Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #153
In Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s “Tarzan Finds a Son!” (1939),
the orphaned babe adopted by Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) and Jane (Maureen
O’Sullivan) is named “Boy,” when Jane vetoes Tarzan’s first choice, “Elephant.”
The child, played by Johnny Sheffield, grows into a fearless jungle moppet
cast in the mold of his adoptive father.
John Matthew Sheffield Cassan was born April 11, 1931,
in Pasadena, California to British actor Mathew “Reginald Sheffield” Cassan
and his wife, playwright Louise Van Loon Cassan. Young Johnny made his
stage debut as Pud in a touring production of “On Borrowed Time,” and by
1938 was playing the role on Broadway. When the family returned to California,
Reginald answered a Hollywood trade-paper advertisement seeking a “Tarzan,
Jr.,” and Johnny screentested for the role.
Part of the audition consisted of a swimming lesson
with Johnny Weissmuller, who chose little Johnny out of 300 applicants.
During his time on-set, Sheffield attended MGM’s little red schoolhouse
with other child performers, and spent time in the studio menagerie befriending
his animal co-stars so they would be comfortable together in front of the
Sheffield remained in the part for eight films, including
five for producer Sol Lesser at RKO. After outgrowing the role, he played
Bomba the Jungle Boy in 12 movies based on the juvenile book series.
Sheffield retired from acting, graduated from UCLA
with a business degree, and began making lucrative real estate deals across
Southern California. He met his wife Patricia on a blind date while working
a farm in Yuma Arizona, and the couple eventually had three children. Sheffield
lived a long, full life before suffering a fatal heart attack at home in
Chula Vista, California on October 15, 2010.