Zane Grey

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Zane Grey (1872-1939). Known as the father of the Western novel, his prolific career included 64 books and several magazine articles. 130 films are credited from his books.


Wild Arizona, Devil’s Bridge, Sedona

Check out the Zane Grey’s West Society for fascinating articles and facts about him. In his stories, Grey described the grandeur of the South West that evoked a desire to visit and a need to protect the vanishing frontier. His heroes were flawed and troubled. He honored the Native American instead of portraying him as a savage. His women were virtuous, strong, and spellbinding. The violence and action of the gun fight were secondary to the enchanted topography Grey conveyed with love. His popular novels contributed to the collective consciousness of the myth of the West well into the 20th century. Silent films capitalized on Grey’s novels. Of the 130 films adapted from Grey’s books; a third of the filming locations occurred in Arizona.

Mexican Hat, Utah 

The Western genre in film originates with Zane Grey. His influence spilled into radio shows and television. His film adaptations provided the impetus for many careers including: Shirley Temple, John Wayne, Tom Mix, Randolph Scott, and Alan Ladd. Probably the most famous novel by Zane Grey is Riders of the Purple Sage. Do you have a favorite? 

I have been scanning silent films trying to find the perfect late 1920s film to thread the theme of the cinema in “Inside the Gold-Plated Pistol”. I’ve decided on the 1925 William K. Howard lost film, The Thundering Herd. 

Gary Cooper
Gary Cooper

Besides Jack Holt, Lois Wilson, Noah Beery, Sr., and Raymond Hatton,  it’s Gary Cooper’s first appearance in film. The Thundering Herd is about a trader who uncovers a scheme to blame the Indians for a Buffalo massacre. Director William Howard remakes the film again in 1933 and stars Randolph Scott.

Zane Grey’s influence abounds in far-reaching ways. While synonymous with the arid, desert landscape, his passion is for deep-sea fishing. He owned patents on fishing lures and held eleven world records in deep-sea fishing. His letters to friend Ernest Hemingway links Grey’s attempts to conquer the Marlin to Hemingway’s inspiration for The Old Man and the Sea.  Zane Grey is alive today when citizens attend schools, subdivisions, and roads named after him.

I watched an old episode of M*A*S*H the other afternoon and Colonel Potter was eagerly trying to finish his latest Zane Grey novel about a noble cowboy and his relationships with nature, Indians, and a saucy female protagonist.  Zane Grey loved the Mogollon Rim by Payson, Arizona. I’ve camped there and I understand its appeal. I’m looking forward to a weekend getaway to the Eastern section of the Rim in a couple weeks. I can’t think of a better site to work on the novel.

Mogollon Rim (Muggy-on)
Mogollon Rim (Muggy-on)


43 thoughts on “Zane Grey

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          1. Mine was busy, went to Mpls comic-con for a day & took some fun cosplay pics. Finally we have some warm weather here in MN!

  1. You are lucky to live in such majestic surroundings. It’s easy to see how inspiration can be gained from such places.
    I’m not a huge fan of the Western genre, in books or films, but I agree that Zane’s influence and prestige are undeniable.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. I feel exactly the same way about the genre. I am learning to appreciate it. I enjoy all the actors, male and female, past and present, who invariably make a Western.

        1. If I ever get back up there, I need to get off the main road and dissect it. So far, the White Mts in AZ is the best. The valleys and glades remind me of the Alps.

  2. Zane’s works fueled Western film for decades. Now the great Western writers and authors seemed to have fallen into the background. Re-awaiting discovery.  There are occasional attempts by Western buffs to make a Western, but despite high intentions most fall in production qualities, casting …  It’s not easy to make a good movie. Of any kind.  This is what puzzles me about many recent Western films (Revenant not included). There is still a treasure trove of Western literature that has never been put to film, yet we still see uninspired and cliche ridden retreads (Magnificent 7 not included).  I guess – since the Studio era seems gone – it now falls to individual directors and film makers to do anything. ?? I’m not calling the current day “The Golden Age of Film” – though there’s always been plenty of pulp even when Westerns were high on the menu. There is one last Saving Grace as far as Westerns are concerned: most every damn actor and Director wants to be in – or make – a Western at some point. Hopefully a good one.

    1. Thank you, JC, for your thought-provoking comment. Most every contemporary Western is a reboot from a classic. I don’t know why it’s hard to make a good current Western, but you are correct that actors/directors want to make a good one!

  3. My mother LOVED Zane! I’ve avoided reading him–not sure why. I think it’s a shame that all westerns get lumped together as a cheesy genre when there are great and good stories out there. I may be biased since part of my novel takes place in the 1870’s West, but I’m thinking of Wallace Stegner’s books–especially Angle of Repose–one of the best books about marriage EVER. This is the one of the two books I’m glad I never read before writing my book because I never would have written at all. The other is Middlemarch.

    I loved the new True Grit, too–like watching Anne of Green Gables goes west!. I may have to watch Gary Cooper–just because.

    1. Hi Adrienne. I have little exposure with Zane Grey novels, and I have no reason why that’s so. He’s a new discovery for me. I read a Master’s thesis about him from a student in Canada and never realized what an important 19th/20th century American writer he is. I was too busy reading Dreiser, London, and Crane. BTW, I love Middlemarch and very much enjoyed the Coen Brothers’ True Grit.

  4. Again, beautiful pictures, Cindy. I’d like to see that ‘lost’ silent, THE THUNDERING HERD. What a cast!
    Zane Grey! My Dad’s favorite. I developed my passion for reading on his collection. I think I have almost all Grey’s books in my Nook. NEVADA might be my favorite because it was my first read. RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE is more complex than an ordinary western story, and the sequel, THE RAINBOW TRAIL should be read right after the finish of RIDERS. In a similar vein, the first Sherlock Holmes novel, A STUDY IN SCARLET, published about 30 years earlier, also explores early Mormonism and the Danites.
    While technically not a Western, Grey’s Frontier Trilogy is a good read. The three novels are based on Zane Grey’s ancestors, the Zanes, among the first settlers on the Ohio River. Betty Zane is a bona fide heroine of the American frontier.

    1. Thanks, Don. I appreciate your memories and response. I’ve been reading a biography regarding him–his family (Betty) were quite the troopers. Zane’s love for women was paramount to his writing. He had an entourage of secretaries following him about on his adventures. After I finish the bio I’m going to try a novel. Nevada would be good; I wouldn’t mind following the book up with the film starring Robert Mitchum.

      1. For years I believed Zane’s bio in the back of those books. When I found out that he wasn’t a meek dentist with a big imagination, I had to laugh. I guess his books would be a tad different if he wrote them with today’s freedom. Oh, shade of Grey.

  5. Now that’s a blast from the past. I can remember reading some of his paperbacks as a boy. Can’t remember the plots but all with a western flavour at the turn of the century as I recall. Watched many Westerns as a boy but probably didn’t realize his books would be the inspiration behind some of them. They are fading memories now. lol

  6. That photo of Mexican Hat just spectacular. I’m afraid I’m unfamiliar with his writings but his influence looms large. It’s funny how Zane Grey was to some children what Tom Clancy was to me.

      1. I hear you, who will be this generation’s J.K. Rowling. When I was at uni there was a guy named Matthew Reilly who served a similar purpose. His books weren’t taxing on the brain and were action packed. To be fair though Rowling was fantastic at world building, something that made her books special.

        1. Oh, I’d give up a lot of vices to be her! She influenced a decade. The young principal stars don’t seem to be doing much. I wonder if they will break out and find the success they had as children?

          1. Well Emma Watson was fantastic in this beautiful movie I saw a few years back, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. She’s done other stuff, she’ll be fine. Grint I’m worried about getting more high profile work and Radcliffe despite being a fantastic actor and good looking young man has lately been in these weird indie flicks that have failed to make an impact. Now Watson is taking a year off from showbiz. Nice work if you can get it eh? 🙂

          2. Oops, I forgot PBW for Emma. She has that fashion line, I thought. Yes, regarding Radcliffe. I sense he’s trying too hard. If he beefed up and got stoic, he could be the next James Bond.

  7. Zane Grey has become a representative symbol of all the dozens of prolific writers whose stories fueled the western film genre. But just as film noir came from the writings of many pulp writers,so was the western much more than the vision of one man. Some of those I found of equal or greater significance were Owen Wister The Virginian), Will c. Brown (Man of the West), Howard Rigsby (The Last Sunset), Jonas Ward (Buchanan Rides Alone) and of course Max Brand (Destry Rides Again, the Gunfighter, The Untamed) AB Guthrie Jr (the Big Sky, Shane, the Kentuckian) and Louis l’Amour (Hondo, Guns of the Timberlands, Apache Territory). then there are the legions of television writers and original screenplay writers who added so much to the genre.

    1. Naturally, but it starts somewhere. I’m not going to argue with you, but 130 films based on his books is a pretty significant impact. I appreciate the other names who helped shape the genre and appreciate your opinion.

      1. mye grey, they are actually talking about t zan point is that when some people talk about max brand or louis l’amour…they same way they talk bout philip marloe when they mean sam spade. . furthermore, of his 115 writing credits, i doubt whether many living persons has seen half a dozen of his features. his first 50 films were silent. the next 43 were made during the 1930’s, a decade that ptoduced over 200 western films. that leaves about 15 movies since 1940. many of them remakes.,,as well as many television dramas based on his stories, which are the tales most of us under 70 yars old remember. from his pen.

  8. I didn’t realize so many of those movies came from the same source. When I go through them again I’ll have to keep an eye out for his personalized themes. Thanks for the great info.

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