Remember "Sheena, 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 interview.
      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 good-naturedness.
      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 set."
      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.

Carol Hatfield
"The Realist," Winter, 1994

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