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Little Orvie (1940), based on a Booth Tarkington novel, is about a little boy who longs for a dog and will do just about anything to get one despite his overbearing mother's disapproval of such a notion. RKO planned to make a series of "Orvie" films, but when this initial outing didn't score well enough at the box office, franchise plans were scrapped, leaving Little Orvie notable as one of very few films in which child actor Johnny Sheffield played a character not named "Boy" or "Bomba."
Sheffield's first credited movie appearance was as Boy in 1939's Tarzan Finds a Son!. In quick succession he then appeared in the non-Tarzan films Babes in Arms (1939), Little Orvie, Lucky Cisco Kid (1940), Knute Rockne All American (1940, in which he played young Knute), and Million Dollar Baby (1941). But from then on, it was all "Boy" until he left the Tarzan series in 1947, and then all "Bomba" in another series that lasted from 1948-1955, when Sheffield retired from the screen. Sheffield died in 2010 at the age of 79 from a heart attack following a fall from a ladder in his garden.
Eight-year-old leading lady Ann Todd (later known as Ann E. Todd so as to avoid confusion with British actress Ann Todd) would go on to a more successful screen career. While she, like Sheffield, also left Hollywood in the early 1950s, she was able to rack up an array of credits as interesting and varied as How Green Was My Valley (1941), Pride of the Marines (1945), Margie (1946) and Cover Up (1949). She ended her career on television, acting in over 100 episodes of The Stu Erwin Show (aka Life with Father) (1950-55). Todd, however, had never wanted to be an actress and instead was pushed into the career by the maternal grandparents who raised her. Still in her early 20s when she left show business, she earned a masters degree in music history and started a new career as a teacher and music librarian, raising a family and retiring to northern California.
The director of Little Orvie, Ray McCarey, was the younger brother of director Leo McCarey. Like Leo, Ray started at Hal Roach studios and directed Oliver & Hardy films, but he never achieved the fame and success of his older brother, instead moving on to make B features at various studios. Little Orvie co-writer Frank Fenton was at this time cutting his teeth on several quite decent Falcon and Saint movies; later, more A-level credits would include Station West (1948), His Kind of Woman (1951), River of No Return (1954) and Untamed (1955).
Despite the middling box office, Little Orvie scored some fine reviews, with Variety calling it "a charming comedy drama of boyhood which preserves the full flavor of Booth Tarkington's genius in probing the heart of adolescent youth... The picture can't miss as entertainment... Ray McCarey in this his first job of direction for RKO scores a solid success, handling the childish heart tugs and comedy with rare discrimination and in complete accord with the Tarkington mood... John Sheffield is a lad of decidedly fine talent. He plays naturally and appealingly and will be a favorite with the women."
Producer: William Sistrom
Director: Ray McCarey
Screenplay: Robert Chapin, Frank Fenton, Lynn Root; Booth Tarkington (novel)
Cinematography: J. Roy Hunt
Music: Paul Sawtell
Film Editing: Theron Warth
Cast: Johnny Sheffield (Orvie 'Orvie' Stone), Ernest Truex (Frank Stone), Dorothy Tree (Clara Stone), Ann Todd (Patsy Balliser), Emma Dunn (Mrs. Welty), Daisy Lee Mothershed (Corbina), Fay Helm (Mrs. Balliser), Virginia Brissac (Mrs. Green), Paul E. Burns (Angelo, Grocer), Dell Henderson (Mr. Brown).
by Jeremy Arnold