|Born||Friederike Viktoria Gessner
20 January 1910
Troppau, Duchy of Upper and Lower Silesia, Austria-Hungary
|Died||3 January 1980
Shaba National Reserve, Kenya, Africa
Cause of death
|Spouse(s)||Victor Van Klarwill
(1935 – 1937; divorced),
(1938 – 1944; divorced),
(1944 – 1977; separation)
Joy Adamson (20 January 1910 – 3 January 1980) (born Friederike Victoria Gessner) was a naturalist, artist, and author best known for her book, Born Free, which describes her experiences raising a lion cub named Elsa. Born Free was printed in several languages, and made into an Academy Award-winning movie of the same name. In 1977, she was awarded the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art.
Adamson was born to Victor and Traute Gessner in Troppau, Silesia, Austria-Hungary (now Opava, Czech Republic), the second of three girls. Her parents divorced when she was 10, and she went to live with her grandmother. In her autobiography The Searching Spirit, Adamson wrote about her grandmother, saying, "It is to her I owe anything that may be good in me". As a young adult, Adamson considered careers as a concert pianist, and in medicine.
Life in Africa
Elsa and her cubs
Adamson is best known for her conservation efforts associated with Elsa the Lioness. In 1956, Adamson's husband, George Adamson, in the course of his job as game warden of the Northern Frontier District in Kenya, shot and killed a lioness as she charged him and another warden. George realized the lioness was protecting her cubs, which were later found nearby. Taking them home, Joy and he raised the cubs. Early on, George attended to their physical needs, while Joy and her pet Pati-Pati, a rock hyrax, raised them. Joy named them "Big One", "Lustica" and "Elsa".
After six months, caring for the cubs became increasingly difficult for the Adamsons and their staff. The two larger cubs, Lustica and the Big One, were sent to a zoo in Rotterdam. The Adamsons kept Elsa. They decided to set her free rather than send her to a zoo, and spent many months training her to hunt and survive on her own. They were successful in the end, and Elsa became the first lioness successfully released back into the wild, the first to have contact after release, and the first known to have cubs. The Adamsons kept their distance from the cubs, getting close enough only to photograph them.
In January 1961, Elsa died from disease resulting from a tick bite. Her three young cubs became a nuisance, killing the livestock of local farmers. The Adamsons, who feared the farmers might kill the cubs, were able to eventually capture them and transport them to neighboring Tanganyika Territory, where they were promised a home at Serengeti National Park. In The Story of Elsa, a compilation of the books about Elsa, Joy Adamson wrote: "My heart was with them wherever they were. But it was also with these two lions here in front of us; and as I watched this beautiful pair, I realized how all the characteristics of our cubs were inherent in them. Indeed, in every lion I saw during our searches I recognized the intrinsic nature of Elsa, Jespah, Gopa and Little Elsa, the spirit of all the magnificent lions in Africa".
Writer and celebrity
Using her own notes and George's journals, Joy wrote Born Free to tell the lions' tale. She submitted it to a number of publishers before it was bought by Harvill Press, part of HarperCollins. Published in 1960, it became a bestseller, spending 13 weeks at the top of The New York Times Best Seller list and nearly a year on the chart overall. The success of the book was due to both the story of Elsa and the dozens of photographs of her. Readers had pictures of many of the events of Elsa's life leading up to her release. Subsequent books were also heavily illustrated.
Born Free received largely favorable reviews from critics. Adamson worked closely with publishers to promote the book, which contributed to the Adamsons' new-found international celebrity.
Joy Adamson spent the rest of her life raising money for wildlife, thanks to the popularity of Born Free. The book was followed by Living Free, which is about Elsa as a mother to her cubs, and Forever Free, which tells of the release of the cubs Jespah, Gopa and Little Elsa. Adamson shared book proceeds with various conservation projects.
The 1966 film Born Free, starring husband-and-wife actors Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, and filmed in the bush over the course of many months, was a worldwide hit. The stars became acquainted with the real Adamsons, and the couples remained friends for life, working for wildlife causes. Travers and McKenna decided to do all of their own scenes with the lions in the film in order to recreate the close relationship that Joy and George Adamson had with Elsa. This was a serious commitment and risk on the actors' part, and one that made the film more realistic. Born Free, which went on to win two Academy Awards (both for music) is widely considered to be a family classic. Six years later, Susan Hampshire took over the role of Joy Adamson in Living Free, a film based on the third "Elsa book", Forever Free. The theme of the film, "Born Free", which appeared on the film's soundtrack album, was also a popular hit, recorded by Matt Monro.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the filming of Born Free was that some of the lions used for the film had been freed, similarly to Elsa. This story was told in a documentary produced by Bill Travers, titled The Lions Are Free.
Pippa and Penny
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During Elsa's lifetime, Joy and George Adamson needed each other to educate her, but after she died and her cubs were taken in by the park, their interests went in separate directions, as did their lives. While neither divorced nor legally separated, their conflicting interests (George wanted to continue to work with lions and she with cheetahs) made it necessary for them to live apart (though they sometimes spoke of living together again, it never happened.. Every year, they got together for Christmas, and they remained on good terms.
While television specials kept the Adamsons' cause in the spotlight, Adamson spent her last 10 years travelling the world, giving speeches about the perils faced by wildlife in Africa. A book of her paintings was published. She rehabilitated a cheetah and an African leopard. Pippa the cheetah was raised as a pet and given to Adamson at the age of seven months in hopes that she could also be released. Pippa had four litters before her death. Adamson wrote The Spotted Sphinx and Pippa's Challenge about Pippa and her cheetah family. Later, Adamson reached her goal of many years, when she obtained an African leopard cub. Penny was eight weeks old when a ranger acquaintance of George Adamson found her in 1976. Penny had a litter of two cubs before the publication of Queen of Shaba, Joy Adamson's posthumous and final book. For many years, Joy Adamson was a resident panellist on the hugely popular and long-running BBC radio programme Twenty Questions.
Murder and legacy
On 3 January 1980, in Shaba National Reserve in Kenya, Joy Adamson's body was discovered by her assistant, Peter Morson (sometimes reported as Pieter Mawson). He mistakenly assumed she had been killed by a lion, and this was what was initially reported by the media.
Police investigation found Adamson's wounds were too sharp and bloodless to have been caused by an animal, and concluded she had been murdered. Paul Nakware Ekai, a discharged labourer formerly employed by Adamson, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to imprisonment at President Daniel arap Moi's pleasure. He escaped capital punishment because the judge ruled he might have been a minor when the crime was committed.
Joy's widower, George Adamson, was murdered 9 years later, in 1989, near his camp in Kora National Park, while rushing to the aid of a tourist who was being attacked by poachers. He is credited with saving the tourist's life.
In addition to Joy's books about big cats, a book of her artwork was published, as was an autobiography entitled The Searching Spirit. George Adamson's second autobiography, My Pride and Joy, was published in 1986.
Joy Adamson married three times in the span of ten years. Her first marriage was to a Jewish Austrian, Viktor von Klarwill (Ziebel) 1902-1985, who sent her to Africa to find a safe place for the two of them to live out World War II. Later, she met and married the botanist Peter Bally, who gave her the nickname "Joy". She met her third husband, game warden George Adamson, while on safari in the early 1940s. They made their home together in Kenya. Joy Adamson appeared in "The Bargain" and "Death Walks by Night," two second-season episodes of the British television crime drama The Vise, which were broadcast in 1955.
During her lifetime, Joy created more than 500 paintings and line drawings: many of the plants had never been photographed or accurately drawn in colour.
Books by Joy Adamson
- Born Free: A lioness of two worlds (1960) ISBN 1-56849-551-X
- Elsa: The Story of a Lioness (1961)
- Living Free: The story of Elsa and her cubs (1961) ISBN 0-00-637588-X
- Forever Free: Elsa's Pride (1962) ISBN 0-00-632885-7
- The Spotted Sphinx (1969) ISBN 0-15-184795-9
- Pippa: The Cheetah and her Cubs (1970) ISBN 0-15-262125-3
- Joy Adamson's Africa (1972) ISBN 0-15-146480-4
- Pippa's Challenge (1972) ISBN 0-15-171980-2
- Peoples of Kenya (1975) ISBN 0-15-171681-1
- The Searching Spirit: An Autobiography (1978) ISBN 0-00-216035-8
- Queen of Shaba: The Story of an African Leopard (1980) ISBN 0-00-272617-3
- Friends from the Forest (1980) ISBN 0-15-133645-8
Books by George Adamson
- My Pride and Joy
- Bwana Game - The Life Story Of George Adamson - Collins@Harvill Press, London, 1968
Books by others
- Wild Heart: The Story of Joy Adamson, Author of Born Free by Anne E. Neimark
- Born Free
- Living Free
- Elsa & Her Cubs - 25 minutes; Benchmark Films Copyright MCMLXXI by Elsa Wild Animal Appeal and Benchmark Films, Inc.
- Joy Adamson - About the Adamsons - Producer-Benchmark Films, Inc.
- Joy Adamson's Africa (1977) - 86 minutes
- The Joy Adamson Story (1980) - Programme featuring interviews with Joy Adamson about her life and work in Austria and in Africa, and her famous lioness Elsa. Director: Dick Thomsett Production Company: BBC
- "Pride and Joy". Africa Geographic. August 2009. p. 34. Retrieved 22 March 2013.
- John Bear, The #1 New York Times Best Seller: intriguing facts about the 484 books that have been #1 New York Times bestsellers since the first list, 50 years ago, Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1992. p. 78
- The Lions Are Free was made available on DVD in the United Kingdom in 2005
- "Sad Ending".
- "Report suggests Joy Adamson murdered".
- "Around the World Kenyan is Convicted in Death of Joy Adamson"
- Interview with Paul Nakware Ekai
- Haines, Catharine (2001). International women in science: a biographical dictionary to 1950. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. p. 3. ISBN 1-57607-090-5.
- Elsa & Her Cubs
- Joy Adamson - About the Adamsons
- Joy Adamson's Africa
- The Joy Adamson Story
- Joy Adamson at the Internet Movie Database
- Web page about Elsa
- The Elsa Conservation Trust
- Bibliography of films by and about Joy and George Adamson.