Sep 24, 2012

Bomba the Jungle Boy


Johnny Sheffield began playing Boy, adopted son to Johnny Weissmuller's iconic Tarzan, in 1939, when he eight years old, and finished in 1947, when he had grown bigger, taller, and far more muscular than his movie Dad and could hardly be called a "Boy" anymore.

A couple of years later, he started on a series of 12 Bomba the Jungle Boy movies (1949-55), ostensibly based on the series of boys' adventure novels, but really about a teenage Tarzan -- Bomba borrowed Weissmuller's trademark loincloth and "Me Tarzan" patois, and the short-lived comic book spin-off was subtitled "TV's Teenage Jungle Star."


The Bomba movies, which I saw on tv during the rare Saturday afternoons in the 1960s that didn't have a game or a repeat of The Magic Sword, seemed to have the same plot, with minor variations.


Bomba is summoned by a scientist or colonial administrator, who tells him about the bad guys and introduces his attractive teenage niece, visiting from America. Bomba and niece flirt.  Bomba is captured by the bad guys, but escapes.  The niece is captured, but Bomba rescues her and defeats the bad guys.  The niece goes back to America. Bomba goes back to the jungle.

The 30 or so minutes of action was turned into a feature-length movie through some stock footage of African wildlife and 20-30 minutes of close-ups of Johnny Sheffield's body.

When Bomba takes a nap, we don't get an establishing shot and then a switch to the next scene: the camera slowly travels down the length of his body for a good five minutes.

When he is tied up by the bad guys, he struggles with his bonds for the amount of time it takes the cameraman to go down to the commisary for a sandwich.

When he goes back into the jungle, he climbs a tree, and the camera obligingly zooms in on his semi-nude butt.

This wasn't an accident of direction or editing.  It was obvious that the African adventure and the heterosexist boy-meets-girl romance were just window dressing; the entire point of the movie was to put Johnny Sheffield on display as often as possible, for as long as possible.

Not that the audience, comprised primarily of preteen gay boys and straight girls, was complaining.  They could think of lots worse ways to spend a dull Saturday afternoon than gazing at Johnny Sheffield.

He influenced a generation of muscular, semi-nude jungle boys, such as Gunga on Andy's Gang and Terry on Maya


After Bomba, Johnny filmed a tv pilot called Bantu the Zebra Boy, which is available on youtube.  He then went to UCLA, got a degree in business, and had a successfully fully-clothed career in real estate.  But was always happy to chat with his fans, gay or straight -- Johnny was refreshingly gay-friendly for someone of  his generation.

He died in 2010.

See also: Why is Bomba the Jungle Boy always tied up?