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A Resource Guide to the Movies of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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FILM CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION
PART XVI
From TARZAN ON FILM by Scott Tracy Griffin

  . 

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #151
Sol Lesser’s second ape man film, “Tarzan’s Revenge” (1938) didn’t break any new ground, and offered a formula similar to those of MGM, on a lower budget.

Blowhard Roger Reed (George Barbier) brings his hay-feverish wife Penny (Hedda Hopper) and daughter Eleanor (Eleanor Holm) and her inept boyfriend Nevin Potter (George Meeker) to Africa with him to capture animals for zoos. Also aboard the riverboat, steaming for adventure, Sultan Ben Aley Bey (C. Henry Gordon) spies Eleanor and bribes safari guide Olaf (Joe Sawyer) to deliver the girl to his harem.

In the jungle, Eleanor falls into a mudhole, where she’s rescued by Tarzan (Glenn Morris). Following this meet-cute, Tarzan liberates the trapped animals in her family’s camp and takes Eleanor away for a jungle interlude, including a bit of synchronized swimming. When the Sultan’s men abduct Eleanor, it’s up to Tarzan to recover her.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #152
In July 1938, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer decided to re-enter the Tarzan business by signing a contract for three more films, with an option for two additional pictures afterward. Cyril Hume (“Tarzan the Ape Man”) was retained to script, injecting it with a sublime humor and toning down the erotic elements of previous MGM films.

One early draft, titled “Tarzan in Exile,” had Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) and Jane (Maureen O'Sullivan) giving birth to a son and relocating to England so Tarzan could assume his title as Lord Greystoke, returning to the jungle after their disillusionment with civilization grows. By August 18, the film had been rewritten to jettison the English angle and had the unmarried couple adopting a foundling child, the version that was eventually filmed. Given that the pair had never married, birthing a child out-of-wedlock would have been unconscionable to the era’s censors.

The baby boy, discovered in the wreckage of an airplane by Cheeta the chimp, was played by six-month-old twins Dickie and Buddy Smith.

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 camera.

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.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #154
After salvaging the troubled production “The Capture of Tarzan,” which went on to earn more than $2 million as the re-shot, re-titled “Tarzan Escapes” (1936), journeyman director Richard Thorpe was retained by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios to direct their fourth ape-man opus, “Tarzan Finds a Son!” Thorpe went on to helm the succeeding films “Tarzan’s Secret Treasure” (1941) and “Tarzan’s New York Adventure” (1942).

Born Rollo Smolt Thorpe in Hutchinson, Kansas on February 24, 1896, Thorpe adopted his stage name after joining a Wichita stock company in 1915. He appeared in vaudeville and musicals before enlisting in U.S. Army Intelligence for World War I. He resumed stagework in Paris following the war.

Thorpe began working as an extra and bit player in films, matriculating into a variety of roles including writer, assistant director, editor, and studio manager. He began directing low-budget films in 1923, and became known for his workman-like efficiency in bringing films in under budget. He was contracted to by MGM in 1935, retiring from the director’s chair in 1967. Thorpe died May 1, 1991, in Palm Springs, California. His son Jerry Thorpe also had a long Hollywood career as a director and producer.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #155
“Tarzan Finds a Son!” offered a first for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s ape man film series: out-of-state location filming. To supplement principal photography on the MGM lot’s jungle set, the cast and crew travelled 6,000 miles round-trip by rail in a specially appointed coach to Silver Springs, Florida, which boasted the clearest water in America. There, they shot underwater swimming sequences.

Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan), Johnny Sheffield (Boy), Baby Bea the elephant and a pair of 300-pound sea turtles named Johnny and Maureen were filmed in the springs’ crystal clear waters. Maureen O’Sullivan (Jane), pregnant with her first son, Michael Damien Villiers Farrow (born on Memorial Day, 1939), remained behind in California—her stomach carefully hidden behind strategically placed props in the scenes filmed in Hollywood.
 

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #156
While shooting “Tarzan Finds a Son!” (1939) in Silver Springs, Florida, Johnny Sheffield (Boy) was doubled by Edward “Gooly” (alternately spelled Gouley, Gooli, and Goolie) Green, 10, a local boy who shot underwater sequences with Weissmuller’s double, Newt Perry. Tommy Sheridan, another local boy who auditioned for the role (37 candidates applied, with their photos forwarded to MGM studios in Hollywood for the decision), was awarded the consolation prize of suiting up to play Cheeta in some scenes.

O’Sullivan, who remained in California expecting her first child with husband John Farrow, was doubled by Elsie Davis, a chamber of commerce employee, in long shots, and Mrs. Ralph Slatten (who better resembled her) for closeups.

Perry’s sister Eileen doubled Frieda Inescort (Mrs. Austin Lancing), while his cousin Newton Fivash doubled safari guide Henry Wilcoxon (Mr. Sande). Photo stand-ins for Henry Stephenson and Ian Hunter in the photo below are not identified. Forty locals played the safari porters.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #157
Newt Perry, pictured here with Johnny Weissmuller (Tarzan) and Johnny Sheffield (Boy), was instrumental in bringing the “Tarzan Finds a Son!” crew to Silver Springs, Florida for location filming in the pristine waters of the tourist attraction.

Born January 6, 1908, in Valdosta, Georgia, Perry moved to Ocala, Florida with his family in 1922. There he began swimming in the springs and was soon giving private swim lessons and coaching the high school swim team, of which he was a member.

Perry competed in swimming and diving at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and returned to Ocala after earning a degree in education. There, Perry worked to turn Silver Springs into a national tourist attraction. Sportswriter and newsreel documentarian Grantland Rice filmed Perry (who could hold his breath underwater for nearly four minutes) in a variety of submarine scenarios, like riding a bike along the streambed. Together, the two convinced Johnny Weissmuller to lobby with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios on their behalf.

The result was a series of underwater interludes in the Tarzan films which highlighted Weissmuller’s aquatic prowess—and that of Perry, who doubled him in some scenes, with Goolie Green, 10, doubling Johnny Sheffield.

After Tarzan filming wrapped in spring 1939, Perry relocated to Wakulla Springs—where the Tarzan film crew would shoot the following ape-man installment, “Tarzan’s Secret Treasure” (1941).

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #158
Cyril Hume’s script for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's “Tarzan Finds a Son!” (1939) provided a new member for the happy feral family. A plane crash in the African jungle orphans a tiny babe, heir to the Greystoke title and fortune. Cheeta the chimp finds the infant and delivers him to Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) and Jane (Maureen O’Sullivan), who name the child Boy (Johnny Sheffield) and raise him as their own little mini-Tarzan, swinging from vines, cavorting with Cheeta, and giving his own version of Tarzan’s mighty yell.

Five years go by, and Sir Thomas Lancing (Henry Stephenson) arrives, with a search party, led by the devious safari guide Mr. Sande (Henry Wilcoxon), whose greedy clients, Mr. and Mrs. Austin Lancing (Ian Hunter and Frieda Inescort), will inherit a fortune if there are no survivors to the crash.

Celebrating the Tarzan Film Centennial #159
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s “The Son of Tarzan!” (1939) marked the debut of Baby Bea, the elephant. Named for MGM trainer George Emerson’s wife, she was purchased from the Detroit zoo. Bea was 16 months old, weighed 650 pounds, and was 3’9” tall, claimed to be the smallest baby elephant in America. She made the trip to Florida on the same train as the actors and crew, in a specially heated baggage car, strapped into a harness to prevent falls when the train went around curves. Emerson and an assistant trainer provided 24-hour companionship in 8-hour shifts. The car featured a complete kitchen, stocked with 100 pounds of rice, 10 bushels of carrots, and 50 bushels of assorted vegetables.

Sheffield dubbed Bea “Buli” (“teapot” in Swahili) onscreen, and would refer to future juvenile elephants by that name. Co-star Henry Wilcoxon (Mr. Sande) recalled an incident on set, when Queenie the adult elephant had to portray an injury in a scene and limp along on three legs, closely observed by Bea. The film crew returned from lunch to find Baby Bea gleefully practicing her newly learned trick in her corral, a stunt she had to un-learn after several ruined camera takes, since her character wasn’t injured in the storyline.

Ross Allen, a local reptile expert who doubled for Weissmuller in the underwater alligator wrestling scene, tried to buy Baby Bea as an attraction for his local exhibit, but had to settle for the 300-pound sea turtles, Johnny and Maureen; Bea returned to Hollywood with the crew.




Celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Tarzan of the Apes in film with
SCOTT TRACY GRIFFIN and his TARZAN ON FILM
PART I :: PART II :: PART III :: PART IV :: PART V :: PART VI :: PART VII :: PART VIII:: PART IX
 :: PART X :: PART XI:: PART XII:: PART XIII:: PART XIV:: PART XV:: PART XVI:: PART XVII


ERBzine SILVER SCREEN SERIES
www.ERBzine.com/movies

TARZAN OF THE APES (1918)
www.erbzine.com/mag5/0503.html
THE ROMANCE OF TARZAN
www.erbzine.com/mag5/0504.html
THE SON OF TARZAN: SERIAL and FEATURE FILM
www.erbzine.com/mag5/0589.html
THE ADVENTURES OF TARZAN
www.erbzine.com/mag5/0590.html
TARZAN AND THE GOLDEN LION
www.erbzine.com/mag5/0591.html
TARZAN AND THE GOLDEN LION: Photoplay Edition
www.erbzine.com/mag4/0496.html
TARZAN THE MIGHTY
www.erbzine.com/mag5/0592.html
TARZAN THE APE MAN
www.erbzine.com/mag6/0611.html
TARZAN THE FEARLESS
www.erbzine.com/mag5/0595.html
TARZAN AND HIS MATE
www.erbzine.com/mag6/0615.html
ERB FILM PRODUCER
www.erbzine.com/mag2/0287.html
NEW ADVENTURES OF TARZAN
www.erbzine.com/mag5/0584.html
TARZAN ESCAPES
www.erbzine.com/mag6/0618.html
TARZAN FINDS A SON!
www.erbzine.com/mag6/0620.html
TARZAN'S SECRET TREASURE
www.erbzine.com/mag6/0621.html
TARZAN'S NEW YORK ADVENTURE
www.erbzine.com/mag6/0622.html




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