Johnson, Osa

Johnson, Osa (b. Leighty)

photographic explorers, lecturers. Martin had been drawn to travel as a youth; he became a decent photographer and got himself engaged by Jack London to sail on the Snark cruise that ended abruptly with London's illness (1907–09). On his return to the U.S.A., Martin opened a theater in Independence, Ill., where he showed pictures of his trip as he lectured; it was after attending such a showing that Osa met him. They were married in 1910 and soon began their travels that took them to the South Pacific and Africa, where they photographed the native peoples and wildlife. They took up flying and were the first people to fly over Africa's Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya and to photograph them from the air. The Johnsons produced some 20 motion pictures to accompany the lectures they gave throughout the U.S.A. Although nothing more than travelogues and lacking sophistication in everything from anthropology or zoology, the films did provide many Americans with their first view of these exotic places. Martin died in an airplane crash in Los Angeles. Osa visited Africa (1938) and wrote a best-selling account of their lives, I Married Adventure (1940), and many children's books, including Osa Johnson's Jungle Friends (1939). She married again (1939) but was divorced, and she retained her fascination with Africa to the end.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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