The Lady and the Panda
A hard-partying flapper in Jazz Age Manhattan, lowly dress designer Ruth McCombs fell in love with a wealthy socialite named Bill Harkness who shared her sense of wanderlust. But in 1936, after 10 years together, Bill died on an expedition to China to seek the almost mythic creature known as the giant panda — and the bulk of his estate fell to his stepmother. Ruth Harkness took her $20,000 inheritance and resumed her late husband’s mission, rejecting Western explorers to hire the nattily dressed young Chinese guide Quentin Young (with whom she had a torrid affair). On her debut trip into remote China, Harkness bested all rivals to become the first person to capture a live panda — a baby named Su-Lin that she managed to keep alive and transport to the U.S. While Vicki Constantine Croke’s workmanlike account, The Lady and the Panda, repeatedly stumbles with awkward construction and research gaps (e.g., we’re told Harkness intuited how to raise Su-Lin, but virtually nothing on what modern zoologists know about panda care), she has unearthed a remarkably cinematic, real-life adventure with a memorable heroine at its center.