Zane Grey: King of the Cowboy Booksby Scott Laming
Does anyone read Zane Grey these days? You should do. Grey helped establish the cultural phenomenon of the Western with his prolific output of cowboy novels. Grey, who gave up a career in dentistry to write full time, was one of the first superstar novelists who earned big-time pay checks from writing. He also wrote children’s literature and books about his other passions – hunting, fishing and baseball.
In fact, Grey (1872-1939) wrote so many books that his publisher, Harper, was able to posthumously publish the equivalent of a novel a year until 1963 before having to slow the output. The last Zane Grey title to be published was Tales of the Gladiator in 2008.
Grey, who was useful on the diamond, won a baseball scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania where he studied dentistry – his father’s profession. After graduation, he started a dental practice in New York but his writing was also developing. His wife, Dolly, played a key role in his writing career – editing his work and managing his business affairs.
Grey published his first story in Recreation magazine (1902) and then wrote his first book, a semi-biographical novel about the life of his ancestor and Revolutionary War heroine Betty Zane, which he self-published in 1903. To jumpstart his creativity Grey began arranging adventure trips around the western US, taking photos and endlessly documenting what he learned about its landscapes, people, and ways.
After Grey became dejected by several rejections, at last The Heritage of the Desert was published by Harper. Riders of the Purple Sage came out in 1912 and sold in huge numbers, and Grey never looked back. He produced an impressive three books a year but still managed to indulge his passions of hunting, fishing and playing baseball with his friends.
The critics never liked his work - too full of larger-than-life characters, too violent and too unrealistic. Grey did not care – he was too busy selling the movie rights to his books to Hollywood producers or having a good time. After all, he could have been pulling teeth for a living. Frank Gruber’s Zane Grey: A Biography is just one of many books dedicated to the life of Zane Grey.