The success of our motion picture, Sheep, Stars, and Solitude, changed the entire course of our film-making activities. Why go to distant lands overseas when our own West had so much to offer?
Columbia River Country was the first of these western productions. This great river rises in a tiny spring in British Columbia seventy-five miles north of the state of Montana and heads—not westward towards its ultimate destination of the Pacific Ocean—but northward toward the Arctic wilderness. In a small canoe we journeyed north on the river until suddenly its course was blocked by mountains. Abruptly it veered southward, eventually entering the state of Washington. We filmed President Truman as he dedicated the Columbia’s Grand Coulee Dam, which was upstaged by a herd of four thousand sheep, making their final crossing over the Grand Coulee. We filmed the river’s progress as it sliced through the Cascade Range and flowed into the Pacific. By canoe, by stern-wheeler, by grain barge, by car, we followed and caught on film the drama and history of its 1400 mile course.
Next came Road to Grandeur. During two different years we journeyed from the Canadian Rockies to Mexico’s Gulf of California along U.S. Highway 89, as that greatest of America’s scenic roadways led us into explorations of Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, Bryce, Zion, Grand Canyon, and the little-known wonders of Utah and Arizona.
Road to Grandeur introduced us to the Navajo Reservation; later, we spent much of two years there, producing a film which enabled us to become lifelong friends with the Navajos and the Hopis. By four-wheel-drive Jeep, we traveled more than 10,000 miles on the Navajo and Hopi Reservations—which are as large as four eastern states—camping out most of the time, or living with our Indian friends. Some of the most meaningful experiences of our lives were spent in making that film.
For two summers, and late springs and early autumns, we lived in a small community in southern Utah, producing Southwest Story.
We traveled to every state west of the Great Plains, garnering the materials for Seven Wonders of the West.
With our daughter Adrienne as one of the cyclists, and with Helen and myself cycling by tandem, we made Southern California on a Bike.
One after another, film after film flowed from our cameras.
Our motion picture on the Navajos led eventually to another change in our film-making activities. Producing a shorter version of that film, with my voice recorded on the footage itself, we found a ready sale for Navajo, A People Between Two Worlds in schools, universities and film libraries across the land. From now on we would travel to make the films, but send them out on their own.
Three educational documentaries on the life of Abraham Lincoln followed, and two on the life of Walt Whitman.
Through our Lincoln films we became acquainted with Carl Sandberg and Allan Nevins, the leading authorities on Lincoln’s life.
Being freed of having to travel to show the films gave us more time to travel in making them, so again we ventured abroad. In producing Lincoln’s Influence Around the World we renewed our contacts with the English countryside, home of Lincoln’s ancestors. I introduced Helen to areas of the Orient and the far Pacific, where Lincoln’s influence had carried.
Having become deeply concerned about ecology and our environment, we made a documentary on Francis of Assisi called Song of the Earth, Francis of Assisi’s Message to America on Peace and Ecology.
That production took us not only across America but twice to Assisi, Italy. But, most important, perhaps, it took us to Sweden, and back to our beloved Finland.
We were invited to present the film, personally, before the Forum of the First International Conference on the Human Environment, in Stockholm, in 1972. Finland was just across the Baltic. We went there, and found Hellin Heiskala, who had been our interpreter and guide in Tampere, Finland thirty-three years before. (See Chapter 6) Ever since our first meeting we had kept in touch by letter.
Her aviator husband had been killed on the first day of the Russo-Finnish war. In a subsequent re-marriage she had become Hellin Ostring and had four more daughters—”my army of five girls” she called them in a letter to us.
One after another of these daughters became “Miss Finland” and one after another entered either the international beauty contest near us in Long Beach, California, or the Miss Universe contest in Florida. Maila Ostring placed among the top five in Long Beach; we had her as a guest in our home for a week. Satu, the fourth daughter, was chosen first runner-up to Miss Universe, and became a celebrity throughout the world.
These daughters had other attributes besides beauty. Heli, the first Miss Finland, studied to become a surgeon. Our close friend, Maila, was a chemist, and spoke six languages. (Her mother spoke seven.) Satu was as vivacious, and had as charming a personality, as any girl we had ever met.
On our visit to Finland, we renewed our acquaintance with Maila. Then Satu and her mother Hellin—whom we had not seen for thirty-three years—entertained us royally. Later Hellin flew to our home in California to spend a weekend with us. We were overjoyed when our youngest granddaughter, Krista, chose Finland as a place to work, teaching conversational English to Finnish young people, in the city of Kajaani which Helen and I had visited when making our film, Finland Waters—A Story of Adventure in a New Nation. Krista made a trip, north, across the Arctic Circle, to Lapland, where I had made our first professional motion picture almost half a century before.
Our story of adventure had gone full circle.
HELEN E. LINE
who shared in many of these adventures,who edited all our films, and who inspired me every
mile of the way With special thanks to the people in many lands who helped on these dangerous journeys and to the hundreds of men and women who booked me on their motion picture travel-adventure series across America and the thousands who attended those film presentations.