mid-1953 is still an infant, several years away from the size Neal was when he appeared in Sheena Queen of the Jungle.  I can only assume that the names were switched because the infant was cuter and more photogenic.

Irish has said that Neal was treated better than a star ("Even in those pre-enlightened days, this was one chimp that wasn't mistreated.  No way!  He got his chocolate milk brought in, but he had a cage and sometimes they'd put him in it if he didn't behave.  But most of the time he ran around like a little kid.")  Irish and Christian Drake have both recounted many charming stories of life with Neal.  Below are a few of those stories.  

On one uncommonly steamy day Neal was starting to getting very hot and cranky.  Irish said that the director they were working with was well-known as being difficult to talk to talk to ("This particular director, you couldn't tell him anything.  Anytime I'd try to say anything he'd say, 'Well, let's not get temperamental.'  You know, like I'd say, 'Well, let's not use common sense either'")  The actors warned the director that they couldn't work with neal and suggested that he be rested for a while.  The director said, "No, we're going to go ahead and do the scene."  Irish was supposed to prod Chim with the blunt end of her spear, and when she did he attacked her.  She put her arm up to protect herself and Neal bit her on the arm.  Fortunately, he bit exactly where her leather armband was so she wasn't injured, but it took a piece out of the armband ("I can still see him.  He looked just like a gorilla coming at me.  I still have my costume.  I got a little nick out of the armband, which is where he bit.").  Howard said, "Now Irish, you've got to whip him, because if you don't he'll bully you."  Irish replied that she couldn't whip Neal and Howard said, "You'll be sorry."  Irish said that she was sorry, because Neal learned the difference between when the cameras were rolling and when they weren't.  They would get through a scene at rehearsal OK but as soon as they yelled, "Camera!  Action!" Neal would reach behind Irish and pinch her on the leg, making her yell, which would annoy the director.  Sometimes he would walk past her and knock her feet out from under her ("Don't forget that a chimp has the strength of two average men.") (Femme Fatales & The TV Collector)

The Mexican crew took ten days off for Christmas in December 1955 and Irish went home to California to see her family.  When she returned she took her 3-year-old son, Kim, with her back to Mexico because she was very lonely down there.  Sean, her younger son, stayed behind with Irish's husband, Pat (Ultra Filmfax).   Neal was very gentle with Kim and they would play ball together to pass the time.  They would usually settle down when filming recommenced and the crew called out "Silencio!", but on one particular day Neal decided that he wanted the ball and started to get agitated and aggressive.  When Irish looked over one of the crew was holding Kim against him and was on the man's shoulders beating him around the head.  Irish's motherly instincts kicked in immediately and she chased Neal, spear in hand, and later said she was ready to run him through.  Neal climbed a tree for protection, but Irish, being Irish, went straight up the tree after him.  Howard was down below frantically pleading with Irish not to kill Neal because we was worth $4,000 (Femme Fatales, Black & Feret & The TV Collector).  Christian Drake has said that it was very hilarious and the whole crew were standing around balling themselves with laughter.  He said that Irish was scolding Neal pretty good and he wouldn't come down out of the tree.  Howard eventually had to climb the tree to get him down (Ultra Filmfax).  After that Neal finally learned to respect Irish and he even became her protector ("Well, from then on, that chimp was my best friend! [laughs]  Nobody could touch me.")  She said that they even had to rewrite some scenes so that Chim wasn't in them, because Neal would jump on the actors playing the villains if they threatened Irish (Scarlet Street).

Buddy Baer, the brother of world heavyweight boxing champion Max Baer, appeared as Bull Kendall in three episodes of Sheena (right).  He was also the uncle of Max Baer Jr. who played Jethro on The Beverley Hillbilllies.  Buddy was a giant of a man who stood at 198 cm (6 ft 6 in.) tall and weighed in at 113 kgs (250 lbs).  He was a regular guest on television westerns of the Fifties and Sixties playing a heavy against "super sized heroes" like Chuck Connors, James Arness and Clint Walker.  Buddy Baer once had a bet with some members of the Sheena crew that he could hold Neal down even if he didn't want to be held.  Irish said they they let Buddy get a good grip on Neal and then she yelled out, "C'mon Neal!  Chocolate milk!  Chocolate milk!".  In a flash Neal pushed his hands and feet against Buddy's chest, broke loose and ran over to Irish (Femme Fatales).

Chim was a crucial character to the Sheena series.  His presence as a companion for Sheena gave her something to interact with in the scenes when she was alone in the jungle, he was frequently used as a plot device to free Sheena and/or Bob when they were in danger and he was used as the humorous vehicle to conclude virtually every episode of the series (Tamba did the same for Jungle Jim).  Christian Drake, who once minded Neal for a week when Howard Bryant needed to return to the US, said. "Chim the chimp!  He was a pretty neat little guy, to be quite honest."

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 Internet Movie Database (IMDb) website
Prevue Pinup Special 2 magazine, Aug/Oct 94
Femme Fatales magazine, Jan 99
The TV Collector magazine, Jan/Feb 97
Ultra Filmfax magazine, Apr/May 98
TV's Original Sheena - Irish McCalla by Bill Black and Bill Feret, Paragon Publications 1992
Scarlet Street magazine No. 23, 1996
• The following photos are from my private collection: the photo of Irish with Neal on her back; the photo of Irish with a spear holding Neal's hand, and the photo of Neal standing
• The screenshot of Howard Bryant as Mr Evans and the screenshot of Buddy Baer as Bull Kendall are both from my DVD of the Queen of the Jungle film
The photo of Howard Bryant, the infant chimp and Irish is from Night and Day magazine, Aug 53 - private collection


SHEENA © is the property of Sony Pictures Corporation
This independent, fan-based analysis of the Sheena material is copyright © 2006-2007 Paul Wickham
This page updated May 2007