When will Hollywood do the Zane Grey story?
A friend lent me a copy of the new bio of the western writer by Thomas Pauly, Zane Grey: His Life, His Adventures, His Women, link to www.press.uillinois.eduand it’s shocking. Grey was a tremendous libertine. While his wife Dolly made his career for him in New York by promoting his books against long resistance, he roamed the west and the Pacific surrounded by a harem of nubile women, some in their teens.
Pauly has unearthed journals and letters and photographs never seen before to reveal a literary melodrama. Dolly was hurt at first by her husband’s philandering, but seems in time to have accepted it to the point that between hooking 1000-pound marlins in Tahiti and record dolphins off Hawaii, Grey bitched about his “friends” in letters to the wife. “I’ve been having hell with the girls… I have just about reached the end of my rope with [Elma Schwarz]. And she has had a bad effect on D– [Dorothy Ackerman]. I might have to let D– go too. I refuse to be dictated to.”
As the photos show, these girls weren’t floozies. They were privileged beauties, ingenues who wore clingy flapper bathing costume and nymphet smiles as they burst into their sexuality under the influence of a famous satyr in a white suit and giant fishing reels, in the time before sexual harassment. Lillian Wilhelm was Grey’s wife’s cousin. When she gave him up—”There’s no real substance to that wild hysterical lovemaking—haven’t I learned it?” she wrote—he moved on to her younger sister Claire.
Grey saw himself as a great artist and looked on the young women as the fodder for a genius imagination. In that respect he was completely deluded. His work was overblown, absent real character. It made him a millionaire but left him with little satisfaction.
Grey’s image has too long been in the hands of the American mythmakers— the tall handsome storyteller who brought us the tinted west. (See the fansite: link to www.zanegreysws.org) But his best story was the sordidly complicated life he led. I can’t wait for some producer to get his hands on Pauly’s bio, someone who understands the tragic western character in it, Lolita crossed with Gauguin, crushed in the purple sage.