British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. W 339. Photo: R.K.O. Radio.
Dutch collectors card. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures. Johnny Weissmuller as Tarzan and Johnny Sheffield as Boy in Tarzan Finds a Son (Richard Thorpe, 1939).
Vintage postcard. Johnny Sheffield in Bomba: The Jungle Boy (Ford Beebe, 1949).
Tarzan finds a son
Johnny Sheffield was born John Matthew Sheffield Cassan in 1931 in Pasadena, California, USA. His father was the actor Reginald Sheffield who began as a child star and later turned to character acting.
In 1938, Sheffield became a child star after he was cast in the juvenile lead of a West Coast production of the highly successful Broadway play 'On Borrowed Time', which starred Dudley Digges and featured Victor Moore as Gramps. The seven-year-old Sheffield played the role of Pud, a long role for a child. He later went to New York as a replacement and performed the role on Broadway.
That year he also played Napoleon's son in the short MGM film The Man on the Rock (Edward L. Cahn, 1938). When Maureen O'Sullivan wanted out of her Jane role in the Johnny Weissmuller Tarzan series, it was decided that she and Tarzan would adopt a son before she died. They had to adopt, according to the Legion of Decency, because they weren't married.
Weissmuller personally selected Sheffield from 300 boys for the part of Boy. The role was inspired by Bobby Nelson's portrayal in Tarzan the Mighty (Jack Nelson, Ray Taylor, 1928). Athletic by nature, little Johnny was taught to swim by swimming Olympian Weissmuller.
Johnny Sheffield's feature debut in Tarzan Finds a Son! (Richard Thorpe, 1939) was such a success that MGM signed him to six more films as Tarzan's Boy. Sheffield played Boy in three Tarzan films at MGM, and in another five after Johnny Weissmuller, and production of the film series moved to RKO. Brenda Joyce played Jane in the last three Tarzan films in which Sheffield appeared.
Dutch postcard by Takken, Utrecht, no. 428. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures. Johnny Weismüller and Johnny Sheffield in Tarzan Finds a Son (1939).
Belgian postcard by Nieuwe Merksemsche Chocolaterie S.P.R.L., Merksem (Anvers). Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. 1331. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Belgian postcard by Les Editions d'Art L.A.B., Bruxelles, no. 2022. Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Maureen O'Sullivan and Johnny Sheffield in Tarzan's Secret Treasure (Richard Thorpe, 1941).
Bomba, the jungle boy
In between the Tarzan films, Johnny Sheffield played supporting parts in other films. Sheffield appeared in the musical Babes in Arms (Busby Berkeley, 1939) with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, classmates of his at the studio school. Johnny and his brother Billy Sheffield were both in Knute Rockne All American (Lloyd Bacon, 1940), playing football player and coach, Knute Rockne at different ages.
By the time of Tarzan and the Mermaids (Robert Florey, 1948), Johnny Sheffield was too big for the part of Boy. The film merely said he was away at school. When Monogram Studios learned Sheffield had been dropped, they picked him up for s series of B-films based on Roy Rockwood's adventure novel 'Bomba'. The first was Bomba: The Jungle Boy (Ford Beebe, 1949). Between 1949 and 1955, Sheffield made twelve Bomba films for 'Poverty Row' studio Monogram Pictures. Sheffield retired from films at age 24 after starring in his twelfth Bomba film Lord of the Jungle (Ford Beebe, 1955).
He then made a pilot for a television series, Bantu the Zebra Boy, which was created, produced, and directed by his father, Reginald Sheffield. Although the production values were high compared to other TV jungle shows of the day, a sponsor was not found and the show was not taken up as a weekly series. In his later years, Sheffield sold bootlegged copies of the pilot to collectors on videotape.
After leaving show business, Sheffield completed a business degree at UCLA. Turning his attention to other fields, he involved himself variously in farming, real estate and construction. For a time, he was a representative for the Santa Monica Seafood Company importing lobsters from Baja California in Mexico.
In 1959 he married his wife Patricia and they would have three children, Stewart, Regina and Patrick Sheffield. In 2010, Johnny suffered a fatal heart attack at his home in Chula Vista, California, four hours after he fell off a ladder while pruning a palm tree. Sheffield was 79. His brother Billy Sheffield died two months later.
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. W 571. Photo: Monogram. Johnny Sheffield in Bomba: The Jungle Boy (Ford Beebe, 1949).
Vintage card. Photo: Monogram. Peggy Ann Garner and Johnny Sheffield in Bomba: The Jungle Boy (Ford Beebe, 1949).
American postcard. Photo: Monogram. Johnny Sheffield as Bomba, the Jungle Boy.
Belgian collectors card, Series KF, no. 12. Photo: Monogram. Johnny Sheffield in Bomba: The Jungle Boy (Ford Beebe, 1949).
Sources: Ed Stephan (IMDb), Find A Grave, Wikipedia and IMDb.
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