Johnny Sheffield, who played jungle lord Tarzan’s appropriately named son Boy opposite Johnny Weissmuller in 8 of MGM Studio’s popular series of 1930s and ’40s films, died this past Friday, October 15, 2010 of a heart attack at his Chula Vista, CA home. He was 79.
After his stint on the Tarzan films, Sheffield became a jungle hero in his own right, headlining Monogram Studios’ Bomba, The Jungle Boy series for a dozen installments before leaving Hollywood and acting for the business world at the age of 24.
Sheffield was a curly-haired seven year old when his father, actor Reginald Sheffield, spotted a casting notice in the Hollywood Reporter looking for a young actor to play a boy who is adopted by Tarzan and Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) after his parents are killed in a plane crash in the jungle in Tarzan Finds A Son!. He beat out 300 other children who auditioned for the role, though in later years he would admit that Weissmuller vouched for him personally for the swimming part of the audition although he couldn’t swim. Sheffeld co-starred in the last three of MGM Tarzan films and then joined Weissmuller at RKO Studios when the series moved their starting with 1943’s Tarzan Triumphs.
After completing 1947’s Tarzan And The Huntress, Sheffield headed to Monogram and the Bomba series. Although they were shot entirely in studio and with a budget that was a fraction of what was spent on the Tarzan pictures, Sheffield felt that they were never cheap, quickie programmers. Filming an average of two a year, Sheffield stuck with the Bomba series until 1955, leaving after the ironically titled Lord Of The Jungle.