Part 2 - Filming In Mexico
Page 8 - Hollywood Visitors


Irish McCalla confessed to being a bit lonely while they were shooting the Sheena series in Mexico.  In describing the experience she said, "It was just running, swinging, fighting and doing our lines, day after hot day."  Occasionally, however, other film crews would venture into the same tract of Mexico seeking the same thing that they were - cheap labour and exotic locations.

Irish's first encounter with glamourous visitors from Tinseltown up north was the crew of Run For The Sun (1956), a remake of The Most Dangerous Game (1932). One evening after a hard day on the set she was making her way to her room in the little hotel in Cuautla and a familiar voice called out from the small hotel bar, "Sheena, mi amiga".  It was a Mexican by the name of Supio who had recently left their set to work on a bigger American-hired crew.  They were soon joined by Christian Drake and Howard Bryant and Supio told them them that most of the crew of Run For The Sun were staying at their hotel, but unfortunately all of the actors were staying at hotels in Cuernavaca.  He also told Irish that the Americans were filming at an old ruined hacienda that she know of about a half-an-hour drive away.  The following morning after breakfast she approached their director and pointed out that she only had two short scenes to film that day; one in the morning and one in the afternoon.  She pleaded with him for permission to call on the visiting Americans at the old hacienda.  He granted her permission if she promised to return in plenty of time for the afternoon shoot.

As soon as she finished her morning shooting assignment she commandeered a driver named Roberto from the car pool and they were soon speeding through the Mexican countryside.  Roberto was happily singing along with the radio, pleased to be doing something besides playing dominoes, and she was gayly waving to the men in the sugarcane fields.  As they approached the location she cautioned him to turn off the radio and to be very quiet in case they were in the middle of a scene.  She was slightly perturbed to see that there were two official-looking guards decked out with rifles, handguns and bands of cartridges.  Roberto explained that they may not get in without passes which galvanised Irish into action.  Having conquered the objections of the director she was not going to be deterred by a small thing like a couple of armed guards.

Since she had come straight from the set and would immediately go back into another one when she returned, Irish was wearing the Sheena costume and full make-up.  She was certain the actors would understand, so with more confidence that she was actually feeling she alighted from the car "with a great show of bare leg and a flourish of long blonde hair".  She took the now-frowning Roberto's arm and sailed past the guards with a suggestive smile and a purring, "Buenos dias, Senores."  The two guards leered at her skimpy outfit and seemed to conclude that she was with the film company.  Irish said that she felt Roberto's arm stiffen and she took a tighter grip of it as she led him over to some people sitting near the sound man.  Luckily, she was recognised by a photographer from her modelling days and he introduced her around as they prepared to change a scene and then they all quietened down to watch a rehearsal (Tease).

Black and Feret remark that Irish was amazed at the professionalism and opulence the film company possessed.  They provide this interesting quote from Irish's journal written at the time:  "It was really wonderful for me to watch fine actors and a good crew working together quietly and efficiently, after the continuous commotion that prevailed on our set most of the time.  Here, there were no natives beating on drums, sticks or trees or arguing among themselves.  The director never yelled at anyone, no matter what happened, and when the assistant director asked for quiet on the set, it was quiet on the set."  Run From The Sun, widely considered to be a very exciting film, was directed by Roy Boulting, one of a set of English twin brothers who made a habit of producing the films that the other brother was directing (Quinlan).

When the shooting was concluded Irish was introduced to Richard Widmark and Jane Greer, who was made up to look like she was covered in grime because the story was about an escape through rough terrain.  They graciously invited her to stay for lunch and she had a delightful time chatting with the Americans and getting news from home.  Too soon she had to leave in order to get back to the Sheena set for the afternoon filming and she presumed she would not see them again.  A few days later, however, the same company borrowed their swamp at Las Estacas to film some scenes and when she heard about it she again begged for some free time to visit ("I was soon racing down the trail, crossing the river on a large tree-limb, and dropping into the tall grass on the other side").  She worked her way to where Jane Greer and Richard Widmark were sitting watching other actors rehearse a scene ("Boy, were they surprised to see me."  I told them, "You're in Sheena's jungle now!") (see Page 4: The Location).
The two actors told Irish that Robert Mitchum, Ursula Theiss and Gilbert Roland were filming a movie called Bandido (1956) near Cuernavaca.  Irish and Christian Drake were friends with the couple who owned the hotel where the film company was staying, so the following weekend she organised to borrow another car and went visiting again ("We had a great time.") (Tease).  Black and Feret explain that Irish became close to them during their stay and that she particularly liked Mr Mitchum.

Another visitor to the Sheena jungle was second-unit director, Hank Spitz, who was scouting possible locations for Tarzan and the Lost Safari.  MGM was preparing to make it's first Tarzan film since that had sold the property to RKO back in 1942 and they had decided to go all out to invigorate the project.  They had decided to shoot in colour and widescreen and wanted suitably dramatic locations in which to feature their hero.  Sheena's jungle proved not to be sufficiently dramatic and the film was eventually filmed partially on location in Africa (animal footage and a few scenes of Gordon Scott) but principally on MGM sound stages.  Hank even borrowed Neal to substitute for Tarzan's Cheeta in some test footage.

The region was also visited by Mario Lanza and the crew of Serenade (1956), a melodrama about a vineyard worker transformed into an opera star.  They were filming in the area around Lago Tequesquitango, which is 50 kms (31 miles) south of Cuernavaca and very close to the Hacienda San José Vista Hermosa, where the Sheena crew had first stayed on arrival in Mexico.  Unfortunately, Irish was unable to find the time to visit them because they were only there for a few days and she could not find the free time in her busy shooting schedule to get away (Black & Feret).

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.

Tease magazine No. 3, 1995
TV's Original Sheena - Irish McCalla by Bill Black and Bill Feret, Paragon Publications 1992
Quinlan's Film Directors by David Quinlan, Batsford publishers, 1999
The Run For The Sun poster and lobby card and the Bandido poster were all pilfered from eBay auction items


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