Osa Leighty was unimpressed by the young photographer who took her brother's portrait. She was more concerned that her three-year-old brother sit still. It was hot, and she wanted to get home. The photographer, Martin Johnson, had traveled from Independence to Chanute to sell photographs at a penny a piece. The chance meeting marked the beginning of an adventurous partnership that made Kansas history.
Martin Johnson spent the next several years traveling with Jack London and taking photographs in exotic places in the South Pacific. When he returned to Kansas in 1910 he traveled to Chanute to lecture and show his slides at an evening performance. The girl who was hired to provide musical entertainment for that performance was a friend of Osa's, and arranged a formal introduction between the two.
Osa was still not impressed. Martin was conceited and his photos of cannibals were horrible. Nonetheless, sixteen-year-old Osa was drawn to Martin, ten years her senior. They dated for three weeks and got married on a whim. To avoid having the marriage annulled by her father, Martin and Osa traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, for a second wedding.
During the twenty-seven years they were married, Osa and Martin traveled around the world photographing wild animals and native peoples in the South Sea islands, Borneo, and Africa. Martin stayed behind the camera while Osa kept watch. Once, as Martin was photographing a herd of rhinoceroses, one of the animals caught wind of them and charged directly at Martin. With her trademark calmness, Osa raised her rifle, shot, and killed the charging rhino. Martin never missed a second of the action, capturing the dramatic moment on film.
Osa coordinated their trips, arranging for transportation of thousands of dollars of photographic equipment and supplies. On one African safari, Osa supervised the two hundred thirty-five porters who carried their supplies over swamplands where vehicles could not go. Following each trip, Osa and Martin would return to the United States to lecture showing their movies and telling of their travels. The Johnson’s prided themselves on the natural accuracy of their movies. Rarely was the action staged and usually it was unpredictable. Osa and Martin never had children, but Osa was rarely seen without one of her pet monkeys riding on her shoulder. Osa recorded her life story in the book I Married Adventure.
Osa was a pioneer who insisted that she stand as Martin's equal. In nineteen thirty-two the…