Johnny Sheffield

Johnny Sheffield (April 11, 1931 – October 15, 2010) was an American child actor who, between 1939 and 1947, played Boy in the Tarzan film series and, between 1949 and 1955, played Bomba the Jungle Boy.

For others with a similar name, see John Sheffield (disambiguation).
Johnny Sheffield
John Matthew Sheffield Cassan

(1931-04-11)April 11, 1931
DiedOctober 15, 2010 (aged 79)[1]
Years active1939–1955
Spouse(s)Patricia Sheffield (1959–2010) (his death) 3 children

Early life

Sheffield was born John Matthew Sheffield Cassan in Pasadena, California,[2] the second child of actor Reginald Sheffield and Louise Van Loon (January 21, 1905 – April 14, 1987). His older sister was Mary Alice Sheffield Cassan and his younger brother was William Hart Sheffield Cassan (actor Billy Sheffield). His father was himself a former juvenile performer when he came to the United States from his native England. His mother, a native of New York City, was a Vassar College graduate with a liberal arts education who loved books and lectured widely.

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. 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.

Tarzan and other films

The following year, his father read an article in The Hollywood Reporter that asked, "Have you a Tarzan Jr. in your backyard?" He believed he did and set up an interview. MGM was searching for a suitable youngster to play the adopted son of Tarzan in its next jungle movie with stars Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan. When he was 5 years old,[3] Sheffield was taken to an audition where Weissmuller chose him over more than 300 juvenile actors interviewed for the part of "Boy" in Tarzan Finds a Son (1939).[4] In that same year, Sheffield appeared in the Busby Berkeley movie musical Babes in Arms with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, classmates of his at the studio school.

He appeared with many other performers over the years, including Jeanette MacDonald, Pat O'Brien, Cesar Romero, Ronald Reagan and Beverly Garland. He played the childhood version of the title character in Knute Rockne, All American, perhaps the most prestigious film in which he had a role.

Sheffield played Boy in three Tarzan movies at MGM, and in another five after the star, Weissmuller, and production of the movie series moved to RKO. Brenda Joyce played Jane in the last three Tarzan movies in which Sheffield appeared.

Bomba and Bantu

After he outgrew the role of Boy, the teenaged Sheffield went on to star in his own jungle movie series for Allied Artists. In 1949, he made Bomba, the Jungle Boy[5] with co-star Peggy Ann Garner. In all, he appeared as Bomba 12 times, more than any other character he portrayed. Sheffield appeared in his last movie, as Bomba, in 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 never produced as a weekly series.

Post-Hollywood careers

Sheffield decided to leave the industry and enrolled in college to further his education. He lived and worked for a time in Arizona. John and Patricia Sheffield were married in 1959 in Yuma, Arizona. They had three children: Patrick, Stewart and Regina.

After leaving show business, Sheffield completed a business degree at UCLA.[5] 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 his later years Johnny Sheffield lived in Southern California where he wrote articles about his Hollywood years and sold copies of the TV pilot Bantu, the Zebra Boy on video.


Sheffield's wife, Patty, said that he fell from a ladder while pruning a palm tree.[6] Though his injuries seemed minor, he died of a heart attack four hours later on October 15, 2010, in Chula Vista, California, aged 79.[1]


Year Title Role
1939 Tarzan Finds a Son! Boy
Babes in Arms Bobs
1940 Lucky Cisco Kid Tommy Lawrence
Knute Rockne, All American Knute Rockne (at age 7)
Little Orvie Orvie Stone
1941 Tarzan's Secret Treasure Boy
Million Dollar Baby Alvie Grayson
1942 Tarzan's New York Adventure Boy
1943 Tarzan Triumphs Boy
Tarzan's Desert Mystery Boy
1945 Roughly Speaking Frankie (at age 9)
Tarzan and the Amazons Boy
1946 Tarzan and the Leopard Woman Boy
1947 Tarzan and the Huntress Boy
1949 Bomba, the Jungle Boy Bomba
Bomba on Panther Island Bomba
1950 The Lost Volcano Bomba
Bomba and the Hidden City Bomba
1951 The Lion Hunters Bomba
Bomba and the Elephant Stampede Bomba
1952 African Treasure Bomba
Bomba and the Jungle Girl Bomba
1953 Safari Drums Bomba
1954 Killer Leopard Bomba
The Golden Idol Bomba
1955 Lord of the Jungle Bomba (final film role)


  1. Obituary in The Bellingham Herald, October 18, 2010
  2. Collura, Joe (Spring 2016). "Johnny Sheffield: Jungle Boy". Films of the Golden Age (84): 24–31.
  3. "Hollywood Roundup". Shamokin News-Dispatch. Pennsylvania, Shamokin. United Press. January 16, 1939. p. 9. Retrieved May 20, 2016 via
  4. "Bomba Speaks"
  5. Bowlin, Michael (December 31, 1989). "Tarzan's 'Boy' quits films for business world". The Kerrville Times. Texas, Kerrville. p. 55. Retrieved May 20, 2016 via
  6. "Actor who played Tarzan's Boy dies at 79". USA Today. Associated Press. October 19, 2010. Retrieved 20 May 2016.


  • Best, Marc. Those Endearing Young Charms: Child Performers of the Screen (South Brunswick and New York: Barnes & Co., 1971), pp. 235–239.
  • Holmstrom, John. The Moving Picture Boy: An International Encyclopaedia from 1895 to 1995, Norwich, Michael Russell, 1996, pp. 175–176.
  • Dye, David. Child and Youth Actors: Filmography of Their Entire Careers, 1914-1985. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1988, pp. 213.
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