Writer's Legend Lives On In Museum

Zane Grey's son comes to town for opening

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He is the son of Zane Grey, the writer who arguably made Arizona famous, or at least honed its image as the rootin'-tootin'est state west of the Mississippi.


And since Loren Grey's father lived in Payson long enough to be considered a local hero -- and set many of his shoot-'em-ups on and around the Mogollon Rim -- you might expect the junior Grey to get a little choked up when he comes back for a visit.


Especially since the reason for Grey's return to Payson earlier this week was the floor-to-ceiling renovation of the Zane Grey Museum on Main Street.


But just as Zane Grey's characters aren't the type to wax nostalgic at the drop of their 10-gallon Stetsons, neither is his 84-year-old boy.


For example, when asked if there is anything on display in the museum that has special meaning for him, he said:


"Oh, boy. I don't know. Not really. I'm not a great sentimentalist. The fishing stuff, I suppose, means more to me than the Western stuff, since he and I often fished together. But that reel (displayed in a glass case at the museum) isn't even one that he made. His were much bigger than that. One of those is in the Zane Grey Museum in Zanesville, Ohio."


This is not to say Loren Grey is not pleased with the new and improved museum here in Payson. He's just not an effusive kind of guy.


"Any museum that displays his work, of course, I enjoy because it helps promote the books and preserve his image, and this is a particularly nice one. I hope they are very successful with it."


As for his feelings for the town itself, well ...


"I don't have quite the sentiment that my father had for it, because I was too young to come with him on those early trips. But I have visited here many times.


"My father wrote about Arizona more than any other state in the country -- something like 30 all together. But, really, I don't come here too often.


Last days in Arizona

"The last time my father was here, he'd come to help supervise the shooting of a movie," Grey said. "He arrived three weeks before bear season opened, and he petitioned the local game officials for a permit to hunt bear. They turned him down. He took the issue all the way to the governor's office, and they all turned him down. So he sat down and wrote them a letter saying he was never coming back to Arizona -- and he never did."


Grey, who will turn 85 in December, looks a good 15 years younger than his age. Although he says he doesn't feel very young, he laughs when he talks about it.


"I feel pretty old sometimes, and inside things aren't so good. But everything runs pretty well. I'm not complaining."


Although nearly 20 years past retirement age, he has no plans to stop running the family business.

In part, that job entails traveling to Zane Grey conventions all over the country; writing forwards to new editions of his father's books; writing forwards for books about his father; and restoring Zane Grey novels which were badly edited upon their first publication.


Grey tells the story of two of his father's early books -- "The Last of the Duanes" and "The Lone Star Rangers" -- neither of which were admired by a single publisher back in 1913, primarily for their violence. In one, a whopping total of 19 bad guys were filled with hot lead.

"Pa was literally stunned by the rejections. He was already a successful writer. But finally, Harper's took the first third of 'Duanes' and the last two-thirds of 'Rangers,' and changed the name to 'Skip Buck Duane.'"


Astute readers of this hybrid noticed that main characters often disappeared, while others popped into the action with no introduction or explanation.


"It was a very poor book, just patched together. Yet it became a best seller and remained a best-seller for years and years. 'The Lone Ranger' radio program came out of that book."


Lost manuscript

In 1995, Grey was rummaging around in his father's boxes when he found an old manuscript.


"I found that it was the last two-thirds of 'The Last of the Duanes,' my father's original handwritten manuscript," he said. "So I had it typed up word for word, put the pieces together and published it three or four years ago."


Before the museum's overhaul, the books, artifacts, mementos, movie posters and personal Zane Grey belongings were crammed into a tiny 800-square-foot space.


Today, it's spread out into two adjacent storefronts to the tune of almost 3,000 square feet. And the inventory in both the museum and gift shop has been increased by an equal percentage.


The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday, but starting Saturday, May 27, the museum will be open Monday through Saturday. For information, call 474-6243.

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