A Homage From Zane Grey’s Son : Loren Grey, 70, Writes a Tribute to Father He Hated
Loren Grey hated his father, one of America’s most prolific Western writers and adventurers. He hated Zane Grey for his looks, for his charm and for his talent.
Unlike other resentful sons and daughters of the famous, however, he has attempted to flee his father’s shadow through an act of literary homage rather than vengeance in a recently released book of memoirs and photographs.
Catalogue of Adventures
The book, “Zane Grey: A Photographic Odyssey” (Taylor Publishing Co., $19.95), offers a catalogue of the macho writer’s life, a life in the writer-adventurer style that Ernest Hemingway--one of Zane Grey’s admirers--did the most to make famous.
On one page, the author of such Western classics as “The Last of the Plainsmen” and “Riders of the Purple Sage” shows off a bear gunned down in a northern Arizona pine hollow. On another, he reels in a blue marlin in the South Seas. The tough guy cracks a smile in just one of the pictures.
“He felt he looked best when he wasn’t smiling,” Grey said recently in the living room of his home in Woodland Hills. “He was so proud of his physical prowess, he fancied himself in the role of his characters. There was a vanity there.”
Loren ungrudgingly allows his father, in death, to project the hearty, larger-than-life image. In life, however, for Loren that image was much too big.
“He was rich and famous and had beautiful women, and I felt like I didn’t have anything,” said Grey, 70. “I hated him for it.”
Grey dissolved his anger in 17 years of psychoanalysis when he failed in his first method of retribution.
“I started out to be the greatest writer ever--better than Zane Grey,” he said, ending the thought with a dry laugh. “I found the only way to get out of that notion was to get my own profession.”
He became a professor, earning a Ph.D. in educational psychology at USC and eventually teaching at California State University, Northridge, for 23 years before retiring in 1985.
His brother wasn’t as fortunate, dying an alcoholic. “Romer never could handle it,” Grey said. “My sister did all right. Being a woman, she didn’t have to live up to it.”
Betty Zane Grosso, who lives on a ranch outside Santa Rosa, Calif., agreed that daughters of famous fathers are more fortunate.
“My brothers were always trying to become better than my father, but weren’t able to,” she said. “It’s very difficult being the son or daughter of a famous person. . . . But I got along just great with him and thought he was a wonderful father. Sometimes I don’t know what Loren is talking about. Maybe girls just get along better with their fathers.”
“I was critical of his writing when I was young,” said Grey, who was 23 when his father died. “That’s what happens to the children of famous people: They always feel inferior.”
Editing the stacks of photographs and matching them to his father’s writing resulted in a sort of epiphany for Grey. He quoted from his father’s writings along with his own memories.
“I could see him more in terms of what he did with his writing,” he said. “He couldn’t express himself as well in person, so I was able to see him better as he was: a writer.”
ZG, as Zane Grey is called throughout the book, led the kind of life that is easy to envy. Born in 1872 in Zanesville, Ohio, he attended the University of Pennsylvania on a baseball scholarship and started a dental practice in New York soon after graduation. He quit to become a a writer full-time about five years later.
In 1907, Zane Grey published his first book, “Betty Zane,” about his great-great-great grandaunt, and he wrote 62 novels and more than 250 short stories, and outdoors articles after that until his death in 1939. Today, there are reportedly 130 million copies of his books in print.
Zane Grey is also credited with being a pioneer in Hollywood. More than 100 motion pictures were made from his stories, the earliest of which helped to launch Paramount Studios. Later, there were 129 episodes in a successful TV series titled “Zane Grey Theater,” which included Charles Boyer, Anne Baxter and Ernest Borgnine among its Emmy-winning stars.
He was also a pioneering deep-sea fisherman, eventually holding 11 world records, some of which stood for decades. Much of the heavy tackle used today to catch 1,000-pound marlin and 300-pound yellow fin tuna is based on designs invented by Zane Grey in the 1930s for use off Santa Catalina Island and in the South Seas.
Yet Zane Grey’s adventuring and art smothered the family as it lived in Arizona, Avalon and, primarily, in the eastern Los Angeles County hillside community of Altadena.
“He wasn’t much of a father,” Grey said. “I know he loved me by what he wrote about me. But his two main passions were writing and fishing, and everything else was secondary.”
Loren Grey’s late mother suffered as much as the children. Sprinkled amid photographs in the book are pictures of remarkably beautiful young women described as secretaries.
“Their function was primarily secretarial,” Grey said, noting that his father arose at daybreak each day to write for a couple of hours with a pencil in neat script on stiff, legal-sized paper. “My father had some liaisons,” he said. “They were open and my mother knew about them. She never liked the situation, but she didn’t do anything about it. And the women were idealized as heroines in his books.
Didn’t Run From Women
“I like to say that they pursued him, and he didn’t run very fast. . . . You know, geniuses get away with murder.”
Now the president of lucrative Zane Grey Inc., Grey will spend the rest of his life facing up to all the nasty thoughts of his youth, glorifying his father through this book of photographs, a planned biography and a ghostwritten paperback series exploiting the Grey name and characters such as Lassiter. (In the latter, the name “Loren Zane Grey” appears as the author of Western books published by Pocket Books although they are not actually written by Loren.)
According to Grey, actors Ed Harris and Amy Madigan recently renewed their option on the film rights to the writer’s life.
It was a magnificent life, judging from the photographs. On one page of his son’s book, Zane Grey sits in 1912 on a rock beside Nasja Begay, the Piute Indian who guided the first white explorers--and, later, Grey himself--through some of the most remote parts of Arizona. On another page, he poses in Western gear with a camera on a set during Paramount’s filming of his novel “Wild Horse Mesa” in 1925. On a third, he shoots the Rogue River in Oregon in a canoe while pursuing steelhead trout. On many more pages in the book’s last chapter, he hauls in record-breaking broadbill and marlin off Tahiti.
According to Loren, Ernest Hemingway envied Grey’s abilities as a fisherman, while Grey envied Hemingway’s abilities as a writer. They never met, however. “They would’ve lasted about an hour together,” Loren said.
“Zane Grey was a teetotaler and not physically very aggressive. Hemingway drank and liked to fight. Both tried to prove their masculinity, but Zane Grey did it with fighting fish alone.”