Earlier this month we featured an early 20th century dentist who fantasized about being a full-time writer.
What dental blogger can’t relate to that?!
A Passion for Writing
Pearl Grey was so passionate about his writing that after graduating from dental school at the University of Pennsylvania, he located his fledgling dental practice in New York City so he could be close to the city’s numerous publishing houses.
In Part 1 of this series, we also wrote that Grey’s dreams of a successful writing career received an immeasurable boost during his five-year courtship and 34-year marriage to Lina “Dolly” Roth.
In 1905 Dolly put her money where her heart was after receiving a family inheritance by allowing her husband to quit his dental practice to concentrate full-time on writing. Pearl’s early literary efforts proved mostly futile; even his self-published novels failed to generate much attention.
“I don’t know which way to turn,” Pearl told Dolly after another publisher’s rejection. “I cannot decide what to write next. That which I desire to write does not seem to be what the editors want...I am full of stories of zeal and fire...yet I am inhibited by doubt, by fear that my feeling for life is false.”
With the help of Dolly’s editing and creative suggestions, as well as continuing to hone his craft, Pearl’s writing improved with each effort.
In 1910 his novel Heritage of the Desert proved to be his “breakout” book. A native Buckeye before moving to New York to pursue dentistry, Pearl was drawn to the American West, the characters that lived there and the austere landscape.
“Surely, of all the gifts that have come to me from contact with the West, this one of sheer love of wildness, beauty, color, grandeur, has been the greatest, the most significant for my work,” he wrote.
When out west Pearl took copious notes of the landscape and dialogue of the people who lived there, further documenting his research with photos he took himself. Some were photos of him doing adventurous things. These action shots he called ‘selfies.’
A century later, Pearl’s descriptions of the Old West still resonate today with their vivid descriptions and details of western landscapes and its rugged environs.
Grey’s best-known work, Riders of the Purple Sage, was published in 1912. One hundred and seven years later, Riders of the Purple Sage remains one of the most successful Western novels of all time.
William Fox, who founded the Fox Film Corporation in 1915, paid $2,500 for the rights to bring the book to the silver screen in 1916.
That was the first of scores of movies based on Pearl’s books. Fortunately, Grey’s writing success happened at the perfect time as the motion picture industry was just blossoming.
After the publication of Riders of the Purple Sage
, Dolly’s “investment” in her husband paid handsomely. As mentioned in the previous blog post, Dolly handled the business end of her husband’s writing career, including contracts with agents, publishers, royalty agreements and rights to film adaptation of his work.
His Hard Work Paid Off
After years of toil and writing hundreds of thousands of words, Pearl Grey had come into his own and achieved the literary success he had craved. In 1918 the Grey’s moved to California where Pearl could indulge his love of the West and another passion: fishing.
A regular contributor to Outdoor Life magazine from 1918 until the Great Depression, Pearl Grey was one of the nation’s first celebrity writers in the 20th century and helped popularize big-game fishing.
Eight of his 90-plus books centered around fishing. Pearl’s son Loren noted years later that his father fished an average of 300 days a year throughout his adult life.
If anyone should know Pearl Grey’s habits and routine it was Dolly and their three children: Romer (nicknamed RC for Pearl’s brother), Betty and Loren. Pearl spent months away from his family each year experiencing places he’d write about and people he’d characterize in his novels.
A prolific writer, Pearl wrote in spurts of inspiration. He’d spend weeks traveling, seeking adventure and talking to people, taking notes and recording observations, then in bursts of inspiration write as many as 100,000 words in a single month.
Meanwhile, Dolly managed her husband’s career, splitting his growing income 50/50 while raising their three children.
In addition to the 60 Westerns he wrote and the eight books about fishing, Pearl Grey also wrote six children’s books, three baseball books, a trilogy based on his ancestors, and two hunting books. Today nearly 50 of his books have been converted into more than 100 Western movies.
Two of his literary characters were also immortalized in radio serials and later television: The Lone Ranger was spawned from The Lone Star Ranger, and Sgt. Preston of the Yukon originated from Grey’s Challenge of the Yukon.
Pearl Zane Grey, more commonly known as Zane Grey, died of heart failure in 1939 at the age of 67.
From 1917 to 1926 he made the top ten best-seller list nine times and he left behind enough manuscripts that his publisher released one new title each year until 1963 – 24 years after his death.
If your dentist expresses an interest in writing during your next visit, tell them it’s an occupational hazard and share with them the story of Zane Grey, DDS.
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Sources: Wikipedia, zgws.org, ffish.com
Photo sources: Ohio Historical Society, Pinterest (Zaney Meyer Collection), Barnes & Noble,
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