OSA AND MARTIN
For the Love of Adventure
By Kelly Enright Lyons. 222 pp. $24.95
Osa Johnson gave a piquant title to her memoir of collaborating with her husband, Martin, on the films they made in Africa and other wild parts of the globe: “I Married Adventure.” In “Osa and Martin,” a dual biography of the Johnsons, Kelly Enright notes that at first their movies tended to reflect the era in which they flourished (the 1920s to the ’40s): Big-game animals were meant to be shot and killed, and the indigenous people were to be condescended to. As time went on, however, the couple realized how much they owed to information supplied by “natives” and changed their attitudes toward wild animals.
The Johnsons may have lured patrons to their feature film “Congorilla” (1932) with a sensational poster of an enraged gorilla showing its sharp fangs, but once in their seats, viewers watched “scenes of gorillas that undermined the popular imagery.” The Johnsons had put into the movie what Enright calls “a subtle conservation message. These animals were at home in the wilderness and should be left unmolested.” Having often cheated death in the African bush, Martin Johnson was killed in the crash of a commercial airliner in the United States. Osa was with him at the time. She survived the crash, but her last years were overshadowed by an unhappy second marriage and alcoholism.