Sometimes things, once noticed, or facts, once learned, stick with us, forever. There were quite a few commas in that sentence, and I am not sure that they are in the correct places. Is the following revision better? Sometimes, things once noticed, or, facts once learned, stick with us forever. Let me prove this point about something once learned sticking with us. I learned, more than fifty years ago, to punctuate a certain nonsensical series of words so that they would make sense. Would you like to try it? Ok, here are the words: that that is is that that is not is not is that it it is. It is a bit of a challenge. Although those that saw what I did may well remember how to do it. For those who try without success I will reveal it in my next column.
The real point here is that when I was a freshman at Bethany College one of the College’s proud possessions was a set of dental instruments which belonged to Zane Grey. Probably not many people under 55 have any idea who Zane Grey was and why his dental instruments were important. Being born a few days before 1950, and a little before the advent of commercial television, I can still remember “Zane Grey Theater” a show on the CBS Network from 1956 to 1961. Zane Grey, was a popular writer, who passed away in 1939. His most popular works were novels set in “the West” of the late 19th century. The l950s and 1960s were a period when western dramas ruled the evening television programming. And Zane Grey as a prolific writer supplied many themes for the genre.
He did have a local tie. He was born as Pearl Zane Grey in Zanesville, Ohio, in 1872 to Lewis M. Gray, a local dentist and Allie Josephine Zane, a descendant of Ebenezer Zane, an individual and member of a family, prominent in the founding of Wheeling. Grey’s first three novels dealt with the Zane family heritage. These were “Betty Zane”, “The Spirit of the Border”, and “The Last Trail”, published between 1903 and 1909. Thus his commercial writing career began in his early 30’s. What he did before that was pretty interesting too.
Although his father’s last name was Gray, some sources say that the family started using “Grey” shortly after “Pearl Zane” was born. (Other sources say that Zane changed the spelling when an adult to separate himself from his father.) The young man also dropped the Pearl and just went by “Zane Grey.” Due to financial distress the family moved from Zanesville to Columbus when Zane was a teenager. His father taught him to perform simple extractions and as a teen he began making house calls to dental patients for that purpose, while his father re-established his practice in Columbus. Eventually, the State Board of Dentistry stopped Zane’s house calls and he took other jobs. One of these was as semi-pro baseball player which got him noticed to the point of receiving College Scholarships, this enabled him to attend the University of Pennsylvania. He was a star pitcher for Penn and studied dentistry there, graduating in 1896 at the age of 24. His main interests were baseball and writing, but he decided that dentistry was a practical choice to earn a living. However, he continued in baseball for three minor league seasons, while practicing dentistry in the New York City area. His younger brother, Romer, known as Reddy owing to his hair color, played nine minor league seasons, and did appear in one game for the Pittsburgh Pirates in his last season (1903) getting one hit in three at-bats.
While trying to earn a living as a dentist/baseball player, Zane continued to write, and at age 31 saw his first success. In 1905 he married Lina Roth of Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania, a township on the Pennsylvania-New York border where the Lackawaxen and Delaware Rivers meet, and where Zane and his brothers went to enjoy fishing, a sport about which they were as serious as they were about baseball. Zane and Lina made their home there until 1918. Today it is the principal Zane Grey museum. It was because of his great literary success that he abandoned dentistry, (but not fishing) and moved with Lina and their three children to Altadena, California to write movie scripts. But prior to that, around 1907, he met conservationist Charles Jesse “Buffalo” Jones and made his first western trip with him, where he saw the Grand Canyon and experienced western hunting. This led to his writing “The Last of The Plainsmen” in 1908, but the trip is the more remarkable because of the vistas it opened up to him and which formed the basis of much of his writing. 1910 saw the publication of his first western novel “Heritage of the Desert” But it was 1912 the saw the publication of “Riders of the Purple Sage” his most noted work, which many of his readers would cite as their favorite of his works. In all he wrote about 60 western novels, along with other books and articles on fishing. He had a number of homes in the US as well as fishing camps here and abroad. As Hollywood found his works to be a ripe source for its needs, he expanded beyond screen writing to form his own film company which he later sold to the predecessor to Paramount. His works have been made into more than 100 movies. The “Riders of the Purple Sage” was made in to a film twice.
At about age twelve or thirteen I became a Zane Grey fan, when my Dad handed me some of the books of his youth. Among these were “The U.P. Trail” and “Nevada.” I soon read every Zane Grey book that I could find. They all had the formula of an erstwhile hard-working rancher, or prospector or engineer, etc. All were smitten with a fair maiden, who was being courted by a rogue, who secretly led a band of rustlers or robbers. It seemed that each tale contained a gunman, who was at a crossroads in life and in the end did the “right thing.” My favorite was the aforementioned “Nevada” where gunman Jim Lacey, was trying to find a peaceful life using the pseudonym “Nevada.” As always, trouble finds the hero and despite difficulty he prevails, and gets the girl. I think that for adolescent boys of the 1920’s through the early 1960’s Zane Grey western novels were among the most popular reading material. AND ONCE READ, THOSE NOVELS AND THE TIMES THAT I SPENT READING THEM, HAVE STUCK WITH ME FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE.
Oh by the way, it would not be appropriate to leave this topic without mentioning fishing. Zane Grey travelled the world to fish. His income from writing enabled him to do so. In his lifetime he held several world records for fishing. Most notably he was the first person to ever catch and land a fish weighing more than 1,000 pounds, using a rod and reel, a 1040 pound Blue Marlin in Tahiti in 1930. His last recognized world record catch, a 600 plus pound Silver Marlin was not eclipsed until almost 15 years after his death.
With the famous writer’s death in 1939, and the death of Lina in 1957, their ashes were mixed at a cemetery near their home in Lackawaxen.