A Christmas baby, McCalla was born in 1928. Growing up in the frigid wilds of rural Nebraska, her primary interests were art and “wanting to go where it never had snow,” McCalla recounts. “So I moved to California. My brother drove me out there when he came back from the war, and my mother drove out with us. We found a nice boarding house for me and a waitress job, which is good because you eat right away and the tips helped financially.”
McCalla became fixated with the warm, sunbathed Malibu beaches, an environment that was inaccessible at home. “I was living in Santa Monica and part-time in Malibu,” recalls McCalla. “My friends and I loved the beach. They said beach kids wouldn’t amount to anybody, but most of us amounted to somebody. Johnny Weissmuller and Ben Chapman, who played Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), taught me to skin dive. Ben was a friend of the man who owned the place where we used to go skin diving. I had a crush on Ben. I got engaged to him, but we never got married. He was a tall Tahitian fella.”
While skin diving for lobster and abalone on a chilly winter afternoon, the 17 year-old beauty was approached by freelance photographer Bob Wallace. McCalla struck some poses. When Wallace later suffered a fatal heart attack, his widow sold all of the shutterbug’s negatives to the Globe Photos syndicate. “One cold day in New York, they published this picture of me in a bikini, holding up a lobster,” grins McCalla, ” which is not one of my favorite pictures. In those days, a bikini was not so brief. The picture’s caption said, “This is what they’re doing in California today you know rubbing it in for the New Yorkers. This is Irish McCalla skin diving in California. And that’s all the information they had. Globe Syndicate had one heck of a time trying to find me, because I lived in Santa Monica rooming house, and I didn’t have my own phone. One way or another, Globe got a hold of me. They had their exclusive and gave me $100 a month. At the time. I was working for 82 cents an hour at the Douglas Aircraft factory making wing nuts for airplanes and plastic molds. I was working the night shift so I could go to the beach in the daytime. At [that amount an hour, you can imagine that $100 looked like a lot. I signed the contract with them and they sold me to all the different magazines, especially Night and Day-where I became a fixture and the other pin-up magazines.”
Debuting in Night and Day’s August ’50 issue, McCalla personally came up with the stories that revolved around the photo spreads. You know, stuff like *Trish goes sailing or skiing or swimming. We’d get a pair of sand skiers and I’d go sand skiing. ‘Irish does this and Irish does that.’ That way, they had a reason to print several pictures of me at once. I don’t remember how long I was under contract…probably three or four years.
“It was at the end of the Korean War and we’d see these ads in magazines, Ten pictures for $1.00 of some pin-up model. I would get all this mail asking for photographs and, of course, I couldn’t afford to have photographs printed into 8×10 glossies. So I told my boss, Charles Block, and he said, ‘I know what we’ll do. We’ll charge a dollar per photo. No one charges anywhere near that much, and then they’ll quit bothering you. ‘I thought that was a good idea, because I hated to write back and say, ‘I can’t afford to send pictures because I worked in a factory.
But the hyperbole turned into a franchise. “We made $6,000! I bought a camera, a new cashmere coat and supported myself for some time because the company printed pictures and gave me $.35 a shot to sign them. I just fell into it because of my figure. People had asked me to pose before, but I didn’t know them and I’d say ‘No.’ I knew Bob (Wallace) and he was happily married, and was a good photographer and, with him, it was strictly business.”
Globe negotiated an offer to engage McCalla, the company’s most profitable exponent, as a Las Vegas showgirl. “They offered to pay me more if I would do some advertising for them on the radio because, back then, I was well known as a pin-up model,” says McCalla. “Again, this was at the end of the Korean War, I think, because I was doing some USO shows for the soldiers as well. I had just found out that I was pregnant with my first child, so I wouldn’t be able to stay too long in the show. I didn’t start showing for a long time because I’m very tall and I was so slim. I was performing at the Flamingo, which at that time was the last casino on the strip. Next to the Flamingo was a place all the showgirls called The Barracks because that was where we slept. There were none of the great, big, tall buildings. As a showgirl, you parade around and wear these beautiful costumes with the big headdresses. In those days, we wore costumes-we didn’t go naked. You stand behind the singers and the other acts. You were scenery. Sheree North was the captain of the dancers at that time. Not long after I left the Flamingo, Sheree left. Twentieth-Century Fox was having trouble with Marilyn Monroe, and they decided to scare her by bringing Sheree in. She was a great dancer.”
Pregnancy expanded McCalla’s already ample endowments. Her bust line inflated from 39.5″ to 41.25″. “Oh, it was just so big, I had a very large bust,” she moans. “The waist was still small. I had a 24-inch waist so when I started gaining a little weight, it wasn’t noticeable. As a matter of fact, I never did buy what I call “get pregnant clothes.’ I just wore loose blouses.”
Globe organized a shoot that archivists regard as McCalla’s most celebrated project. The spread was titled “Irish By Four Different Artists.” Lauded glamour/pin-up photographer Bruno Bernard snapped pictures of McCalla, pin-up artist Alberto Vargas rendered her image on canvas, another craftsman constructed an ice effigy and Sala Munich sculpted a bronze bust.
Prior to the Globe gig, McCalla had already been introduced to Vargas at a Miss California beauty contest. I didn’t win but Vargas was one of the judges. I was very broke, and he asked me if I would pose for him. I had always copied Vargas drawings when I was a girl, and I’d trade them to the gas stations for gasoline. I admired Vargas. He was such a gentle person. He treated you like you were a beautiful rose, not like you were a nude body. He would see the highlights of your skin and he taught me some things about painting, about water colors and stuff I never tried. He showed me how he painted, and that was all very interesting to me. Those resultant pictures appeared in a Night and Day magazine. I was wearing a one piece bathing suit at the time, and I hated it. It used to pull up in the crotch and down in the bust. I’m very tall, and they never made one piece bathing suits tall enough for you. I was 5’9.5″ which was rare in those days. I was happy to see the bikini come in, so I could have some bare space to move around”
The bronze “big bust” became part of the family. “Sala Munich, the sculptor, gave it to me,” says McCalla. “My youngest son was just a baby, and he was always patting that bust and saying, ‘Nice mommy. Nice mommy’ I said, ‘One of these days, somebody is going to come in and think he’s strange.’ So Sala cut it off at the head for me. I gave the boobs to Tom Kelly, a pin-up photographer who was always asking me, ‘Why won’t you model nude for me? You modeled nude for Vargas!’ I told him I wouldn’t do that for photographers.”
Kelly did persuade Marilyn Monroe to strike a nude pose for “Golden Dreams,” disputably the most popular pin-up in history. Back in the ’50s, he told McCalla that a certain producer was not among the phonies disguised as studio executives. “Don’t hang up on him, Irish, like you usually do!” Kelly cautioned. “He then told me that they were going to do a comic strip, Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, as a TV series,” recalls McCalla. “They had called him to ask which actresses he thought qualified for the role. He told them that I would be perfect. And he told me, ‘You’re athletic and you look just like Sheena!’ He also advised me that I’d need some pictures, so I went to Bruno] Bernard because he had photographed me before. I hired him to do some pictures of me in a leopard skin bikini like Sheena used to wear in the comic strip.”
McCalla was a reluctant actress. She applied dramatic license whenever necessary, more for commercial practicality than creative impetus. “I didn’t want to be an actress,” she admits, but I was divorced at that time, and had two young kids to support, and I didn’t want to be a waitress. I’d been a waitress, and working in the factory wouldn’t support us. Because I WAS a model. I did a few small things like playing models on TV shows-again, only for my looks.
“When I became a TV star, I worked for $365 a week and so did most of the other actors I knew. I made most of my money doing personal appearances, and that’s thanks to TV actors Bill Williams and Jock Mahoney, both of whom had a series before me. They told me, ‘Look, [the TV producers] are going to offer you something in the $300 range, and you tell them that’s not enough. They’re not going to give you any more because you’re not a well known star, but you tell them you’ll sign it if you get your ‘personal appearance rights.’ In those days, the studios didn’t understand how much you could make on those appearances…
“You could make a thousand dollars or so. Mother’s Cookies and Dad’s Root Beer were some of my sponsors. They’d fly me to the east or the midwest and pay me so much to go to a grocery store, or market, where their stuff was sold. I’d sign autographs, and go on television in that city or that town. And that’s how I made my money, just wandering around. I went to other countries, too. I went to Australia and Japan. The funny thing is that the girl who dubbed me in Japanese was a better voice, I felt, then the one that dubbed me in Spanish. Let’s face it. Could a tall, busty blonde, with a chimpanzee, prove equally popular in Spanish countries? I got off the plane in Puerto Rico and Cuba, and I felt like Elvis Presley. There were thousands of people just standing there at the airport. It was unbelievable.”
But the starlet was unnerved scared when she initially reported to the SHEENA set. “I can thank the crew of the pilot film for getting me through it,” grins McCalla. “They were like the older guys I knew while growing up. They treated me well and later some of them told me, ‘You didn’t come on acting like a big star who had just gotten the part. You came on showing you were a little confused. ‘I didn’t know what a ‘pan shot was. I didn’t know what to do in a close-up. Every mistake I made was on film, because I knew nothing about it. When we were waiting to rehearse, one of the guys would take me aside and explain things to me so the director wouldn’t yell at me. I would get nervous and go home crying every night. My advice to aspiring actresses is something I learned from experience: “Be good to the crew because they’ll be good to you.
The series’ budget constraints prompted an athletic McCalla to perform her own stunts, at least until “the injury.” While shooting the show in Mexico, McCalla was stricken with amoebic dysentery, a dreaded illness commonly known as Montezuma’s revenge. “They had a rope covered with vine, and I swung down to go into the crotch of this big tree leaning out over the river,” McCalla explains. “A boy would swing first so I could watch and judge my distance. I could see that I had to hold the rope higher than he did, because he would hit the tree. But, when he hit, he was wearing big heavy boots.
“I was on a high platform on a floating raft, tied to the tree in the river. I started to swing, but because I had been so sick and I didn’t realize how weak I had gotten, I couldn’t hold my weight that far up that vine. As I headed toward the tree, I knew that I was going to hit it with my torso and face, so I pulled my knees up and I hit on my knees. I was bark and blood from the knees down. I started falling down toward the raft and I thought, ‘Please God, let somebody catch me before I drown.’ Luckily, they did catch me. I pulled ligaments in my left elbow and hurt my back and smashed up my knees.”
Returning to the States for recovery, McCalla was greeted at the airport by a press agent who slipped the wounded starlet a velvet sling. “The producers subsequently hired a stuntman.” says McCalla. “They could n’t find a girl tall enough down there in Mexico, so they got a trapeze artist. The funny part was that we would tease that poor man to death. He’d put on his costume and-as he put his falsies in either leading man Chris Drake or I would say, ‘No, no, no. just a little to the left. No, a little to the right.’ And he’d get so embarrassed. You could tell when it was him because he ran more like a girl, and I ran more like a boy. One of the reasons I was hired was because I could run across rough ground. Coming from a small country town, I could run across the ground just like a boy does. I could do short swings and I did my own swimming of course, because you couldn’t fake that.”
SHEENA was supposed to literally swing in Kenya. But the atmosphere of the Mexican jungle in Cuernavaca, and economic reality, drew the producers to south of the border locales. But shooting in the torrid heat, during monsoon sea son, took its toll. “We often had to quit because of rain,” McCalla nods. “My makeup would have to be redone several times a day because I would just sweat it off…my mother would have a fit if I said that, make that because I would just have perspired it off. It wasn’t dense jungle, it was more open jungle. And there was the river there and they could do it cheap. It was produced by the Nassour brothers in conjunction with Rodriguez Productions in Mexico. That way, they could run the film into Mexico City and run it at their studio and stuff. I used to watch it on the moviola.”
Undoubtedly, McCalla’s abbreviated jungle top shot stuff by conservative ’50s standards-induced a legion of male teenagers to check-out her tan. Beyond the series’ 26 episodes, that core audience remained faithful to the reruns. “Today my costume would be old fashioned,” says an amused McCalla. “It was the only costume really, except for ice skaters and dancers, that was showing that much skin. It was a one-piece costume and we were very careful not to show any cleavage. God, if I leaned forward to track an animal or something, they’d say, ‘Sheena, por favor!’ and I’d say, “The boobs are showing aren’t they?’ ‘Si. Si. Is not good.’ And I’d have to turn slightly away from the camera so you couldn’t see, or else move the shoulders up a little so you wouldn’t show a little cleavage. With my bust that was difficult not to do.”
Two years after SHEENA shut down, McCalla was cast in She Demons (1958), one of a surfeit of low-budget sci-fi films that was produced as filler for double bills. Richard E. Cunha, director of poverty row quickies (Giant from the Unknown/Frankenstein’s Daughter), turned to McCalla for marquee value. Irish was cast as Jerrie Turner, a spoiled heiress who’s shipwrecked on an island occupied by a Nazi scientist and human guinea pigs (i.e. captive women): genetic experiments, gone awry, breed a race of predatory “she demons.” Riddled with dialogue that begs for a Golden Turkey award (“That was your fatal mistake. American swine!”), the film was produced on a poverty row budget ($65,000).
” She Demons was made by a small studio, explains McCalla. “They wanted a name for their heroine -even though I had become typecast as Sheena-and they paid me 1,500 ‘big dollars to play that. It took 8-10 days to shoot it down at Paradise Cove, and part of it in the studios. We didn’t dare change a word of the script because Richard Cunha had written it, too. The two stunt men were great guys and they also played the German Nazis. My younger sister Flo came to watch me on the set, and one of the stunt men got a crush on her right away. He was standing at the top of the stairs, where they have the volcano, and he had to do a fall. But he was yelling, ‘Hey Flo! Flo look at me! Look at me, I’m going to do a fall.’ It was so funny.”
McCalla resisted demands to perform a nude scene. “I had an argument with the producer,” she recalls, “because he wanted me to take off my bra, and go nude for a foreign version of the film–they wouldn’t see everything, but it just wasn’t right. It’s one thing to do it for Alberto Vargas, and another thing to do it in front of a crew and people and on film. I read in a magazine, later, where Cunha said, ‘Irish McCalla didn’t want to take off her bra because she had a child. ‘I wrote back to the editor of that magazine and said, Well for Cunha’s information, I have two children and my bust looks very good.’ I was doing pin-up modeling, and I sent him some recent pictures of myself out of magazines. I wrote, “You can see that I hadn’t lost my figure.
“I thought Cunha’s quote was tacky. It was bad enough that I had posed nude for Vargas, that was embarrassing enough. I had two sons and I told Cunha, when he wanted me to do the nude scene, that I wasn’t about to do it or I’d risk friends of my two sons saying. ‘Ha, ha! I saw your mama naked.’ I thought about things like that.
“Later, I played a nun in James Cavell’s Five Gates to Hell (1959)and I thought that would get me out of the Sheena stereotype. But it didn’t. Then I played in a western called Five Bold Women (1960) and that didn’t get me out of it, either. People said, “Well we can’t take you seriously because you’ve done SHEENA.”
During the same year, producer Albert Zugsmith whose offered McCalla a starring role in THE BEAT GENERATION. But with strings attached. I will never forget Zugsmith’s line,” she remembers. “He said, “The actor will rip-off your bra for the European version.’ I said, ‘SHEENA is played in Europe, it’s played all through South America and I don’t think that would be right. He said, “The rape scene will be done in good taste.’ I asked him, “How can you rape anybody in good taste?’ So I asked him to let me play the part of the mother and I’d dye my hair dark. So that’s what I played, Fay Spain’s mother. I didn’t get the leading role but Zugsmith wanted to use my name, which was still fairly big. So he let me have a small role.” Balance of the eclectic cast included Mamie Van Doren, Vampira and Louis Armstrong.
Flashback to MeCalla’s other driving ambition, while growing up in Nebraska’s hinterlands: maturing into an artist. “I always drew things from the time I was a little kid,” she says. “When I was Sheena, I used to take my free time and I’d study art. When I was in the jungle, I would paint pictures just for fun. And I would paint pictures of the natives. The Indians would come and watch us because I was an oddity. Here was this lady in long, blonde hair, wearing a little bit of an outfit and carrying a chimpanzee. I had my first art show after I got home. I knew a lot of people came because I was Sheena, but I didn’t care. I did a lot of barn paintings and landscapes because I knew the countryside. People would say “Hey you’re really good.’
But they’d say it in such surprise that I thought they didn’t expect me to be any good. I could tell by their tone of voice. It’s the same kind of thing when a guy invites you out, and you’re sitting there having dinner and you’re talking and, all of a sudden, he says, You’re really intelligent.
Years ago, Pat Nixon purchased one of McCalla’s seascape paintings which was later exhibited in the western wing of the White House. “I also had one in the Cowgirl Hall of Fame,” she says proudly. “I belonged to the Women Artists of the American West for a long time. I don’t belong anymore since I had these operations, because I haven’t had the energy to paint very much. Most of my paintings are sold in Scotsdale, Arizona. My favorites are Blossoms Soft, a painting of my daughter-in-law and my first granddaughter when she was a baby, and Mail Order Bride which was terribly successful.”
One of McCalla’s favorite pastimes is attending conventions and greeting her admirers. “I’m so old I’m now part of memorabilia,” she laughs. Although several sessions of surgical therapy have curtailed her appearances, she’s ready to hit the road again. “I never made any money off the leopard skin in those days, and now it’s helping to support me,” she explains. But my art work supports me mostly
It’s wonderful that that old leopard skin has got me back to see my friends, and I had no idea how important Sheena was to the children of that day. Grown men in business suits come up to me and say, I was so in love with you. ‘I was in dangerous surgery in ’84, which was publicized very well down in Phoenix, and I got lots of cards and flowers. One of my favorite cards, which represented a lot of them, was from a fella who created it on his computer. It said, ‘Please get well, Sheena. You were a wonderful part of my childhood”.
At age 73 in 2002, Irish McCalla died of a stroke and complications from her fourth brain tumor.
Your interest was art, so how did you become an actress?
Irish McCalla: Well, when I got out of high school I sold my saxophone for $87 and went to California. I wanted to go where it was warm. I didn’t want to live in snow. I was modeling and Tom Kelly, the photographer, called and said, “There’s this guy gonna call ya, Irish. Don’t hang up on him when he tells you he’s a producer, ’cause he really is! He’s looking for somebody to play Sheena.” I said, “Well, I can’t act, Tom.” “Doesn’t matter! Tell him you’ll do your own stunts. He’ll take you.” So anyway, I tried out and Anita Ekberg was chosen. Then Anita got a better job with Batjac Productions and didn’t show up for work, so they called me in a panic and I got the job. And I told Anita later, “You’ da hated it!”
By the time you got the title role on SHEENA, you’d been featured on some magazine covers.
Irish McCalla: Oh, on many magazine covers. I’d been skin diving-I loved the ocean-and a newspaper photographer took some pictures of me. Not too long after that, he had a heart attack and his wife sold all of his photos to Gold Photos Syndicate. They found the pictures of me and published them in New York on New Year’s Day. “This is what they’re doing in California today, while you’re all freezing.” Well, they got so many calls and letters that they decided to find me. It took them two or three months, but once they found me they gave me a contract.
And that led to your introduction to Tom Shelley.
Irish McCalla: That was how Tom Shelley happened to know me. He said I looked exactly like the comic-book Sheena. Well, when I was a kid, I used to make believe I was Sheena.
SHEENA was filmed in Mexico, wasn’t it?
Irish McCalla: Well, the pilot and the first two were shot in the States. The pilot was in color. It was the only one that was made in color. Then we went on location for what was supposed to be three months, and it ended up to be seven-and-a-half! It really was rough working!
Did you do all those stunts yourself?
Irish McCalla: Well, I did them up until the 13th episode. I was very ill and I had to swing from a high platform on the river to a tree and knock a guy out of the tree. I was too sick to hold my own weight on the rope, and I smashed into the tree. Thank God I’d been taught by Jock Mahoney, who used to be a stuntman before he was an actor. He said, “Look, it isn’t how you do your stuff, if you’re dumb enough to do it. It’s how you land.” He taught me how to protect myself when I was landing, to relax and to bring my legs up-and that’s what kept me from getting smashed right across the face. But I injured my arm and broke my leg and I looked like I’d been through a meat grinder.
And you weren’t exactly making a fortune doing this.
Irish McCalla: Oh, Good Lord no! I made $365 a week! That was it!
The monkey made more!
Irish McCalla: And he was insured for more! He was more valuable. Blondes are replaceable. Chimpanzees-good ones, intelligent ones-aren’t.
Speaking of chimps ….
Irish McCalla: Oh, people always want to know if he was hard to work with. He was fine, but sometimes they’d work him when he was too hot. It’s very hot down there. I used to have to have my makeup redone two or three times a day because it just melted off! When he was hot, he’d get very angry. And when you stop and think that a chimpanzee has the strength of two average men.
It could get dangerous.
Irish McCalla: I’ll tell you a story: Neal-that was the chimp’s name-Neal was very hot and cranky one day. We told the director that we couldn’t work him, that we had to let him rest, but this particular director did not pay attention. He said, “No. We’re going to go ahead and do the scene.” Well, I had to poke the chimp with the blunt end of my spear. When I did, he turned and bit me luckily, on the armband-and it terrified me. He looked like a gorilla coming at me! The trainer told me, “Now, Irish, you’ve got to whip him, ’cause if you don’t he’ll bully you.” I said, “I can’t whip him!” He said, “You’ll be sorry.” And I was! Neal knew the difference between rehearsal and when they yelled “camera.” We’d go through the scene in rehearsal, and when they yelled, “Camera! Action!” he’d reach behind me and pinch my leg.
Irish McCalla: Or he’d walk by and knock my feet from under me! I had my son Kim down there in the jungle with me. He was almost four and he used to play ball with the chimpanzee. The chimp was really gentle with children. Never hurt them. Well, one day the chimp had the ball and Kim thought he should have the ball. I heard the chimp screaming and turned around and saw one of the crew holding Kim up against him. The chimp was on the man’s shoulders, beating him on the head. I didn’t know what was happening! I mean, you don’t hurt my son, I don’t care if you are a gorilla, so I took out after the chimp and chased him through the jungle. I was so mad I couldn’t see. Everybody-the chimp trainer and everybody-they were chasing after me, yelling, “No! No! No!” I chased the chimp with the spear and was ready to run him through, I guess, but they grabbed the spear away from me. Well, from then on, that chimp was my best friend! Nobody could touch me. He was my protector, and it really made it difficult when we were filming and I had to be hit by one of the villains. They’d have to rewrite it so that the chimp wouldn’t be in that scene, ’cause he’d jump on the villain. It was wild. It’s different living with chimpanzees.
Any other chimp stories?
Irish McCalla: Remember Buddy Baer? He was huge! He was on one of the shows and he lost a bet that he could hold the chimp when he didn’t want to be held. We let him get a good grip on Neal, and I yelled, “C’mon, Neal! Chocolate milk! Chocolate milk!” And Neal just pushed his hands and feet against Buddy’s chest and was out and running over to me for chocolate milk!
It must have been difficult raising a child in such an exotic location.
Irish McCalla: I’d put on my costume and Kim would say, “Are you Sheena, now?” I’d say, “Yes, I’m Sheena, now.” And all day he’d call me Sheena. Then in the evening, when I’d take the costume off in the evening, he’d say, “Are you Mommy, now?” “Yes, I’m Mommy, now.” And all evening I’d be Mommy.
The shows were being released while you were still filming.
Irish McCalla: That was the amazing thing. In fact, we were rushing through some of them, because we were falling behind. We were shooting and delivering them a week before they were on TV! When I got on a plane and went home, people were screaming, “Look at Sheena! It’s Sheena!” Everybody knew who I was-except my younger son; he didn’t want anything to do with me. He hadn’t seen Mommy in a while and he wasn’t sure who this lady was.
Maybe he felt rejected while you were away.
Irish McCalla: I suppose. But it hasn’t hurt our relationship. The boys and I are very close. Over the years, it’s been really good. In fact, both my sons have posed for me.
When you came back from playing Sheena in Mexico, you appeared on Milton Berle’s variety show with
Irish McCalla: With Elvis Presley, and I didn’t know who he was! I hadn’t heard of him because we didn’t get any American music in Mexico. All the music, the television-everything we ad down there at the hotel was in spanish! So I was wondering who he was.
You also toured the country as Sheena, didn’t you?
Irish McCalla: Oh, I toured off and on for several years. That’s what supported me.
And then you were offered some film roles.
Irish McCalla: Yes, B generation. FIVE BOLD WOMEN. That was a big role; that Did several weeks on location.
And then you did the cult classic SHE DEMONS.
Irish McCalla: I had to watch it to find out why people liked it and I still don’t know. But I’m glad they do.
Any stories from that shoot?
Irish McCalla: Oh, yes. My sister came to visit and one of the stunt men was showing off. You know, on a low-budget film they just go ahead and print if it’s printable, right then and there. Well, he did his jump sooner than he was supposed to, but they didn’t are. They just printed it rather than set the whole thing up again. He was showing off for my sister.
Irish McCalla: Yes, my sister again! SHE DEMONS got her into the business. Tod Griffin was my costar in that picture. Tod’s wife was working on several TV programs-IT COULD BE YOU and TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES—and she needed someone who could be a good secretary and take care of the stars when they were in the green room. I said, “My sister needs a job.” And she stayed in the business for years, working on the other side of the camera. I used to wish I could work on the other side of the camera, because then you work all the time.
In SHE DEMONS, you have a scene with a python.
Irish McCalla: Yes, and I have an Irishman’s fear of snakes. It was chilly in the mornings, and the handler used to wrap the python around his body under a big coat to keep it warm. Then, when it came time to put it up in the tree, he just took off his coat and unwound the snake. Anyway, we did the rehearsal. The snake was about six feet from me, and I turned around and screamed and leaped over to Tod Griffin and hugged him. The hero. So they said, “Okay, that’s fine. Let’s shoot it.” Well, it took them a while to get ready to shoot and the snake was getting cold. So he headed for a warm body. Mine. I turned around and the snake was about a foot from my face. I screamed and I leaped and I knocked Tod right over! We had to reshoot the whole thing, wind the snake back up. I’d been having a very hard time screaming. I’m not a good screamer. But, boy, I screamed a bloodcurdling scream when I saw that snake!
Where was SHE DEMONS shot?
Irish McCalla: It was shot first at Paradise Cove, then the scene with the snake took place at Fernwood, in the city. It’s a real pretty area. The rest of it was shot in a studio, but I don’t remember where the studio was.
How much did you make?
Irish McCalla: About $1,500, as I recall.
How many weeks?
Irish McCalla: One week.
And then you did Hands of a Stranger (1962), which was a remake of The Hands of Orlac
Irish McCalla: Yes, I played a nurse. I was on that for two or three days. I liked working with Sally Kellerman. Of course, I’d known Sally before. She ran around with our crowd. I was dating Gardner McKay at the time, and she was a friend of Gardner’s, too. We all hung around the coffee houses in those days. All the young actors.
When did you give up acting?
Irish McCalla: As soon as my paintings were making enough that I could pay the bills and not have to make any more personal appearances or travel anymore. I’d already been to a lot of places. I was ready to settle down, and that’s what I did. At that time, I’d gotten married to my second husband, an actor named Patrick Horgan. We were married and we were always apart, and I thought, “Well, this is no way to have a marriage.” So I quit the business. If I’d stayed in it we’d probably still be married, because we got along fine as long as we were apart!
Have you ever regretted giving up acting?
Irish McCalla: Never have. Except when I see the money they’re all making!
You were operated on for a brain tumor several years ago, yet you have such a positive attitude about everything.
Irish McCalla: They said that’s why I recovered so well. It’s no use having a bad attitude; it just makes you unhappy. I’m a very determined person. I just made up my mind that I would get my strength back, because they said the tumor could come back again. But I don’t think it will. In the meantime, I’m going to live every single moment. When you live moment to moment, whatever you’re doing right now is the most important thing in your life. And then you live fully, right now.
One last question: What do you think of people who point to Sheena as a symbol for women’s liberation?
Irish McCalla: One thing that women’s lib has done-which I object to-is that they put men on the defensive. God knows, I’m as independent as a hog on ice, but this thing of “I’ll open my own door!” I want the man to open the door for me. In my own life, I take care of myself; I earn my own money. I support myself. I live alone. But if I’m out on a date, I want to be treated like I’m something special. I don’t want “Let’s be equal.” I used to say, “Equal! Why should I be equal? I always thought I was superior!”
Still, it must be flattering.
Irish McCalla: Yes, but when they start in saying, “You were the first women’s libber,” I say, “No, no… Sheena’s the Queen. The Queen is above everybody. She’s the boss. She’s in her own element. And as far as being liberated … well, listen, I was never captured!”
Sheena, Queen of the Jungle (1955-1956) TV series, 26 episodes — Sheena
She Demons (1958) — Jerrie Turner
The Beat Generation (1959); reissued as This Rebel Age — Marie Baron
Five Gates to Hell (1959) — Sister Magdalena
Hands of a Stranger, also known as The Answer (1962) — Holly
Have Gun – Will Travel (1963) episode “Bob Wire” — Anna Anderson
Femme Fatales v07n10