Rare are authors like Jack London and Papa Hemingway, whose lives turned out to be as interesting as their books.
But Zane Grey is another one of them. Owen Wister “invented” the Western story as we know it with his novel The Virginian. But it was Grey who became the most popular writer in America by the 1920s, and one of the richest, thanks to a long run of formula Westerns such as his Riders of the Purple Sage. Critics hated his work, calling it “drivel,” but the American public, both Easterners trapped in ugly cities and smalltown Midwesterners who revered the past, ate up his novels and begged for more of the same. Pauly’s subtitle gives away the secret of this best-selling author—“His Life, His Adventures, His Women.” Grey’s wholesome rangeland romances raised no eyebrows in shock. But the author, a world-famous deep-sea fisherman, was also, secretly, a world-class womanizer. Not only was he as promiscuous as the proverbial alleycat, he chose his many mistresses from his long-suffering wife’s young friends and even relatives. Grey swore that he needed the excitement of girlfriends, as well as swordfish, to inspire his writing. His saintly, or naive, wife apparently believed him. There is as much on angling and love affairs in this biography as there is on writing and the West of a century ago. But this is the real, long-hidden story of the writer, warts and all. —Richard H. Dillon