Historian Enright (America’s Natural Places: Rocky Mountains and Great Plains, 2009, etc.) showcases the careers of Osa and Martin Johnson, explorers, wildlife-movie pioneers and inseparable adventure seekers.
At the age of 16, Osa walked out of the 1909 popular lecture and photo display put on by Martin Johnson in Chanute, Kan., after his return from the South Seas. She thought the show was ugly and repulsive, but the two hit it off and, within a month, they had married. On Osa’s initiative, they took the lecture on the vaudeville circuit to raise money for joint explorations in the South Seas. She never lost this ability to act decisively, which many times saved her husband’s life. Sharing their lives, they revisited the South Seas, and then followed up with three visits to Kenya before returning to the South Seas again. Except for an Explorers’ Club membership, which Osa, as a woman, could never attain, the two were inseparable until Martin’s tragic death in a plane crash in 1937. During their adventures, Osa and Martin pioneered using movie to record wildlife in their natural habitat, and their films remain a source of documentation for studies of wildlife today. The couple traveled and filmed in a time of transition, while the British were establishing preserves like Serengeti and ruthlessly clearing wildlife from areas designated for settled agriculture. Osa continued after Martin’s death, writing books for adults and children, and her groundbreaking TV series Big Game Hunt.
The couple’s delight and happiness in living the life they made for each other shines through.