Osa Johnson, née Leighty, was born in the small town of Chanute, Kansas.
In 1910, at age 16, she eloped with Martin Johnson, 10 years her senior. For two years, the couple played the vaudeville circuit with Osa singing and performing faux Hawaiian dances to accompany his lectures and photos taken in the South Seas while accompanying Jack London on his voyage of the Snark. By 1912, they had accumulated enough money to travel to the South Sea islands together. For many years, they alternated lengthy photographic trips to the Pacific and Africa with lecture and exhibition tours at home. Together they made a highly popular series of films and gathered much valuable geographic and ethnological information. Their films included Jungle Adventures (1921), Trailing African Wild Animals (1923), Simba, the King of Beasts (1928), Across the World (1930), Wonders of the Congo (1931), and Borneo (1937). They also collaborated on several books, including Camera Trails in Africa (1924), Lion (1929), and Over African Jungles (1935). On her own, Osa Johnson wrote Jungle Babies (1930) and Jungle Pets (1932).
After her husband’s death in 1937, Osa continued the work they had begun together. She led a large expedition from Twentieth Century-Fox to Africa to film sequences for the 1939 film Stanley and Livingstone. She also produced many more films and books on her own, including the bestselling autobiography I Married Adventure (1940).