Archive for November, 2019

Bomba The Jungle Boy – Johnny Sheffield

Johnny Sheffield, child actor who played Boy in the 1940s Tarzan movies starring Johnny Weissmuller and then starred in his own film series as Bomba the Jungle Boy, died Oct. 15 2010 at his home in Chula Vista, California  from a heart attack. He was 79.

A few hours earlier he had fallen from a ladder while pruning a palm tree, his wife Patty told the Los Angeles Times. “He was a jungle boy to the end,” she said, noting that her husband of 51 years was not high in the tree when he fell but “sometimes he was way up there.”


Years before, Johnny’s father British actor Reginald Sheffield, saw an advertisement  in The Hollywood Reporter that asked, “Do you have a Tarzan Jr. in your back yard?” Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was casting the part of a child adopted by Tarzan and Jane after his parents died in a jungle airplane crash. “Tarzan Finds a Son,” released in 1939, was the fourth in MGM’s Tarzan series starring Weissmuller as the jungle lord and Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane.

Johnny Sheffield was personally selected by  Johnny Weissmuller himself to become one of the family. “Part of the selection process was a swimming test with Weissmuller,” Sheffield recalled. “I could not swim a stroke, but Big John liked me and said he would give me the test anyway … he only wanted to be sure I wasn’t afraid of the water and that I was willing to try to swim.”

After signing him for their Tarzan films, MGM also put Sheffield into “Babes in Arms” (1939) with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, and loaned him out to RKO for the title role in “Little Orvie” (1940), and to Fox for “Lucky Cisco Kid” (1940) starring Cesar Romero. He appeared with Pat O’Brien and Ronald Reagan in “Knute Rockne, All American” (1940), playing Rockne as a boy, and worked with Ronald Reagan again in “Million Dollar Baby” (1941).

MGM released “Tarzan’s Secret Treasure” in 1941 and “Tarzan’s New York Adventure” in 1942, and that was the end of  its six-picture deal with Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs. Producer Sol Lesser then acquired the rights and moved Weissmuller and Sheffield to RKO. 

Maureen O’Sullivan declined the offer to join them, happy to get out of the jungle after 10 years as Tarzan’s mate, so Jane was “away in England” before Brenda Joyce took the role in four of the six pictures Weissmuller and Lesser made at RKO.

Johnny Sheffield  was 16 when the fifth RKO picture, “Tarzan and the Huntress,” was made in 1947. By then he towered over  Brenda Joyce and was nearly as tall as Weissmuller. Lesser decreed he’d outgrown the role, so Sheffield and Boy were nowhere to be seen in the next film, 1948’s “Tarzan and the Mermaids.” That picture also marked the end of Weissmuller’s 16-year run as Tarzan. He traded in his loincloth for a safari jacket and moved to Columbia to play Jungle Jim, while Monogram snagged Sheffield for “Bomba the Jungle Boy.”

Bomba had appeared in 1926 in the first of a series of books churned out by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, home of such enduring juvenile adventurers as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. After growing up in a celluloid jungle,  Johnny Sheffield was perfect for the part and Monogram starred him in 12 Bomba pictures between 1949 and 1955.

“I loved it because I was now the star,” Johnny Sheffield told the San Jose Mercury News in 1997. “We filmed them all on a sound stage, but I was amazed at the production quality we got in them.”

The end of the Bomba films coincided with the end of all such B-movie series and chapter serials as movie attendance fell and low-budget film work moved to television. Sheffield tried to continue his familiar jungle roles by playing “Bantu the Zebra Boy” in a TV pilot produced by his father. It didn’t sell and Sheffield retired from show business at the age of 24.

He got a business degree from UCLA and moved to Yuma, Ariz., where he worked for a large farming concern. He later returned to California, where he worked as a contractor and dabbled in Malibu real estate, and also spent many years with a company that imported lobsters from Mexico.

Though his Bantu pilot didn’t sell, Sheffield’s Bomba movies became a minor rage on TV in the early 1960s. WGN in Chicago started running them once a week in the early evening  with the films cut from their original 65- to 70-minute lengths to fit a one-hour timeslot with commercials. The huge reaction from viewers caused Allied Artists, the successor to Monogram, to recut the 12 pictures into 13 TV episodes also designed to run in one-hour timeslots with commercials.

Johnny Sheffield

Johnny Sheffield 2

Johnny Sheffield ABOVE – in earlier films as ‘Boy’ in the Tarzan films with Johnny Weissmuller

I always liked this one Bomba and the Hidden City 1950

BOMBA AND THE HIDDEN CITY (1950 – 71 minutes) Sue England. Paul Guilfoyle. Damian O’Flynn. Leon Belasco. Charles La Torre. Smoki Whitfield.

A photographer and his guide meet a corrupt Emir with a dirty secret. Only Bomba knows the truth and the Emir wants him silenced! Bomba defeats the Emir and his henchmen, returning a lost princess to her throne.

This is the first Bomba movie to be filmed outdoors and it is very effective.



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Armand and Michaela Denis

From the Television of the mid fifties

Michaela Denis


Something that I did not know is that Armand and Michaela Denis travelled to Africa in 1950 to work on the feature film, King Solomon’s Mines in which Michaela acted as Deborah Kerr’s double. The film, as we all know, was very successful for MGM.


Michaela denis

Armand and Michaela Denis made a wildlife TV series in the Fifties –  ANGLO-BELGIAN film maker Armand Denis specialised in documentaries about Africa. He was born in Brussels on December 2, 1896, the son of a judge, and studied chemistry at Oxford after military service in World War I.

He moved to America in 1926 and invented a system of automatic volume control for radio that earned him enough money to travel and shoot movies of exotic locations.

He worked as a cameraman in Hollywood before joining forces with Andre Roosevelt to document the island of Bali in 1 9 2 8 . The pair blended documentary footage with the fictional tale of the love between a native prince and a servant girl to produce Kriss (1932) which created a Bali craze in America.

Denis subsequently married Roosevelt’s daughter, Leila, and they had four children.


Armand Denis then directed the 1934 African jungle adventure Wild Cargo (1934). He and Leila travelled to the Belgian Congo in 1934-35 and recorded sound footage to be used in films set in Africa, including the dances and music of t he Tutsi and Mangbetu tribes. They made documentary shorts i n the Thirties and Forties, but Denis then divorced Leila to marry English dress designer Michaela Holdsworth, whom he met in 1948.

The couple lived in Nairobi a nd c ontinued t o make documentaries. Their BBC programme Filming Wild Animals was broadcast in 1954, and  they then regularly contributed to the BBC and ITV.

Below the Sahara

ABOVE – Their much praised 1954 film ‘Below the Sahara’ filmed in beautiful colour actually onto 16 mm film which was later transferred to 35 mm for a cinema release.

The trip took us through the big-game country, down along the South African coast, then up through the equatorial Congo to the home of a gorilla-hunting tribe – like a sight-seeing tour for Michaela and also us in the audience.

Probably we all wanted to see colourful film of Africa – at that time very few of us indeed would have ventured there or anywhere near there as we just could not have afforded it.

So this film opened up at least a little bit of this beautiful land for us

Later Armand Denis suffered from Parkinson’s disease and died on April 15, 1971.

ARMAND and Michaela had settled in Kenya in 1949 and lived there together until Armand’s death. Around 1973, Michaela married Sir William O’Brien Lindsay, who had been their lawyer, but he died of a heart attack after just six weeks of marriage. Michaela stayed in Kenya, carrying on her work in wildlife conservation and as a f amily planning advocate, becoming vice-president of the Kenyan FP Association.

Michaela Denis 2

She had a wonderful sense of humour and greatly enjoyed life. She supported and assisted several local projects to help the community around her.

Subsequently, she met Major George Withey who became her constant companion until his death in 1986.

After George’s death, Michaela lived with good friends at their home  on the Kenyan coast.

For many years, Michaela dealt in property around Nairobi. Every summer she would return to her Ealing house to escape the African heat. “Not to vegetate or rot, but to make every second of this life count. Never feel self- pity – what a vice, what a bore for others!”

Following a fall in Mombasa in her 80s, Michaela broke her hip and had a replacement. Sadly, she became confined to a wheelchair, but spent many hours sitting in the garden beside the Indian Ocean. She finally died there from heart failure aged 88 in May 2003.

Following her death her ‘adopted’ family built a clinic in Shariani near Mombasa in her name (The Michaela Denis Clinic) to serve the local people of the area, and it continues to do so to this day.



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Floods of Fear 1958


I thought that, in view of the flooding around parts of rural England, this film has a a topical title – although I know there are many families who at least are safe, but are without their home at the moment.

Floods of Fear is directed by Charles Crichton  from the novel written by John and Ward Hawkins. It stars Howard Keel, Anne Heywood, Cyril Cusack, Harry H. Corbett, John Crawford and Eddie Byrne with cinematography by Christopher Challis.


Floods od Fear and Watusi


 ABOVE – Another double feature which I must admit would be just up my street – two pictures of the type I like on the same bill

Two convicts and one guard are washed away into a flood after the barrier they were building collapses. Ending up at the flooded farmhouse of Dr. Matthews (John Phillips), the men find that the doctor is not at home but his daughter Elizabeth ( Anne Heywood) is.    Soon  tensions rise to boiling point, especially since one of the convicts, Donovan ( Howard Keel), appears to be innocent of the murder he has been convicted of and he has revenge on his mind…

The flood recreation scenes are excellent,  we see  destruction sequences as houses and various other parts of the watery landscape fall by the way and the sense of tension and fear is conveyed extremely well.

Much of the filming of the flooded sequences were done in one of the very largest stages at Pinewood – and a huge studio tank.   Charles Crichton did say that the water could not be heated because of the fear of the smell as it became dank because  there was a lot of rubble and dirt in there, so it was pretty cold to say the least.

The actors endured long periods of being wet and cold but they stuck to the task in hand and produced a good film


Floods of Fear 1958 5




Floods of Fear 1958 3



This picture is really exciting.   You feel the characters’ desperation as they fight against each other against the backdrop of the raging flood waters. 

The final fight was one for the record books and Howard Keel’s athleticism throughout the entire film was top rate.

Floods of Fear 1958


Great picture above from the film – filmed in the large studio tank set at Pinewood.

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Cavaliers and Roundheads BBC drama



Plenty of action by the looks of this Television drama.

The Splendid Spur


ABOVE: Patrick Troughton in a scene from  ‘The Splendid Spur’ – that is a very young looking Michael Balfour at top of the stairs – top right.


A wealth of television swashbuckling adventures were produced by BBC Television, based on ‘classic’ works, and presented usually in six weekly  episodes, and more often than not  transmitted live.

A good example was  Robin Hood (BBC, 1953), with Patrick Troughton as Robin then he was also  in Clementina (BBC, 1954), about the stirring 18th century adventurer Charles Wogan, and again in The Splendid Spur (BBC, 1960); set during the English Civil War.


I do remember him playing Chevalier Wogan in Clementina – and in one of the episodes he captured a rival as the potential killer tried to enter the top window of a hostelry where a number of visitors had disappeared and the pub / dwelling did not have a name.   Chevalier intercepted the intruder as this man climbed up emerged the outer wall, and stabbed his fingers to the pub sign and he said – that’s  name for the pub ‘The Mark of the Five Red Fingers’ – I thought that the episode was called that but it seems not, so I am not at all sure of  which episode it appeared in.

Another one was Lorna Doone which came later

Three of the greatest storytellers of historical adventure – Sir Walter Scott, Alexandre Dumas and Robert Louis Stevenson – were the most handsomely produced  by the BBC. Scott’s 18th century north of the border adventures, Redgauntlet (BBC, 1959) and Rob Roy (BBC, 1961), captured perfectly the essence of the outlaw hero. The development of the (literary) swashbuckler structure set by Scott was further enhanced by the works of Alexandre Dumas (père), beginning with adaptations of The Three Musketeers (BBC, 1954; 1966-67) and Further Adventures of the Musketeers (BBC, 1967), supplemented by The Black Tulip (BBC, 1956) and The Count of Monte Cristo (BBC, 1964).

I do also remember a good version of ‘Heidi’ with small and effective mountain sets in the Studio.

Inevitably, it was the prolific swashbuckling romances of Robert Louis Stevenson that received the most BBC attention. These adventures ranged from the pirates of Treasure Island (BBC, 1951) and the Wars of the Roses with The Black Arrow (BBC, 1951; 1958) to the Jacobean Rebellion background of Kidnapped BBC, 1952  Patrick Troughton played Alan Breck here and again in 1956,  and The Master of Ballantrae (BBC, 1962).

For its time, the swashbuckler was a colourful addition to the early evening TV schedules.

Patrick Troughton also had a role in ‘The Black Knight’ in 1954 with Alan Ladd and Patricia Medina – made in England


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Phyllis Calvert


This Pictures is taken from the magazine ‘Band Wagon’ from November 1946


Phyllis Calvert


This must have been just before she went of to Hollywood – or maybe had just come back. She didn’t remain there very long in fact I can only see one film that she made there.

I do remember her in ‘Let George Do It’  – with, of course, the great George Formby, in one of his best films

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joan Rice – A photograph I have not seen before


The lovely Joan Rice – featured in a Magazine  of  5 May 1951 – at this point Joan’s brief but impressive film career had just really kicked into gear. She would be busy at Denham Film Studios filming ‘The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Man’ with Richard Todd in the title role.

Filming had in fact commenced only 7 days before on 30 April 1951 – with many of the early outdoor scenes being done  at Burnham Beeches.

Joan Rice

She would just be entering Four months of intense work of this film which, to me, was the very pinnacle of her film career. She took the opportunity of playing Maid Marian, and did a superb job – and it is often voted as the most popular portrayal of this classic part.

She just looked the part and that certainly gives you a head start.

It wouldn’t be long before she flew off to Fiji to film ‘His Majesty O Keefe with Burt Lancaster – then calling in Hollywood on the way. I often woner if she flew round the world – she maybe did – which in those days was really something. Nowadays it would be commonplace.

Then, as we all know, her career just seemed to go downhill so quickly – and as I have said many times – I just have never discovered why or what went wrong.

Joan Rice with Elton Hayes

ABOVE – With Elton Hayes

Joan Rice with Richard Todd

ABOVE – with Richard Todd in a really lovely colour picture.


The Technicolor here is perfect – it was a studio set but it looked so real and the credit for that goes to Carmen Dillon the Art Director on the film – producing in this picture her very best work in my view.

This could be a help to would – be set designers who could look at this film and realise just what could be done.



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