In this episode of Nature Reconstructed, we are introduced to Osa Johnson and her husband Martin. The two were famous for their nature documentaries. Their first feature length film, Simba: King of the Beasts, was created through the assistance of both Carl Akeley and George Eastman. The film’s portrayal of animal life was one of the first instances where depictions of nature were made accessible to a large audience, as movie tickets were vastly more affordable than taxidermied animals. The premiere of Simba seems to mark the beginning of the end of the golden age of taxidermy, which causes us to beg the question: were the Johnsons and their films the catalyst for the dwindling popularity of taxidermy in American culture? Were they solely responsible for the end of an era where taxidermy was the only way Americans could engage with an increasingly disappearing natural world?
- Episode transcript
- Some supplementary reading that didn’t make the final cut of our episode about pith hats and safari fashion today
- Some more supplementary reading about how the Johnsons met George Eastman and Carl Akeley
108498. Photo in EXPEDITION Borneo 1920, Safari Museum Galleries, Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum. Uploaded 8 August 2012. http://www.safarimuseum.com/gallery/?/Borneo+1++-+1920/108498.jpg.
Big Nambas with Hollywood Lobby Posters, Solomon Islands. Photo in Married to Adventure, Safari Museum Galleries, Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum. Uploaded 31 July 2012. http://www.safarimuseum.com/gallery/?/Married+to+Adventure/Photo_67_108213+Big+Nambas+and+movie+posters.jpg.
E39. Photo in EXPEDITION Africa 1929, Safari Museum Galleries, Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum. Uploaded 13 August 2012. http://www.safarimuseum.com/gallery/?/EXPEDITION+Africa+1929/E39.jpg.
Freeman, Hadley. “We Need to Talk About Melania Trump’s Out of Africa Wardrobe.” The Huffington Post. 10 October 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/oct/10/Talk-about-melania-trump-africa-wardrobe-pith-helmet-nazi.
Imperato, Pascal James and Eleanor M. Imperato. They Married Adventure: The Wandering Lives of Martin and Osa Johnson. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1992.
Johnson, Martin. George Eastman, Osa Johnson, and Daniel Pomeroy Reading. Photo in Married to Adventure, Safari Museum Galleries, Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum. Uploaded 31 July 1012. http://www.safarimuseum.com/gallery/?/Married+to+Adventure/Photo_60_A482+Eastman+Pomeroy+Osa.jpg.
Johnson, Osa. I Married Adventure. New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1940.
Johnson, Osa and Martin E, dir. Simba: King of the Beasts. January 23, 1928; Martin Johnson African Expedition Corporation. Streaming on Amazon, 87 min.
Kirk, Jay. Kingdom Under Glass: a Tale of Obsession, Adventure, and One Man’s Quest to Preserve the World’s Great Animals. New York : Henry Holt and Company, 2013.
Mooallem, Jon. Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story about Looking at People Looking at Animals in America. New York: Penguin Random House, 2013.
Osa Cleans her Rifle Before a Game Run. Photo in Married to Adventure, Safari Museum Galleries, Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum. Uploaded 31 July 2012. http://www.safarimuseum.com/gallery/?/Married+to+Adventure/Photo_59_B237+Osa+with+gun.jpg.
SIMBA 1928. Photo in Silver Screen Safaris, Safari Museum Galleries, Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum. Uploaded 10 February 2005. http://www.safarimuseum.com/gallery/?/SILVER+SCREEN+SAFARIS/simba_poster_enhanced.jpg.
Tinee, Mae. “‘Simba’ Shows Jungle Life in Africa as It Is: Picture Is Record of Rare Heroism of Johnsons.” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 3, 1928.
Toppo, Renalto. Martin and Osa Johnson in Flight Gear. Photo in Married to Adventure, Safari Museum Galleries, Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum. Uploaded 31 July 2012. http://www.safarimuseum.com/gallery/?/Married+to+Adventure/Photo_41_E1+Baboon+publicity+photo.jpg.
We wish to thank various people for their contribution to this episode of Hear UR:
Dr. June Hwang for her lengthy interview on the differences and similarities between 20th century film and diorama;
historian Mark Alvey for his helpful and supportive email correspondence;
the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum for allowing us access to their photo archive;
and Ewan Shannon and Rachel Coons for their voice acting talents.