They Married Adventure: The Wandering Lives of Martin and Osa Johnson

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Martin and Osa Johnson thrilled American audiences of the 1920s and 30s with their remarkable movies of far-away places, exotic peoples, and the dramatic spectacle of African wildlife. Their own lives were as exciting as the movies they made--sailing through the South Sea Islands, dodging big game at African waterholes, flying small planes over the veldt, taking millionaires on safari.    

Osa Johnson’s ghostwritten autobiography, I Married Adventure, became a national bestseller. The 1939 film version was billed as “the story of World Exploration’s First Lady, whose indomitable daring would be stayed by neither snarling lion nor crouching leopard, tropic tempest nor savage tribesman!” Heroes to millions, Osa and Martin seemed to embody glamor, daring, and the all-American ideal of self-reliance.    

Probing beneath the glamor of the Johnsons’ public image, Pascal and Eleanor Imperato explore the more human side of the couple’s lives--and ways the Johnsons shaped, for better and for worse, America’s vision of Africa. Drawing on many years of research, access to a wealth of letters and archives, interviews with many who worked closely with the Johnsons, and their own deep knowledge of Africa, the authors present a fascinating and intimate portrait of this intrepid couple.

Martin and Osa Johnson thrilled American audiences of the 1920s and '30s with their remarkable movies of far-away places, exotic peoples, and the dramatic spectacle of Asian and African wildlife. Their own lives were as exciting as the movies they made, here revealed in this fascinating and intimate portrait of an intrepid couple. 35 illustrations; 2 maps.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Although Martin and Osa Johnson wrote 18 popular books and 100 magazine articles about their explorations in the 1920s and '30s, this comprehensive biography separates myth from equally colorful fact in their romanticized lives. Born in the last century, these pioneers of the travel documentary enthralled audiences with tales of wild men and animals in Africa, Borneo and other exotic spots. Martin's career began when he served as cook on Jack London's round-the-world voyage, which ran aground in the Solomon Islands in 1908. Learning to hunt and photograph, Martin divided his time among safaris, filmmaking and the lecture circuit, and was a wealthy, famous man when he died in a plane crash in 1937. Osa, who replaced her dreams of a house and children with hunting and photography skills, died a debt-ridden alcoholic in 1953. The Imperatos, authors of several books and articles on Africa, draw on interviews with Osa's second husband and her mother to enliven this splendid account of two extraordinary lives. Photos. (Dec.)
Library Journal
The Imperatos have written a concise and entertaining biography of early filmmakers Martin and Osa Johnson that reads like an adventure novel. Their well-balanced coverage encompasses the Johnsons both as individuals and as a couple. The book opens in 1906, when Martin began his travels and photographic career in the South Pacific with Jack London. His later marriage to Osa marked the beginning of their successful 27-year professional partnership. This book presents a vivid portrait of the Johnsons, highlighting not only their admirable qualities but their often questionable ethics when obtaining pictures and/or films that would appeal to the paying public. Some 60 pages comprising annotated notes, a bibliography, and a filmography attest to the authors' extensive and thorough research. The book not only provides an excellent reflection on distant cultures and wildlife of the early 1900s but gives exceptional insight into the pioneer technology, advancement, and ongoing popularity of cinematography through the Johnsons' endeavors. For most film and travel collections.-- Jo-Anne Mary Benson, Osgoode, Ontario
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813526959
  • Publisher: Rutgers University Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/1999
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 350
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.89 (d)

Meet the Author

Pascal James Imperato credits his own interest in Africa to reading the Johnsons' books while he was still a teenager. He edited Osa Johnson's Last Adventure (1966). His fourteen popular and scholarly books include Bwana Doctor, A Wind in Africa, Medical Detective, and African Folk Medicine. Eleanor M. Imperato is a historian with a special interest in Americans' sources of knowledge about Africa; she is co-author of the standard history of Mali.
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