Jun 23, 2023
The Original Jungle Boy and His Boyfriend
After starring in a loose adaptation of Kipling's Jungle Book (1942), in which Mowgli befriends both a native girl and a British officer but falls in love with neither, Sabu moved to Hollywood and signed on with Universal, where he starred as a dhoti-clad Jungle Boy in three Technicolor romances, all set in distant lands where no one had ever heard of Hitler. Sabu was in a rather precarious position. Although he (or rather, his body) was the top-billed star, he was irrelevant to the plots, about swarthy adventurer Jon Hall wooing cool, mysterious Maria Montez.
He courts Jon Hall's character aggressively -- hugging, grabbing, taking his arm, pressing against his chest, unbuttoning his shirt, mussing his hair, offering him flowers, chasing away other suitors with a barking "Get back, he's mine!" Hall's characters respond with amusement and affection, but no longing.
And Sabu's characters never expresses any heterosexual interest. In Arabian Nights, Ali (Sabu) enters a harem to deliver a message, and the sex-starved girls engulf him, groping and fondling. He screams "Please stop! Stop it!" with shrieks of terror. They back off, bewildered, as if no man or boy had ever resisted their advances before.
After the war, when Sabu was too old to play teenagers, he played heavily muscled, usually half-naked Jungle Men who get girlfriends. He appeared briefly in his own comic book title. Later in the 1950s, he invested in a real estate business and took whatever roles he could find that did not require wearing a loincloth.
Days after filming A Tiger Walks in 1964, Sabu died of a heart attack. He was in perfect health and only 39 years old. He left a legacy of superbly homromantic movies, and influenced two generations of dhoti-clad Jungle Boys, from Gunga in Andy's Gang, Hadji on Jonny Quest, Haji of the Elephants, and Raji on Maya, to the various Mowglis of the 1990s.