The Legacy of Martin and Osa Johnson

One of the most popular collectible books we have sold over the years at Old Scrolls Book Shop is I Married Adventure, by Osa Johnson (Lippincott, 1940).   The first edition has a very distinctive brown and beige zebra stripe cloth buckram binding (some of the early reprints and book club editions have the same or similar binding).  Once fairly common, it has become difficult to find clean solid copies of this book, especially in its original dustjacket.   The book was published in ten languages for its 1940 release; it became a New York Times best-seller, and was made into movie by Columbia Studios.  Today it remains ranked by the National Geographic Society as one of the “Top 100 Adventure Books” ever written.

(Lippincott book club edition, 1940)

Osa’s story begins with growing up in Kansas, meeting Martin, their marriage in 1910, and their travels by air, land and sea to the far corners of the earth to photograph isolated pockets of humanity and wild animals.   It includes the tale of Martin’s sea voyage with author Jack London to Hawaii and the South Sea Islands in London’s boat “The Snark”—a trip that turned out to be a wild and dangerous adventure, ending with Jack London hospitalized in Australia with a rare skin disease.

The beautiful Four Years in Paradise is even more difficult to find in jacket.  This too has a unique binding of giraffe spotted buckram cloth.  The jacket has a beautiful wrap-around design depicting a moving herd of elephants.  The book is the story of the years she and Martin spent filming wildlife in the Northern Frontier District of Kenya.

First Edition (Lippincott, 1941)

The Johnsons filmed their adventures and did lecture tours across the United States to rapt audiences.   They explored lands and visited tribes in distant places which had never seen a white man let alone a camera, and brought back stunningly beautiful photographs and knowledge of cultures that were then unknown and have since disappeared.  Martin’s photographs of African wildlife in books such as Lion – African Adventure with the King of Beasts and Safari – A Saga of the African Blue are exquisite.

First Edition, G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1929

In 1929 they filmed Congorilla, the first movie with sound shot in Africa.   Ironically, after surviving many exotic and dangerous trips around the world, Martin Johnson was killed in the crash of a commercial airliner in 1937 in Burbank, California.  Osa was also on the plane (along with ten other passengers) and sustained serious injuries, which she survived.

Osa wrote ten books, including six for children; Martin wrote eight books.  A bibliography of all the books written by Osa Johnson Martin Johnson appears here:

The Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum was opened in Chanute, Kansas in 1961.   The museum houses their films, photographs, expedition reports, correspondence and personal memorabilia, and offers showings of the films made by the Johnsons; they also offer prints of their magnificent photographs for sale on the museum website, as well as DVDs of their films.

Osa died in 1953 in New York City at the age of 58.

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