BLOG #26, SERIES #8
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
MY 96TH BOOK
ZANE GREY MASTER CHARACTER INDEX
June 28, 2017
My first book on Zane Grey, the Vanderbilt doctoral dissertation, was published way back in 1975. At that time, I mistakenly assumed that was it: I could then go on to other things. Yes and no: I did go on to other things, but Zane Grey has never left me. Several years ago, something I’d long since assumed would never happen—DID.
It’s beautiful! The only time in Grey’s lifetime when one of his books (Canyon Walls) was positioned side by side with one of the greatest painters of the age, Maxfield Parrish. At the 35th Zane Grey’s West Society convention in Kanab, Utah (June 19-22, 2017) this book was seen and bought for the very first time. But we kept copies for you. It is perhaps my rarest book: the First Edition is limited to only 350 copies.
In order for you to fully understand how it happened, I am sharing the book’s introduction with you. Here it is:
BURIED FOR 42 YEARS
Joseph Leininger Wheeler
As I look back through those pivotal years of 1971-1975, I stall out when I reach that life-changing moment when I first realized I was now the foremost authority on the life, times, and works of the man who, more than any other, was responsible for creating the Myth of the West: That once upon a time there existed a Camelot in America’s West.
Usually, in this all-too-short period we call “life,” we barrel through epiphanies, not recognizing life-changing days at the time—only years later, looking back through the halls of time, we say to ourselves, My goodness! If that day had never been—how different my life would have been!”
But, for some reason, a Higher Power stopped me in my tracks on that never-to-be-forgotten day. Stopped me with this seismic thought: After years of criss-crossing the nation, journeying from library to library, museum to museum, authority to authority, I am now the world’s foremost authority on Zane Grey.
This was followed by an unsettling conclusion: You know, I could quit right now: I already have researched and written far more than I need in order to earn the doctorate. In fact, my major professor, departmental chair, and doctoral advisor, Dr. Warren Titus had already told me, “Joe, you are overwhelming us; no one is going to question your right to the doctorate, but you’ve already written 1,200 pages—please, in mercy, cut your manuscript down to a humane level.”
This was perhaps the ultimate Robert Frostian moment of decision in my lifetime. For in Frost’s iconic poem, “The Road Not Taken, are these lines:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both.”
The big question that day was, “Why should I continue disrupting my family’s life? Why not call it quits right now? After all, most doctoral students quit once they’ve mastered and proved their thesis statements.
But another voice spoke out that day: That may very well be, but you have to realize that, as far as Zane and Dolly Grey are concerned, you’ve only just begun. There yet remains so much about Grey that you haven’t even touched yet.
And at that very moment, I recognized I was myself in the midst of an epiphany, and these lines came back to me from memory;
“Yet knowing how way leads on to way.
I doubted if I should ever come back.”
Ah that was the rub! My employer, Southwestern Adventist University, had promised to see me through to my doctorate; was paying for all my travels, for all my book-buying, for turning our large bedroom into an office, with a full-time secretary to help me in my journey from original and secondary sources to a persuasive, informative, and perhaps even eloquent doctoral dissertation. With that belief in me, why should I quit when I’d just begun?
So, recognizing that I would always regret taking the easy way out, I deliberately decided to follow the more daunting of the two diverging roads—and not quit until I reached the point where I felt I now knew all there was to know about Grey before I laid down my pen.
That, of course, was a naive conclusion: I now know that not even in a hundred years could I possibly know all there is to know about Zane and Dolly Grey.
But I did cut my dissertation down from 1,200 to 400 pages, thus bringing joy and relief to Dr. Titus.
What I didn’t then realize was that, by my decision to go beyond the requirements of the Vanderbilt University (Peabody campus) doctoral program, I’d thereby made it all but impossible to ever get Zane Grey out of my life. Case in point: When media interviewers have asked me what it feels like to be the world’s foremost authority on the life and times of Zane Grey, my standard response has been, “Well, it’s sort of like the old Russian proverb: “He that dances with a bear doesn’t quit just because he gets tired.”
Because I made that fateful decision, I went on to edit and publish Zane Grey’s West Magazine (1979-1991), co-found the Zane Grey’s West Society (with G. M. Farley) in 1983, serve as the Society’s Executive Director and deliver all the annual keynote addresses at all the 35 conventions since then—2017’s will represent my 35th, as well as other Zane Grey-related research and writing.
Which brings us to this book—
HOW THIS BOOK CAME TO BE
Throughout the 35 years of the Society’s existence, we officers have fielded a surprisingly large number of unsolicited questions. Interestingly enough, one type of question has been asked more often than all the others put together. Here is a typical one:
As it turns out, this Master Character Index would never have been created had I not decided to learn everything there was to learn about Zane Grey. Finally, I realized it would be selfish for me to hog the Index any longer when it was possible to publish it so that the Society and the world might have access to it.
Finally, I agreed. And it has taken us several years to get the manuscript retyped onto computer (the original was typed on an old IBM Electric typewriter). Thanks to the untiring efforts of Terry Bolinger (President), Rosanne Vrugtman (Vice-President), Ed Meyer (Marketing Coordinator), and members Tim Abner, Jan Gautreaux, and David Ross, we have been able to take my long-ago Character Index and shake it by the scruff of its neck, seeking to catch any errors, duplications, misspellings, mislabelings, etc., and thus make all these needed edits before we finalized the manuscript.
Periodically, here would come another long communique from Terry Bolinger; in it would be a long list of character-related questions. Fortuitously, when I sold my Zane Grey collection to Brigham Young University a number of years ago, they graciously permitted me to retain enough key artifacts to enable me to continue cranking out my annual keynote addresses and other Zane Grey-related research. Consequently, even in the case of this Master Character Index, I was able to satisfactorily answer every one of these queries. Reason being: I still have in my remaining archives the hand-written cards containing all the characters in all of Zane Grey’s canon of writings! These are more precious than gold—irreplaceable. For never again in my lifetime would I ever take the years it would take to go through such an exhausting process again. Thanks to it, we were able to catch a significant number of errors before publication.
THE STARS WERE ALIGNED
I’ve often thought back to that incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I had back in 1971-1975: Romer Grey (Grey’s oldest son) was then President of Zane Grey, Inc., and lived in Altadena, California; Betty Zane Grosso (Grey’s only daughter) was still alive, and raised Arabian horses in California’s Napa Valley; and Dr. Loren Grey (the youngest child) was then teaching at one of the University of California campuses, and lived in Woodland Hills; furthermore, G. M. Farley was still alive, but in weakening health.
Romer Grey made available to me the entire family archives, and made it possible for me to acquire the rarest of Zane Grey books and photocopies of journals, stories, and unpublished manuscripts; Betty Zane Grosso made it possible for me to photocopy the Fort Knox of family correspondence (a huge steamer trunk brimming full of several thousand personal letters, telegrams, etc., mostly written by either Zane or Dolly Grey).
I did not then realize how short my window of opportunity really was: Romer Grey died only a few weeks after I sent hin a personally inscribed copy of my doctoral dissertation (one of only nine in the world of that initial edition). A lot of priceless archival material got destroyed after his passing. Then began the dismantling of the priceless correspondence collection—the letters were gradually, in auctions, sold to the four winds. Some with hundreds of other letters and original journals.
Since that time, both Betty Zane Grosso and Loren Grey have passed away as well. Today, it would be impossible, for any amount of money, to reconstruct what I was able to accomplish during those golden four years when all the proverbial stars were perfectly aligned. In retrospect, I can’t help but feel convicted that a Higher Power willed that research to take place.
And, not coincidentally, all those years ago, we went to all that trouble to put together this definitive index of all the real life people, fictional characters, and both real life and fictional animals from Grey’s entire canon of writing—do all this for no reason at all. And then sit on it for 42 long years before a consensus developed within our Society leadership that the time had come at last for the index to be made available to the world.
Price for Limited First Edition copies is $20 plus shipping, $4.85 per book.
Email me at: DrJoe@joewheelerbooks.com with your request.