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Biography of Zane Grey
by Marian Kester Coombs
Zane Grey, the greatest storyteller of the American West, was born
in Zanesville, Ohio, on January 31, 1872. His Zane ancestors had
been vigorous, illustrious pioneers in America's "First West", the
historic Ohio Valley, and his boyhood thrill at their adventures
would eventually motivate Grey to novelize both his family's own
story and the stories of many another pioneer homesteader, farm
wife, rancher, cowhand, naive Eastern belle, camp follower, miner,
Indian youth, trail driver, railroad man, desperado, buffalo hunter,
soldier, gambler, wanderer and poor wayfaring stranger, as the great
migration Westward coursed in waves across the continent.
In his youth Zane Grey was a semiprofessional baseball player and a half-hearted dentist, having studied dentistry to appease his father while on a baseball scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. But he wanted above all to write, and taught himself to write with much stern discipline so as to free his innate and immense storytelling capacity. Many a lean year came and went as he waited for a publisher to finally recognize a best-seller when it saw one. For Zane Grey became the best-selling Western author of all time, and for most of the teens, 20s, and 30s, had a least one novel in the top ten every year.
His marriage in 1905 to Lina Roth, whom he called Dolly, was a triumph of the old-fashioned "complementary" model of matrimony, wherein the husband ranges freely to sustain the inspiration for his calling, in this case the writing of adventure-romances, and the wife tends the family, edits the manuscripts, and makes deals with the publishers. It is fair to say that Dolly's belief in Zane's calling was the single factor most responsible for the success of his lengthy career. Their first home was a farm house on 3 acres that Zane Grey bought before they were married, but the couple soon moved to a home on land her family owned on the Delaware River in Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania.
Zane and Dolly had three children: Romer, Betty, and Loren. Romer and Betty were born in New York City while Loren was born in Middleton, NY.
The breakthrough success of Heritage of the Desert in 1910
enabled Zane Grey to establish a home in Altadena, California, and
a hunting lodge on the Mogollon Rim near Payson, Arizona; and the
family of five moved West for good. A lifelong passion for angling
and the rich rewards of his writing also allowed Grey to roam the
world's premier game-fishing grounds in his own schooner and reel
in several deep-sea angling records which stood for decades. A prodigiously
prolific writer, Grey would spend several months each year gathering
experiences and adventures, whether on "safari" in the wilds of
Colorado or fishing off Tahiti, and then spend the rest of the year
weaving them all into tales for serialization, magazine articles,
or the annual novel.
Zane Grey wrote to live and lived to write -- surely a balance rarely attained -- until his untimely death of heart failure on October 23, 1939. When all the posthumous works were finally published, many years later, he left us almost 90 books in print, of which about 60 are Westerns, 9 concern fishing, and 3 trace the fate of the Ohio Zanes, the rest being short story collections, a biography of the young George Washington, juvenile fiction and baseball stories. Readers of Zane Grey today will feel cast over them the same spell of adventure, character, natural beauty and uniquely American idealism as did his readers half a century ago.
ZGWS member Marian Kester Coombs lives in Maryland, with her husband Fran, who is Managing Editor of The Washington Times, and her two daughters. Marian is a substitute teacher and freelance writer.
For more detailed information, please see the following references:
Zane Grey: A Documented Portrait. G.M. Farley. Portals.
Zane Grey First Editions. 1986. Lloyd Rogers. Portals Press.
An Annotated Zane Grey Checklist. G.M. Farley. Amereon
The Many Faces of Zane Grey. G.M. Farley. Silver Spruce
Zane Grey: Romancing the West. Stephen J. May. Ohio University
Maverick Heart. The Further Adventures of Zane Grey. Stephen
Ohio University Press.
Zane Grey's Arizona. Candace C. Kant. Northland Press.
Zane Grey: A Photographic Odyssey. Loren Grey. Taylor Publishing.
Ace of Hearts: The Westerns of Zane Grey. Arthur G. Kimball.
Zane Grey: Man of the West. Jean Karr. Grossett & Dunlap.
Zane Grey: The Man and His Work. Autobiography. Harpers
Zane Grey. Carleton Jackson. Twayne Publishers.
Biography of Zane Grey
ZG fishing photo used with permission of Carolyn Timmerman, ZGWS
All other images of Zane Grey used with permission of Dr. Loren Grey and Zane Grey, Inc.