Saturday, July 5, 2014

When I was growing up in Montana, there wasn't anything queer within reach. Any teenage boy like me who expressed even the slightest femininity or masculine homosexuality was going to be beaten to within an inch of his life. No, I am not kidding. The slightest homosexual comment, glance, or thought was instantly punished in the most extreme and violent way by the people I grew up with.

I knew I was gay when I was eight years old. I wanted to hug other boys, touch their chests and penises, hang out with them, and have them do all these things to me in turn. Like most kids, I looked up to older guys who expressed masculinity through muscle, handsome good looks, high social status, and sexuality.

The mix of outright repression and budding homosexuality drove me to find an outlet for these things I was feeling. The horrible thing about heterocentrism is that, as a boy feeling emotions for other males, I literally had no language to use to give these thoughts, feelings, and sensations reality. If I saw a somewhat muscular high school boy at the swimming pool in the summer, I had physical and emotional sensations that remained completely bottled up inside me. I had, literally, no way of talking about what I felt. Not even to myself!

That, I think, was probably the most pernicious thing about the closet: It stripped you of language, like some sort of immensely sicker version of Orwell's 1984. It not only denied your existence and punished (if not killed) you if you expressed your sexual orientation, it openly engaged in Orwellian "Newspeak" by creating un-words and altering language to make it impossible to speak about homosexuals or homosexuality.

In the end, though, you cannot attack something if you cannot name it. When some group of thugs would beat up a kid they accused of being "queer" or "fag", you knew that this word meant yourself. You had a word -- as pathetic and hate-filled and awful as it could be -- that identified you. In a twisted way, this was a lifeline.

That lifeline meant that a person had to identify for himself what he was. I, like my closeted gay teenage peers, knew that "faggot" did not ecapsulate what it meant to be me. "Faggot" was a hate-word. "Nigger" did not encapsulate what it meant to be African American, just as "ki-yi" did not encapsulate what it meant to be Native American or "heeb" to be Jewish American. Anyone like me, with feelings for other males, who wanted to survive and grow, had to understand that "faggot" was just the tip of an iceberg. There was more to being whatever-it-is-that-I-am than "faggot" implied, and I had to discover that for myself. Some boys never did, and they died inside. Some boys did, but went astray as they did so. And they, too, died inside. It just took them longer.

It was only natural to try to see echoes of whatever-it-is-that-I-am in popular culture. If society could not attack me without naming me, perhaps society was leaking information in other ways...? It's not that I expressed this thought consciously. But in retrospect, that's what I and others like me were doing.

Maybe, like my friend Ricky, you pretended to really like rock stars. And your bedroom walls were covered with posters of half-naked, hairy-chested, muscular male rock stars wearing tight leather pants. Maybe, like my friend Jerry, you pretended to like bodybuilding. And your bedroom was covered with posters and magazine covers featuring muscular, strip-shaved men in posing straps.

But you could pursue your exploration of this "leaking world" in less obvious ways, too.

One way was by seeking out movies and TV shows that tended to feature mostly-naked men. Wrestling shows were always a real clue to someone's homosexuality. So was watching swimming, gymnastics, or college wrestling. As Peter Graves so famously said in the comedy film Airplane!: "Do you like watching gladiator movies?"

Because if you did, you clearly were homosexual. Any film that included pirates, jungle warfare, Tarzan, native tribesmen, dungeon torture scenes, or Romans was going to be watched assiduously!

This brings me to Bomba the Jungle Boy, and the mega-hot Johnny Sheffield.

I so wanted to swing on his vine

John Matthew Sheffield Cassan was born on April 11, 1931, in Pasadena, California. His father was Reginald Sheffield, a former British child actor who moved to the United States in 1914 at the age of 13 after his father died. Reginald married Louise Van Loon (a noted feminist and lecturer on English literature) in 1927, and in 1931 Louise gave birth to Johnny.

In 1938, at the age of seven, Johnny Sheffield was cast in the role of Pud in the West Coast production of the Broadway play On Borrowed Time. The play is about a young boy who is orphaned and sent to live with his aged grandparents. His greedy and stern aunt wants custody of him, but his frail grandfather realizes that this would kill the boy's spirit. The personification of Death arrives to take Grandpa into the hereafter, but Gramps manages to trap Death in his apple tree. With Death no longer able to kill, Gramps need no longer fear for his own death and thus need not worry about the evil aunt taking Pud away. Only, as people begin to suffer horribly from illness and injury (unable to obtain the sweet release of death), Gramps begins to feel guilt for what he did... Then Pud suffers a horrific accident that leaves him in immense pain. Can Gramps bring himself to free Death, even if it means destroying his beloved grandson? Sheffield was so good in the role that he performed it on Broadway at the end of the year.

In early 1939, Reginald Sheffield saw an ad in The Hollywood Reporter announcing auditions for very atheltic, very muscular young boys. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) was searching for a very muscular child to play Boy, the adopted son of Tarzan in its next "Tarzan" film. Johnny Weissmuller, who played Tarzan at the time, chose Johnny Sheffield out of more than 300 other kids. Weissmuller proposed two screen tests for Sheffield. The first was that he had to just sit down and talk to Wiessmuller. No young actor could be intimidated by the 6'4" tall, muscular, undefeated, five-time Olympic gold medal swimming champion. That was no problem for Sheffield. The second part was a swimming test. But Sheffield couldn't swim! The swimming test was held at the Hollywood Athletic Club. Weissmuller jumped into the deep end, knowing Sheffield couldn't swim. He then told Sheffield to jump in beside him. Sheffield did. Weissmuller was treading water, and he lifted the splutting seven year old up in the water and propped him up on a knee. Sheffield was thrilled that this muscular man was not only at ease in the water, but taking care of him so assiduously. Then Wiessmuller said, "You're doing fine. Now, hold your breath, we're going under." And they slowly sank to the bottom of the pool. Weissmuller then swam back to the surface, holding on to Sheffield.

Sheffield performed beautifully, not freaking out or acting scared of the water. That lack of fear won Sheffield the role of Boy.

At the age of eight, Johnny Sheffield made his film debut in Tarzan Finds a Son!

Sheffield appeared in six other films over the next six years, but none of the roles were important or large. He also appeared in five more "Tarzan" pictures. Over and over in the films, Sheffield would cling to Weissmuller under the water, and swim. Weissmuller coached Sheffield so that it looked like they were both swimming naturally. Sheffield said that Weissmuller became a second father to him. Although Weissmuller was a notorious party-boy, drinker, and eater, he could also be very aloof on the set. But he was always ready to talk to Johnny Sheffield, and spent significant amounts of time with him -- teaching him to swim, to lift weights, to play-fight, to wrestle, to act.

Sheffield's last two Tarzan movies were in 1946 and 1947. Tarzan and the Huntress (1947) would be Sheffield's last outing as Boy, although Weissmuller's last outing as Tarzan would not come until the following year in Tarzan and the Mermaids. Sheffield, who was very much into weight-training, gymnastics, and acrobatics, remained quite muscular through his teen years. Weissmuller, however, had grown fat, and was replaced by Lex Barker. The character of "Boy" would not appear in a Tarzan film again until 1948, when two-year-old Rickie Sorensen would portray Boy as an infant in Tarzan and the Trappers. "Boy" has never appeared in a Tarzan film since.

By 1947, Sheffield was a handsome, muscular, deep-voiced tenor of 16 years.

Sheffield's father believed that Johnny still had a career as a jungle boy. In 1949, Reginald Sheffield approached Monogram Pictures with a proposal for a Tarzan-like movie series. Monogram was one of the "Poverty Row" studios -- motion picture companies so poor that they rarely built sets. Other "Poverty Row" studios were Republic Pictures, Grand National, Producers Releasing Corporation, Mascot, Liberty, Majestic, Chesterfield, Invincible, Astor, Tiffany, and Realart.

Monogram was eager for ideas. From the 1910s to the mid-1940s, most motion picture studios owned their own chains of theaters. RKO Pictures owned the Orpheum Theatre chain, and Orpheum Theatres only showed RKO films. The Loew's theater chain was owned by Paramount Pictures, and only showed Paramount films. But in 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Paramount Pictures, 334 U.S. 131, that it was a violation of anti-trust law for motion picture studios to own extensive chains of movie theaters. Suddenly, movie theaters were in the unenvious position of having to compete for product. They were desperate for films, and Poverty Row studios like Monogram were more than eager to help out.

So in 1949, at the age of 18, Johnny Sheffield made his first appearance as the muscular, handsome, loincloth-wearing Bomba, the Jungle Boy. The films were based on the "Bomba the Jungle Boy" books, which were produced by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, the published of the "Nancy Drew" and "Hardy Boys" series. Between 1926 and 1938, there had been 30 Bomba books published. The author of the novels was "Roy Rockwood," a pseudonym. Statemeyer Syndicate had a big staff of house writers who got no credit. Most of the Bomba books were ghost-written by John William Duffield, although some were written by Stratemeyer writers Howard Garis, Leslie McFarlane, and W. Bert Foster. By the time Bomba first appeared, 10 of the 24 Tarzan novels had already been published. Not only was Bomba a blatant rip-off of Tarzan, but they were also incredibly racist. Bomba's "soul was awake" because he was a white boy. All the African people around him had "souls that slept" -- and they were invariably portrayed as cannibals, child molesters, rapists, slavers, torturers, and greedy thugs.

It's pretty obvious that the only reason why Reginald Sheffield chose the character of Bomba was because of the similarity to Tarzan, and not because he wanted to promote a racist series of books.

At any rate, there were 12 Bomba movies made -- roughly two every year. The films were shot at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, a massive indoor and outdoor garden featuring acres of tropical plants. Hundreds of motion pictures and television shows have been filmed there. The Bomba movies were generally made for less than $100,000 (at a time when a major motion picture might be made for $750,000 to $1 million), contained little to no action, and included vast amounts of stock footage of animals, monkeys doing funny things, and native tribespeople of Africa performing dances or hunting. Filming often took less than two weeks.

Sheffield's contract required him to stay within a certain weight, because he was already beginning to show some of the softness as an adult which had plagued Weissmuller. Although he gained pounds during the next six years, his weight gain was not serious. There was no similar requirement that he stay muscular, however, and as the series progressed Sheffield began to lose much of the muscularity which had made him such a popular teenage idol. Studio make-up artists shaved Sheffield's armpits, legs, arms, and torso. At times, however, Sheffield's happy trail and chest hair could be seen on film, having grown back in during the shoots. In publicity stills, his body hair is often easily detected.

Bomba never dressed in anything less than a leopard-skin loincloth. Beneath this was a skin-tight black nylon piece. It was essentially a very tight elastic waistband. A pouch in front contained and then crushed Sheffield's genitals, so that no bulges could ever be seen. In later films, some bulging was visible but always while Sheffield was standing. A triangle of black nylon fabric covered about a third of Sheffield's ass, leaving most of his ass cheeks visible on film. No fabric covered his hips, and a narrow elastic band of fabric connected the genital pouch with the ass covering to a) keep the ass piece tied down and b) ensure that nothing flapped around. A rough triangle of fake leopard skin was attached to the front and back. As Sheffield got older and slightly heavier, the loincloth rose. By the last few Bomba films, it was up over his navel -- helping to hide the pudginess of his tummy. But in the early films, the loincloth left little to the imagination. Johnny Sheffield had incredibly muscular legs, and in Bomba the Jungle Boy and the next few films, the directors had to take care not to allow Sheffield to squat or flex his legs too much for fear of having that loincloth slip out of the way and give audiences a glimpse of his muscular ass cheeks and his incredible thighs.

Bomba never got a girlfriend -- or a boyfriend, for that matter. One suspects that perhaps the studio should have tried to pair him with a young, buxom female starlet to up the sex factor. The lack of permanent love interest in the Bomba movies always left the careful viewer wondering just why Bomba seemed so disinterested in women... He seemed to like them enough, but his interest was more friendly than sexual. Then there was the fact that Bomba had been raised by an old man most of his life. How "Sandusky" of him!

The Bomba series of films ended in 1955. By then, Johnny Sheffield was 24 years old. He'd been largely educated at the MGM and RKO "studio schools," one-room schoolhouses the motion picture studios operated for their underage performers. His classmates had included Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, and others much more famous. But the studio school education was minimal at best. When he was not working in film, he attended public school. There, his classmates taunted him for being a half-naked "jungle boy" and not being an Actor like they were. Sheffield got into repeated fights with the other kids throughout junior high and high school.

Reginald Sheffield then proposed in 1956 that his son star in a TV series, Bantu the Zebra Boy. It was never produced. Reginald Sheffield died in 1959.

Around 1951, Johnny Sheffield began taking courses at UCLA. Although his acting career and publicity appearances prevented him from taking a full course load at any given time, he continued to make progress toward a degree. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in business in 1957.

Sheffield was interested in agriculture, and took a job working on a farm in Yuma, Arizona. In 1959, he met a young woman named Patricia. She'd been induced to date him because she thought it would be fun to date the muscular "jungle boy." They married three months later, and had three kids: Patrick, Stewart, and Regina. Johnny Sheffield enjoyed a long and lucrative career in agriculture. He worked for many years for a large produce company in Arizona, then began buying and selling commercial real estate in Malibu and Carmel. He returned to agriculture, representing the Santa Monica Seafood Company (which imported wild lobsters from Mexico), and then entered the construction business. He helped renovate and restore several buildings in San Diego's historic Gaslamp District. He regularly attended Tarzan conventions, where he enjoyed signing autographs and meeting fans. He regularly got mail from people who had seen his movies and expressed their thrill at seeing "Boy" swinging from trees, fighting crocodiles, and battling lions.

Johnny Sheffield died on October 17, 2010, at the age of 79. He'd been pruning some trees in his yard, and fell off a ladder. Four hours later, he had a fatal heart attack (probably brought about by the shock from his fall).

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As you can see from the images below, I would have married Johnny Sheffield.

What a hunk!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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