Welcome to our new Angels of Action column!
Irish McCalla was one of a kind. She was beautiful, tall, athletic, busty, talented and entertaining. Her physical attributes led to a lucrative career as a model and her face and figure adorned HUNDREDS of magazine covers in the 1950′s. This and the fact that she looked exactly like the comic book character led to her being cast as SHEENA – QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE in the 1955-56 television series. She read SHEENA comics as a kid and loved being a jungle girl. Being very daring and athletic, Irish initially did her own stunts as Jungle Queen, but after a mishap, the producers insisted on a stunt double doing the vine swinging. The producers and the director did a poor job on the physical stunts and were seemingly indifferent to the beauty of their lead actress. Sheena rarely got a close up and appeared mostly in long shots so her good looks were never capitalized upon. To make matters worse, her double was a man wearing a blonde wig!
After publishing TV’S SHEENA, IRISH McCALLA, I got to meet the statuesque beauty at a Tampa Comic Con where the book had its debut before clamoring fans. SHEENA had played in Tampa during the Fifties and many fans turned out to meet their childhood idol. After that Irish called me at least once a month for the rest of her life regaling me with great tales of Hollywood both on and off camera. I wish they could have been included in the book. At this time Irish was in her 60s and was living in Arizona as an artist. It was great to learn that she was a fellow artist and one of considerable talent. She specialized in paintings and prints with American Indians as subjects, especial pretty young women. Irish had changed very little since the 1950′s pin-up days and still had a narrow waist and killer figure. But it was her personality that stood out. Considering her figure (she could still get into her Sheena costume) that’s really saying something. I loved her phone calls as I knew she would have me falling over with laughter as she recounted episodes with Kirk Douglas, John Wayne, Jock Mahoney and many others. She was also generous to a fault sending me prints of her artwork, Sheena memorabilia and even a lock of her hair. I have enough autographed photos of SHEENA to cover a wall.
I always thought that Irish was the personification of what I wanted as a FEMFORCE character. Yes, she was beautiful and stacked but also she was INTELLIGENT. Irish came along after the demise of the cliffhanger serial but I’ve always thought how great it could have been for Republic Pictures to make a SHEENA serial starring Irish McCalla. Then Irish could have shown her stuff. My own forays into Hollywood productions beginning in the early 1980′s never amounted to anything but I did write a screenplay for a NYOKA THE JUNGLE GIRL movie. I had parts in mind for Irish, Jock Mahoney (TARZAN NO. 13) and Kay Aldridge (the original NYOKA). That never came to be and all have since passed away. I know Irish would get a big kick out of the NYOKA series that we currently have in production at Nightveil Media. I’m certain she would love our statuesque jungle gal, Nicola Rae, and that Irish and Nikki would have become fast friends.
The SHEENA TV series may well have been the second dramatic TV series about a female character. It started just as ANNIE OAKLEY was leaving the air. As such it was a ground breaker. There were series like THE LORETTA YOUNG SHOW or JANE WYMAN THEATER with a female lead but they did not play a recurring character. And there were several songstresses with TV programs (Kate Smith, Jane Froman, etc.) as well as comedy programs like OUR MISS BROOKS, MY FRIEND IRMA and MY LITTLE MARGIE but SHEENA and ANNIE stood alone as strong female role models. They were considered “kid’s shows” sure, but you better believe a good part of the adult male population watched SHEENA!
Nellie Elizabeth “Irish” McCalla (December 25, 1928 – February 1, 2002)