National Geographic : 2017 Oct
48 nationaL geogRapHic • octobeR 2017 ROUGHING IT In her book My Friends, the Wild Chimpanzees, Jane recalled her first day at Gombe, helping to pitch tents that would serve as her home for years to come. “I was well aware of some of the many difficulties facing me,” she wrote. “Equally, I knew the day was one of the happiest of my life.” As Jane and Hugo expanded the research sta- tion at Gombe, they also developed ideas for new films, but National Geographic wanted to keep the spotlight on Jane in films being made for tele- vision and the lecture circuit. The requests were increasingly specific, as in this letter to Hugo from Joanne Hess of the National Geographic Society’s lecture branch: “It will be most important and helpful to have several shots of Jane, which you will have to pose, showing her looking through binoculars, laugh- ing at chimps, staring up at chimps in trees, star- ing into distance at chimps, and writing notes in her book, etc.,” Hess wrote. “I mean you should take about 200 feet of close-ups of Jane ‘pretend- ing’ to do these things, so that we can cut pictures of her into the film.” The pressures to pose rankled Jane, but she handled it diplomatically. In a letter to Melvin Payne, whose National Geographic committee oversaw her funding, Jane wrote, “Certainly I understand that it is necessary to build up a sto- ry around ‘Jane Goodall’ and we have cooperated with Joanne as much as we possibly could.” But when Hess came to Gombe to oversee some filming, Jane allowed herself a private act of rebellion. “ We are already collecting large numbers of evil looking spiders and centipedes to lay around casually in her tent, in an endeavor to shorten her visit,” Jane wrote to her mother. When I interviewed Jane years later, during a 2015 visit to Gombe, she could look back on the celebrity treatment more philosophically: GOODALL: There’s this glamorous young girl out in the jungle with potentially dangerous ani- mals. People like romanticizing, and people were looking at me as though I was that myth that they had created in their mind. And the Geographic helped create it too. GERBER: A lot of people would resist that and fight back and say, That’s not me. GOODALL: There was nothing I could do about it because as far as they knew, it was me. And there was no way I could be portrayed dif- ferently. It wasn’t inaccurate. It’s just that people take the facts and weave stories around them.