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    Jungle’s action heroine battles bad guys in Tampa

    TV’s syndicated Sheena spends the week crouching and slinking aboard a ship to film an episode of the action series.

    By BABITA PERSAUD

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001


    TAMPA -- In Vietnam, Korea and World War II, the SS American Victory ship never saw this kind of action:

    "Roll camera!"

    photo
    [Times photo: John Pendygraft]
    Denise Loden, stunt double for Sheena star Gena Lee Nolin, begins a two-hour makeup transformation to become Darak'Na, Sheena's catlike alter ego.
    "Action!"

    A blond in a suede push-up bra and skirt, her navel showing, runs up the gangway two steps at a time. A camera trails her. "Keep the action going," shouts assistant director, Rick Callan.

    She crouches, moving past armed guards. They notice, and a black net is dropped on her.

    "Cut! Nice net throwing."

    St. Petersburg might have had Brad Pitt, George Clooney and award-winning director Steven Soderbergh filming Ocean's 11 at Derby Lane. But Tampa's got Sheena, a syndicated show out of Orlando and produced by Baywatch and Xena: Warrior Princess executives. It airs at 8 p.m. Thursdays and at 1 a.m. Sundays in the Tampa Bay area on WMOR-Ch. 32.

    The show's slogan: Sheena, part animal, part legend, all woman.

    Orphaned as a child in the jungle, Sheena was raised by a tribe with strange powers that allow them to change into animals when necessary. All this week, the crew has been filming aboard the huge, 55-year-old Merchant Marine cargo vessel docked behind the Florida Aquarium.

    Thursday, the ship was filled with movie types with goatees talking on cell phones.

    However, the show's main star, Gena Lee Nolin, formerly of Baywatch, wasn't there.

    She's in Monte Carlo at the foreign premiere of Sheena this week, said Bill Hill, production supervisor.

    So her stunt double, Denise Loden, filled in. It was Loden who ran up the gangway, elbowed the guards toting rubber guns, and fought with the men in black jumpsuits.

    And it was Loden who endured two hours worth of makeup to become Darak'Na, Sheena's alter ego, a character Sheena becomes when she gets mad. (much like the main character's weekly transformation on the old Incredible Hulk television show).

    A spongy mask that looks like a cat's face was glued onto Loden's face with medical adhesive, and her body was air-brushed brown and covered with lumpy spa mud.

    She basically looked like a woman who had just rolled in mud.

    It is the highlight of the show for most viewers, said makeup artist Lee Grimes.

    Sheena is filming an episode called "Unsafe Passage," which will air in May.

    "It's exciting," said Jim Smith, a volunteer helping to restore the SS American Victory and turn it into a museum.

    And how does a World War II vessel fit into a jungle plot? As a slave ship, basically.

    Bad men, said Callan, invade the village, capture some natives and try to take them back to the mainland.

    That is until Sheena (or her body double) intervenes and "kicks butt," he said.

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