THEY MARRIED ADVENTURE: The Wandering Lives of Martin & Osa Johnson by Pascal James & Eleanor M. Imperato Imperato

THEY MARRIED ADVENTURE: The Wandering Lives of Martin & Osa Johnson

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A scholarly yet immensely readable biography of the husband-and-wife team whose slickly produced documentaries about remote corners of the earth enchanted the public throughout the 1920's and 30's. Drawing on access to Johnson family members, professional colleagues, and archival sources, the Imperatos (he: coauthor, Acceptable Risks, 1984, etc.) offer a detailed account of their remarkable subjects. Born in 1885 in Kansas, Martin Johnson contracted an incurable case of wanderlust in his youth, and, early in 1907, he sailed the South Seas with Jack London. Back home, Martin married Osa--a fellow Kansan nine years his junior--and became a slide-show lecturer on the vaudeville circuit. A talented cinematographer, he was able by 1917--thanks also to his photogenic wife--to mount an expedition to the Solomons and New Hebrides. The ensuing feature film was a commercial success and launched a career-partnership that took the couple to Borneo, other Pacific isles, and East Africa. While popular enough to gain the backing of profit-minded investors, the Johnsons' dramatic pictorial records of vanishing cultures and wildlife in exotic climes attracted support from the American Museum of Natural History as well. Martin died in a 1937 plane crash, and Osa (who had developed a severe drinking problem) soldiered on until a fatal heart attack in 1953. Though the celebrated author of a ghost-written bestseller (I Married Adventure, 1940), Osa never managed to regain, let alone capitalize on, her venturesome past. Alcoholism made her too unreliable for lucrative lecture tours and steady broadcast work; nor did an unfortunate second marriage to her improvident business manager (from whom she eventually separated) enhance her emotional or financial stability. At her death, Osa was virtually penniless. An unsentimental but sympathetic appreciation of world-class rovers whose flair for show-biz greatly expanded the horizons of their untraveled audiences.

Pub Date: Dec. 9th, 1992
Page count: 298pp
Publisher: Rutgers Univ. Press