Friday, August 22, 2014

Bomba the Jungle Boy in the Swamp of Death by Roy Rockwood

Like so many Baby Boomers, I became acquainted with Bomba first through the 1960s television airings of the Johnny Sheffield films from the early 1950s. The books were originally published in the 1920s as part of the Stratemeyer Syndicate of books for Juveniles (these days called “Young Adult”). The Bomba films were popular and Grosset & Dunlap publishers reprinted part of the series in 1953 to cash in on the film’s success. These are the ones I collect, but only when I find copies with the dust-jacket in good shape. They average between $15.00 and $20.00 with a clean dust-jacket. The Swamp of Death is seventh in the series and typical of them all. Roy Rockwood was an pseudonym used by the Stratemeyer Syndicate and included multiple authors. John William Duffield is generally believed to have written all of the Bomba books. Bomba is a young boy’s version of Tarzan and trivia buffs love to mention that Johnny Sheffield played “Boy” in the Tarzan films and then Bomba in films when he was older. What’s missing, of course, is Edgar Rice Burroughs’s incredible imagination. The books are easy to read, nothing spectacular, but still entertaining. They do contain (according to some critics) racist undertones but I don’t recall anything blatant. Obviously, cultural viewpoints have changed since the 1920s. Years back when I was working the Hollywood beat I contacted Sheffield requesting an interview for a magazine. I had already been warned that Sheffield was a hard-case who cut his teeth in California real estate after his film career ended He wanted lots of money to even look at people, and as such his reputation as someone who wanted money became something of a running joke on the nostalgia convention circuit. Hence, there is a noticeable lack of comprehensive interviews of Sheffield on record. To be fair, he did make some convention appearances and allowed a few interviews, and I’ve been told that he was “real nice.” Of course, when actors are charging money for autographs being “real nice” is part of the game. My letter came back with Sheffield’s scrawled note to me: “I don’t work for nothin’ pal, do you? – Johnny, Boy, Bomba.” I was surprised he didn’t invoice me for the autograph. But I don’t begrudge Sheffield his attitude. I’ve met plenty of Hollywood personalities for whom an acting gig is no different than a factory job – do the job, cash the check and don’t look back. I liked Sheffield as Bomba (Sheffield died in 2010). The films are still fun to watch. He was good in the role, but Bomba films and certainly the books have gone the way of Route 66. Today they are simply a point of cultural trivia. 


  1. Never read any of the books, but did love the films as a boy.


  2. I like the movies, too. Very entertaining flicks that I have fond memories of.


I apologize for the necessity to moderate comments, but somebody opened the zoo cages and the beasts are running amok!