Zane Grey (January 31, 1872 – October 23, 1939) was an American author best known for his popular adventure novels and stories that presented an idealized image of the Old West. Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) was his bestselling book. In addition to the success of his printed works, they later had second lives and continuing influence when adapted as films and TV productions. As of 2007, 110 films, one TV episode, and a series, Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater, had been made that were based loosely on his novels and short stories.
Pearl Zane Gray was born January 31, 1872, in Zanesville, Ohio. It has been suggested that his name derives from the "Pearl Grey" color favored by Queen Victoria in her dress. He was the fourth of five children born to Alice "Allie" Josephine Zane, whose English Quaker immigrant ancestor Robert Zane came to America in 1673, and her husband, Lewis M. Gray, a dentist. His family changed the spelling of their last name to "Grey" after his birth. Later Grey dropped Pearl and used Zane as his first name. He grew up in Zanesville, a city founded by his maternal ancestor Ebenezer Zane, a Revolutionary War patriot; from an early age, he was intrigued by history. Grey developed interests in fishing, baseball, and writing, all which contributed to his writing success. His first three novels recounted the heroism of his ancestors who fought in the American Revolutionary War.
As a child, Grey frequently engaged in violent brawls, despite (or because of) his father punishing him with severe beatings. Though irascible and antisocial like his father, Grey was supported by a loving mother and found a father substitute. Muddy Miser was an old man who approved of Grey's love of fishing and writing, and who talked about the advantages of an unconventional life. Despite warnings by Grey’s father to steer clear of Miser, the boy spent much time during five formative years in the company of the old man.
Grey was an avid reader of adventure stories (Robinson Crusoe and Leatherstocking Tales) and dime novels (featuring Buffalo Bill and "Deadwood Dick"). He was enthralled by and crudely copied the great illustrators Howard Pyle and Frederic Remington. He was particularly impressed with Our Western Border, a history of the Ohio frontier that likely inspired his earliest novels. Zane wrote his first story, Jim of the Cave, when he was fifteen. His father tore it to shreds and beat him. Both Zane and his brother Romer were active, athletic boys who were enthusiastic baseball players and fishermen.
Due to shame from a severe financial setback in 1889 caused by a poor investment, Lewis Grey moved his family from Zanesville and started again in Columbus, Ohio. While the older man struggled to re-establish his dental practice, Zane Grey made rural house calls and performed basic extractions, which his father had taught him. The younger Grey practiced until the state board intervened. His brother Romer earned money by driving a delivery wagon. Grey also worked as a part-time usher in a movie theater and played summer baseball for the Columbus Capitols, with aspirations of becoming a major leaguer. Eventually, Grey was spotted by a baseball scout and received offers from many colleges. Romer also attracted scouts' attention and went on to have a pro-baseball career.