|RIVER GODDESSES (1952)|
|She was born Bessie DeRoss in Guymon, Oklahoma
in November 1910, and was a fit and athletic 40-year-old when the River
Goddesses expedition took place. An adventurous tomboy, she had
adopted her father's given name at an early age. She dropped out of
high school in 1928, to marry Harold Clark, her first husband, and
gave birth to a daughter, Sommona Rose, in March 1929. Georgie's
restlessness kept the couple on the move and they ended up in New York City
during the Great Depression, looking for work.
The long-distance cyclists practicing in Central Park taught her to
ride and in August 1936 she and Harold left for Los Angeles on two racing
bikes given to them by their new friends.
After many cross-country adventures, including sleeping in haystacks and under bridges, the couple settled in LA, where they were joined by their daughter. Georgie joined the Sierra Club and did a lot of hiking, rock climbing and skiing. Harold could not keep pace with Georgie's restless nature and they were divorced in March 1941. Her next husband was a 46-year-old oil tanker driver named James Ray White, or "Whitey", who was also a heavy drinker. Georgie and Sommona began to spend a lot more time together, hiking and camping in the mountains, and cycling. Georgie hauled Sommona off to Quartzsite, Arizona, because she wanted to learn to fly and that's where the cheapest flying lessons were. Both mother and daughter managed to learn to fly before eventually returned to LA to live with Whitey.
Sommona, an attractive 15-year-old who showed signs of being a talented artist, was killed by a drunk driver on 23 June 1944 during a bike ride with her mother to Santa Barbara, a hundred miles north of LA. Georgie was devastated and Whitey was afraid she would lose her mind. While battling depression she attended a lecture by fellow Sierra Club member, Harry Aleson, who introduced her to boating on the Colorado River. The many hiking and boating trips they did together over the next few years earned her a lot of publicity and by 1950 she was considered an experienced boatman. She was the logical choice to act as guide and chaperon for the young starlets Dave Sutton had chosen for his film.
Georgie White - adventurer, raconteur, eccentric - was a life-long vegetarian from a very early age. She was the first woman to swim the Grand Canyon and was also the first woman to lead a boating party through it. She was also the first woman outfitter to operate in the area. She introduced several innovations to boating on the Colorado River, including the use of large army surplus rafts, which she sometimes lashed together for greater stability on the large rapids. She ran white water expeditions on the Colorado for 47 years and made her final trip on the river in 1991, aged 81. She died of cancer the following year, on 12 May 1992. (Westwood & Wikipedia)
starlets and models chosen for the River Goddesses trip needed to
be a special breed of gal. Firstly, they needed to be good swimmers,
as they would be on the Colorado River in Glen Canyon for about a month.
They also needed to be rugged enough to be able to cope with camping
outdoors, hiking in the hills and doing without the niceties of day-to-day
life for an extended period of time. None of these requirements were
a problem for Irish McCalla, who had grown up on a farm in Nebraska and
was a strong swimmer as a result of regular skin diving and board riding
at Malibu Beach. Two of the other starlets, Lee Moi Chu
and Martha Moody, had been sorority sisters and were on the swim team
at a California college.
Lee Moi Chu is the only other starlet from this trip, besides Irish McCalla, to appear in other films besides this one. River Goddesses was her first film and the following year she appeared in Forbidden (1953) with Tony Curtis. In 1954 she had a small part in the television series, Biff Baker U.S.A, which starred Alan Hale Jr, who later acquired fame playing the Skipper in Gilligan's Island (1962-67). The same year she appeared in her last feature, Dragon's Gold. That film was produced, directed, and written by Jack Pollexfen, who was also one of the writers on Five Bold Women (1960), which provided Irish McCalla with her best role (click on the link to see my page about that film).
Georgie White chose to use three cataract boats and a San Juan boat for the trip. The cataract boats were long and narrow, and built for maneuverability in the rapids. The San Juan boat, which was wider and more stable, had a six-foot-by-six-foot (183 cm by 183 cm) platform built over the stern deck to accommodate Dave Sutton and his camera equipment. This allowed him to shoot the beautiful scenery along Glen Canyon as a backdrop for the film.
The outfitting company hired for the trip was Mexican Hat Expeditions, who also provided two of their boatmen, Jim and Bob Rigg. The other two members of the boat crew were Georgie White and Georgie's friend from the Sierra Club, Elgin Pierce. Georgie and the two Rigg brothers rowed the three cataract boats and Elgin Pierce rowed the San Juan boat.
Roy Webb, an Audiovisual Archivist at the University of Utah, has identified the production company for the film as Capital Enterprises. Webb wrote the forward to Richard Westwood's book about Georgie White and is also an historian on boating on the Colorado River. Webb also quotes from a "delightful oral account" by one of the boatmen on the River Goddesses trip, probably Bob Rigg, as he and Irish McCalla were interviewed for Westwood's book . He said that the director that Dave Sutton chose for the project was an "ex-Wehrmarcht German", who everyone called "The Colonel". Westwood identifies him as a Hollywood producer named Carl Junghaunatz, and says he was a German officer in World War II. The boatman also said that the trip was "good clean fun". (Westwood & Webb)
The photo above left shows Georgie White, Irish McCalla and Irene Hettinga attending to some laundry on the trip. The photo below right is, to the best of my knowledge, Elgin Pierce (left) and Jim Rigg (right).
|Dave Sutton filmed the girls wearing fetching
outfits like short-shorts, halter tops and swim suits as they partook of
all of the usual outdoor camping activities - fetching water from the river
in cooking pots, building fires to cook on, and stringing up a clothes line
to dry out the wet clothes from the river trip. Irish was also filmed
washing her hair on the banks of the mighty Colorado River (see the
link below to the page of other River
Once a week a plane would fly over to check on them and they could hear the roar of the plan down the canyon long before it passed overhead. If they needed any vital supplies a prearranged signal was left in the sand and on the following trip a parcel would be dropped to them.
In the interviews that Irish McCalla and Bob Rigg did for Richard Westwood's book, they both commented on the difficulties that everyone on the crew had working with Carl Junghaunatz, the director of the film. They said he "fit the Prussian officer stereotype: stern, demanding, and superior". Irish said she remembered he "openly said that women should be kept in concentration camps for breeding purposes only: that's all they were good for." He expected unquestioning obedience from everyone and "he expected the models to climb everything in sight". At times he could be unbearable and as time went on the whole party became united in their hatred of him. However, he didn't scare George White, who stood up to him and showed the girls how to climb slopes they were afraid of, or flat out refused to allow them to do it if she thought it was too dangerous. The photo at right shows Irish McCalla and Irene Hettinga climbing a steep slope.
|Click on the image below to see more photos from the River Goddesses expedition:|
Woman of the River - Georgie White Clark, White-Water Pioneer by Richard E Westwood, Utah State University Press, 1997
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Glamour Girls: Then and Now, Premiere Issue Mar-Apr 94
TV's Original Sheena - Irish McCalla by Bill Black & Bill Feret, Paragon Publications 1992
The photo of Irish and Lee Moi Chu is from Peril magazine, Feb 61 - personal collection
The photo of Dave Sutton is a detail from a photo in Brief magazine, Nov 54 - personal collection
The colourised photo of Georgie White is from the cover of Woman of the Rivers - White Water Adventures in the Canyons of the West by Rose Marie DeRoss, Gardner Printing & Mailing Co, 1958
The photo of Georgie White, Irish McCalla and Irene Hettinga doing laundry and the photo of Irish McCalla hanging out her laundry are both from Night and Day magazine, Dec 53. Many thanks to Irish McCalla's biographer, Bill Black, for donating this issue to my collection
The photo of Irish helping to rescue the cow, and the Martha Moodey and Becky Barnes is from Night and Day magazine, Mar 51 - personal collection
The photo of Elgin Pierce and Jim Rigg is a detail from a photo in Night and Day magazine, Mar 51. See the full photo on the 1951 Glamour Magazines page
The photo of Irish McCalla and Irene Hettinga climbing a steep rocky slope is from Look magazine, 8 May 51 - personal collection
The photo of Irish in a bikini posing on one of the boats is from Night and Day magazine, Nov 51
Read the Internet Movie Database entry for River Goddesses
SHEENA © is the property of Sony Pictures Corporation
This independent, fan-based analysis of the Sheena material is copyright © 2005-2008 Paul Wickham
This page was updated May 2008