Johnny Sheffield, best known as Boy in MGM’s Tarzan movie series and as the lead in the low-budget Bomba, the Jungle Boy film series, died of heart attack at his home in Chula Vista (in the greater San Diego area) on Friday, Oct. 15. According to the Los Angeles Times obit, several hours earlier Sheffield had fallen off a ladder while pruning a palm tree. He was 79.
The son of British silent film actor Reginald Sheffield, Johnny Sheffield (born April 11, 1931, in Pasadena, northeast of downtown Los Angeles) got his film career started in Tarzan Finds a Son! (1939), in which Sheffield played a foundling — his parents (mom was future MGM leading lady Laraine Day) had died in a plane crash.
Adoptive parents Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) and Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan) frolicked with Boy in two more movies, Tarzan’s Secret Treasure (1941) and Tarzan in New York (1942). By then, MGM had downgraded the series to B status.
Sheffield couldn’t swim, but at least at first he had to pretend he did; Weissmuller knew of his shortcoming, but kept mum about it.
Weissmuller and Sheffield went on donning loincloths in five more movies. (Brenda Joyce replaced Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane.)
Following his last Tarzan flick, Tarzan and the Huntress (1947), Sheffield went over to the minor Monogram studios to play the lead in Bomba, the Jungle Boy (1949). Eleven cheaply made Bomba movies followed.
In the mid-50s, Sheffield quit Hollywood and eventually got into real estate.
In later years, Sheffield remembered Weissmuller, who died in 1984, as always "kind and tender toward me."