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||Zane Grey (1872-1939) - original name Pearl Grey|
Prolific American writer and pioneer of Western as a new literary genre. Zane Grey produced over sixty books during his career, but commercial success did not bring critical respect. Grey presented the West as a moral battle ground, in which his characters are redeemed through a final confrontation with their past, or destroyed because of their inability to change. Grey's semioutlaw heroes were his most interesting creations, among them Lassiter in Riders of the Purple Sage (1912), a gunman who has lost a girl he loved to a Mormon preacher, and Buck Duane, the agonized killer of The Lone Star Ranger (1915). Randolph Scott played a former outlaw in Fritz Lang's film Western Union (1941), based on the novel. Grey's stories, set against the beautiful but harsh landscape of the West, have fascinated readers all over the world.
"Slingerland hated the railroad, and he could not see as Neale did, or any of the engineers or builders. This old trapper had the vision of the Indian – that far-seeing eye cleared by distance and silence, and the force of the great, lonely hills. Progress was great, but nature unspoiled was greater. If a race could not breed all stronger men, through its great movements, it might better not breed any, for the bad over-multiplied the good, and so their needs magnified into greed. Slingerland saw many shiningbands of steel across the plains and mountains, many stations and hamlets and cities, a growing and marvelous prosperity from timber, mines, farms, and in the distant end – a gutted West." (from The U.P. Trail, 1918)
Zane Grey was born in Zanesville, Ohio. His father was a farmer and
preacher and finally a doctor, and mother Quaker, of Danish background;
she had also had Native American heritage. Grey's
great-great-grandfather was Colonel Ebenezer Zane, an exile from
Denmark, who established Fort Henry in 1769. Before going to collage,
Grey was a semi-professional baseball player. At sixteen, he was
arrested in a brothel.
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in dentistry in 1896, Grey practiced in New York City until 1904. His office was on Thirty-first Street. During these years, he started to write, in a tiny kitchen under a gas lamp. Grey's first book, Betty Zane, was turned down by several publishers. The colorful frontier story, based on his ancestor's journal, was privately printed in 1904. Although the book gained a critical success, it sold poorly. Determined to be a writer, Grey quit dentistry, and continued his family story in Spirit of the Border (1905).
In 1908, Grey made a journey to the West with Colonel C.J. ('Buffalo') Jones, who told him tales of adventure on the plains, of roping wild animals and chasing mountain lions. The trip was a turning point in Grey's career. He had lived with Texas Rangers and wild-horse hunters and began then writing Western novels in the tradition of Owen Wister. The first was The Last of the Plainsmen (1908). Ripley Hitchcock, editor for Harper's, rejected it by saying, "I don't see anything in this to convince me that you can write either narrative or fiction."
However, Grey was encouraged by his wife, Lina Elise Roth of New
York; they married in 1905 and lived for a period in a cottage at
Lackawaxen, PA. On their honeymoon they went to the Grand Canyon,
where Grey returned later for hunting trips. "Dolly," as Grey called
her, supported his aspirations to become a
professional writer. After Grey had spent all of his own money, the
lived on her savings.
In November 1909, Grey began to write a new book, Heritage of the Desert, finishing it in January 1910. Charles Agnew MacLean, the editor of The Popular Magazine,
took a chance and serialized the Western romance (June 15-August 15,
1910). Then it was bought by Harper & Brothers and gained
commercial success. Despite negative reviews, Grey's next novel, Riders of the Purple Sage, was a bestseller – it
sold two million copies, was filmed three times, and became the
author's best-known western. MacLean had rejected the serial rights,
saying that "the interest is centered too much in the women."
The central character is an enterprising woman, Jane Witherspoon, a rich Mormon. "Trouble between the Mormons and the Gentiles of the community would make her unhappy. She was Mormon-born, and she was a friend of to poor and unfortunate Gentiles. She wished only to go on doing good and being happy. And she thought of what that great ranch meant to her. She loved it all – the grove of cottonwoods, the old stone house, the amber-tinted water, and the droves of shaggy, dusty horses and mustangs, the sleek, clean-limbed, blooded racers, and the browsing herds of cattle and the lean, sun-browned riders of the sage." Jane is too independent and she is not tolerated by the Elders of her Church, who are portrayed as villainous, patriarchal gangster. She finds protection for her ranch and herself from an mysterious hero, Lassiter, who comes riding out of the sage. Lassiter hates Mormons for his own reasons. This formula, in which a tormented outlaw fights to protect the good and finds love, Grey used in many novels.
JUDKINS: My name is Judkins. I don't know you, but I know... I've heard what you are... I heard you killed some men in the North.
Much of Grey's knowledge of the West was based on research or trips
in the regions he wrote about. He also interviewed authentic residents
of the Wild West. In 1918 Grey moved to California, and lived there for
the rest of his life. He built a large, Spanish-style house in
Altadena, and continued to produce the usual 100 000 words – in
longhand – each month, and never revised his manuscripts after the
first draft. Grey disliked cities, opposed drinking and smoking, and
criticized modern development. As a husband, he was repeatedly
unfaithful, but his wife remained steadfastly loyal to him.
Grey's non-fiction includes several tales of
fishing. In Tales of Swordfish and Tuna
(1927) Grey tells that he had exceptionally good luck in locating
schools of large tuna.
While not writing, Grey fished
in the South Seas, or hunted along the Rogue River in Oregon, or spent
time on Catalina Island. According to some sources, he fished up to 300
days of the year. Women regularly accompanied him on his trips. There
are photograps taken by Grey of nude women and himself performing
various sexual activities (Zane Grey: His Life, His Adventures, His Women by Thomas H. Pauly, 2005, pp. 10-11). Grey died of a sudden heart attack on October 23, 1939, at his home in Altadena. The New York Times
included in his obituary a negative appraisal: "His art is archaic,
with all the traits of archaic art. It lacks fluence of facility;
behind it always we feel a pressure toward expression, a striving for a
freer and easier utterance." After second thoughts, the newspaper
published a special editorial in defence of Grey.
It is generally agreed, that next to Grey, Max Brand was the writer
mostly responsible in shaping the myths of the Old West. However,
Brand wrote for the pulps. Of Grey's seventy-eight novels, Harper's
published forty. In 1924 the two Harper bestsellers were Mark Twain's
autobiography and Grey's The Call of the Canyon. Several of Grey's novels appeared
posthumously, among others The Reef Girl
in 1977. These posthumous works caused E.B. White to comment in 1964:
"I saw Zane Grey on the street the other day. He looked awful."
Grey's favorite subjects
were settlers, cowboys, desperadoes, Indians, cattle drives, the advance of technology,
family feuds, feuds between cattlemen and sheepherders, the bison hunting (The Thundering Herd),
the defeat of the American Indian – all the aspects of West that
later generations of writers and filmmakers have utilized. Violence is
an essential part of the basic pattern of a Western; shooting is a kind
of language of its own. His style has been called antiquated, but it
had much emotional power: "Memory stirred to the sight of the familiar
corner. He had been in several bad gun fights in this town, and the
scene of one of them lay before him. The warmth and intimacy of old
pleasant associations suffered a chill." (from Sunset Pass, 1931) The U.P. Trail
(1918) has been criticized for its melodramatic plot but acknowledged
for its reliable historical description about the building of the
The Vanishing American (1925) recycled the idea of the noble savage familiar from The Last of the Mohicans
or from the works of Jean Jacques Rousseau. The social commentary on
the treatment of American Indians on the reservation included also a
love theme between the red man and white woman. George B. Seitz's
silent classic from 1925, based on the book and shot in Monument
Valley, is in early example of movies that dramatized the progression
of American Indian life, and their hopeless situation in a way that no
film previously had attempted. "Promises from the white establishment
reek hypocrisy: "We will help you live as white men live. We will teach
you to farm, to turn the desert into green fields." Yet the start of
the twentieth century finds the Indians living meagerly on inadequate
reservations." (from Great Hollywood Westerns by Ted Sennett, 1990) Richard Dix played Nophaie, the Navajo leader, who dies in a fight against a corrupt government agent Booker (Noah Beery).
In such short stories as 'The Great Slave,' 'Yaqui, and 'Tigre' Grey showed his knowledge of Indian tribes and their history and the peon system of Mexican plantations. In 'Tappan's Burro,' about a wandering gold prospector and his faithful burro, Grey masterfully described the beauty of desert plains, barren mountain country, and forest land.
"Madge's sombre eyes gazed out over the great void. But, full of thought and passion as they were, they did not see the beauty of that scene. But Tappan saw it. And in some strange sense the colour and wilderness and sublimity seemed the expression of a new state in his heart. Under him sheered down the ragged and cracked cliffs of the Rim, yellow and gold and grey, full of caves and crevices, ledges for eagles and niches for lions, a thousand feet down to the upward edge of the long green slopes and canyons, and so on down and down into the abyss of forested ravine and ridge, rolling league on league away to the encompassing barrier of purple mountain ranges." (from 'Tappan's Burro')
From the beginning, Paramount used Grey's name as a draw. Wanderer of the Wasteland (1924), a silent film directed by Irvin Willat, was the first screen western shot entirely in color. In the 1930s lowbudget Zane Grey movies were highly popular and profitable for Paramount. The Thundering Herd (1933), which dealt with buffalo hunters and marauding Indians, is considered one of the best Zane Grey quickies. Footage from William K. Howard's film from 1925 was used in the scene of the stampede of wagons across a frozen lake. According to one estimation, about 100 Western films have been based on Grey's stories. Grey also wrote two screenplays, The Vanishing Pioneer and Rangle River.
In the early phase of his career as a director, Henry Hathaway leant on Grey and the actor Randolph Scott, but by 1935 both Hathaway and Scott were on their way to bigger productions. Heritage of the Desert (1932) was Scott's first starring role. In Wild Horse Mesa (1932), a tale of wild horse taming, Scott stopped Fred Kohler who trapped wild stallions with barbed wire. Under the Tonto Rim (1933) depicted a slow-witted cowboy who wins his manhood and the boss's daughter. In the romantic Western Man of the Forest (1933), Scott's pet lion helps him to escape from jail. To the Last Man (1933), in which Shirley Temple made her debut, was a story of a family feud healed by young love. There is also a 'tastefully photographed' nude swimming sequence. The Last Round-Up (1934), starring Randolph Scott, was based on Zane Gray's novel The Border Legion, a story about a gang of rustlers and their boss who sacrifices his life for two young lovers. Stock footage from the silent version and Border Legion (1930) were used in the movie. Fritz Lang's Western Union (1941) was beautifully photographed by Edward Cronjager.
For further reading: Zane Grey: A Biography by Frank Gruber (1969); Zane Grey by C. Jackson (1973); Zane Grey by A. Ronald (1975); Zane Grey by Carol Gay (1979); Zane Grey's Arizona by Candace C. Kant (1984); Zane Grey: A Photographic Odyssey by L. Grey (1985); Zane Grey, A Documented Portrait by G.M. Farley (1985); Selling the Wild West by Christine Bold (1987); West of Everything by Jane Tompkins (1992); Zane Grey: His Life, His Adventures, His Women by Thomas H. Pauly (2005); Rainbow Bridge to Monument Valley: Making the Modern old West by Thomas J. Harvey (2011); Zane Grey's Wild West: a Study of 31 Novels by Victor Carl Friesen (2014) - Other films (not listed below) based of Zane Grey's stories: Arizona Mahoney, 1936 (based on 'Stairs of Sand'); The Dude Ranger, 1934; The Yukon Patrol, 1942, dir. by William Withey (based on King of the Royal Mounted) - Trivia: Colonel Potter of the television series M*A*S*H frequently noted that his favorite writer was Zane Grey. Other classic western writers: Louis L´Amour, Owen Wister, Frederick Marryat