Kurland’s ‘The Courage of Ignorance’ Charts A Globetrotting Account Of A Gilded Era

By: R.J. Cohn

She lit up the world with her bulky 5-by-7 box camera, dashing across the Atlantic on luxury liners more times than she can remember, snapping pictures of some of the most memorable figures of the 20th century.

From John F. Kennedy and Max Schmelling to Gertrude Stein and Leslie Howard, Ethel Kurland of Sandpoint managed to photograph them all – along with scores of international celebrities – before she reached her 21st birthday as she skirted her way around the globe.

Seventy years later, Kurland – who virtually became a one-woman syndicate for more than 120 newspapers as well as the Associated Press, United Press International and Reuters – has written an account of the glamorous era of the ’30s and ’40s in her book, The Courage of Ignorance (published by Mules Across America Publishing), when she used the closet of her first-class cabin as a developing room.

Complete with black-and-white photographs of the world’s most renown actors, starlets, pianists, journalists, athletes and politicians, Kurland’s book charts her journey as a 17-year-old amateur photographer lured by wanderlust and the grandeur of ocean liners to the studios of Hollywood, where she was eventually hired to shoot the big-screen stars of the 1940s.

It’s a memorable account of a young girl with gumption, a camera and a dream to travel the world, who was continually on the move even after her career as a cruise ship photographer came to a close when stately ocean liners were transformed into troop carriers during World War II.

Decades before it was fashionable for a woman to travel on her own, Kurland – still a teenager – walked up the gangplank of the S.S. Borinquen with her box camera and a trunkload of flashbulbs ready for a global photo shoot.

It didn’t end there for the gutsy Kurland, who was determined to make her living and mark in the world as a photographer. She eventually set up shot in Army camps across the country, photographing recruits before moving to California where photographed rising stars in the movie industry.

It was more than just a charmed life for Kurland. After opening a gallery in Carmel, Calif., she became friends with photographic icons Ansel Adams and Edward Weston along with writer Henry Miller at their famed artist colony in Big Sur.

For readers who believe dreams are unattainable and that “ordinary” people can never chart out their own destinies or rub elbows with the high-and-mighty, Kurland’s The Courage of Ignorance reminds us that anything can be achieved and accomplished once you open the first door.