Queen of the Jungle"? No, not the box office
flop from a few years back. I mean the T.V. show
from 1955, when I was eight years old. Sheena was
played by Irish McCalla. She was the only female
portrayed on the tube who didn't conform to the
fifties stereotype. Sheena was a real rugged
individualist. Watching her struggle with a new
adventure every week made me feel more capable at
a time when everything was so unexplored. If she
could handle the jungle, I felt sure that I could
handle my world.
I grew up to be a television
writer and one of my jobs was a T.V. show called
"Whatever Became Of . . ?" The title
says it all. A thrill came over me when I
discovered that Irish MaCalla was on our list of
interviews for the show. I've worked with a lot
of celebrities, but this was very different. I
was being granted a long forgotten wish.
When Ms. McCalla opened the
door to her ocean front home I was surprised that
she was much shorter than I expected. However she
was still quite beautiful. My familiarity with
her T.V. show gave me an edge for our
pre-interview chat. I had to determine what was
interesting enough to be retold and taped when
the crew was set up and ready to shoot the
To my amazement there were
only 26 episodes of "Sheena" produced.
Irish was hired primarily for her Olympic
background. She did most of her own stunts and
she even made her own costume. The show was shot
somewhere in Mexico's interior. Being so far away
from home made Irish feel homesick until she sent
for her six year old son.
They rehearsed for a long
time before they brought in her co-star Chim the
chimp. He was the only one who was completely
comfortable in this neck of the woods and he
didn't waste a moment turning Sheen's discomfort
into misery. In most scenes Sheena had to carry
Chim or at least hold his hand. The trouble was
that whenever the director yelled, "Quiet on
the set" and "Roll sound" the
chimp would secretly pinch her or bend back her
fingers, knowing that she couldn't cry out
because the take would be ruined.
When Irish discussed this
problem with the Director he thought she must be
mistaken. The chimp looked so innocent.
Regardless of what the Director thought, the
chimp's trainer believed her. He suggested that
she show him who's boss by hitting him a few
times. Irish couldn't bring herself to do that
and the chimp took every advantage of her
It was a difficult
situation, but having her little boy with her
relieved some of the pressure. She loved to watch
him play ball with the crew between scenes. Of
course when the Director yelled, "Quiet on
the set" the game would cease immediately.
One day when they were shooting a scene that
didn't include the chimp he joined the ball game.
During the game the ball was passed to Irish's
son and the chimp was trying to get it just as
the director yelled, "Quiet on the
Out of the corner of her eye
Irish saw the chimp on her child. But she didn't
know that all he wanted was the ball. With spear
in hand and her maternal instinct in high gear,
she took off after her co-star. Chim ran for his
life with Sheena hot on his heels, followed by
the Director, the Trainer and the rest of the
crew. Sheena's spear was aimed at the little
beast as she pursued him through the thick
underbrush and eventually up a tall tree.
The distant voice of the
Director kept screaming, "Don't kill
him!" The Trainer yelled again and again,
"He's worth five thousand dollars! I'll be
ruined!" No matter how high Chim climbed
Irish was right behind him, until there was no
place left to go. Irish had him cornered on an
uppermost branch. She drew up her spear ready to
heave it into him. "Your son is fine. The
chimp only wanted the ball," someone shouted
loudly from the ground. Irish glared at the chimp
for several seconds before she put her spear
carrying arm down and slowly descended the tree.
That was the last time she had any trouble with
her co-star. They even developed an exceptionally
good working relationship.
I asked Irish McCalla to
re-tell the story when the camera was rolling.
But she took too many short cuts and her
spontaneity was gone. So it was never used, and I
hated losing such a good story, especially one
that illustrates the empowerment issue so well.
Kindness is all too often seen as weakness, and
there are a lot of little apes ready to take
advantage of our gentle nature.
"The Realist," Winter, 1994