Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month – Zane Grey’s “The Vanishing American”

June 25, 2014

Since my 32nd Keynote address at the Zane Grey’s West Society convention in Durango, Colorado on June 17 was titled, The Vanishing American: The Story Behind the Story,” I decided to make that book June’s Book of the Month.

Zane Grey (1872-1939), the author who almost single-handedly created the perception that once upon a time there was a romantic West (kind of a frontier Camelot), wrote some 89 books (most novels but a number were non-fiction fishing books); approximately 109 movies were made from his books (more than those of any other author); and in the process, he became the highest paid and most widely read author of the first half of the twentieth century.

During that time period, best-selling novelists like Grey also ruled over the magazine serialization world. Since his name on a cover dramatically increased sales for that issue, magazine editors paid Grey princely sums in order to edge out other competing magazine editors. Thus the top writers of the age usually received triple market exposure: magazine serialization first, book publishing second, and movie treatment third. That pattern continued until the terrible Depression of the 1930s all but brought the economy to a standstill.


All his life, Grey had been obsessed with the three-century-long confrontations between settlers and Indians. Sadly, the Indian was so technologically behind he was foredoomed to be pushed back and back into wastelands nobody wanted. Being 1/32nd Indian, many of Grey’s book dust jackets bore this banner heading: THE BLOOD OF INDIAN CHIEFS FLOWS IN HIS VEINS.

Finally, in 1922, Grey became convinced that the time had finally arrived for him to write a fictional blockbuster based on the plight of the Native Americans–specifically, the Navajos living in Monument Valley. Nophaie, a Navajo, is patterned after the real-life Jim Thorpe, who was half Indian. According to a poll conducted by ABC Sports, Thorpe was voted as the Greatest Athlete of the Twentieth Century.

In Grey’s story, Marian, an affluent socialite from the East, falls in love with this Navajo sports hero; and when Nophaie returns to his people, she follows him–resulting in major complications: chief of which was the issue of miscegenation., Back then, it was acceptable for a Caucasian back in Colonial times to marry a Native American, but it was definitely not true during the 1920’s. Thus Grey was forced to deal with this explosive issue in the novel that hit America like a bombshell: first in its five-month-long Ladies’ Home Journal magazine serializations, second in the book (published by Harpers) two years later, and third in the Paramount blockbuster movie (said to be the first to be filmed in technicolor).

So much flak resulted that Grey eventually ended up with three alternative endings: one in which the hero dies of exhaustion, one in which he dies of the Influenza Pandemic (of 1918-1919) complications, and one in which he lives to consummate his relationship with Marian. That Influenza Pandemic is said to have killed more people than World War I (estimated toll of the Pandemic: 20,000,000 to 40,000,000 fatalities).

Today there is so much interracial marriage and cohabitation that such a plot would be pretty much a non-issue, but not so then. Thus, if you wish to see for yourself how society reacted to such a thing in the 1920’s, buy a copy of the book and read it.


If at all possible, get both endings:

The Harpers 1925 First Edition in which Nophaie dies of exhaustion/influenza complications [most complete reprints use the First Edition text].

The “Revised Edition” (Pocket Book paperback of 1982) in which Nophaie lives.

Those of you who wish to secure a copy of my hour-long Keynote Address on the subject of The Vanishing American can write Sheryle Hodap (Secretary/Treasurer of the Zane Grey’s West Society) at 15 Deer Oaks Drive, Pleasanton, CA 94588 with a check for $35 for a year’s membership in the Society. That way you will get all the Society’s magazines over the next year (including the one that will carry the complete Keynote Address. Besides, you’ll learn a lot about this fascinating author! Make the check out to the Zane Grey’s West Society. We have raised Society dues only once in 32 years! We’ve done it all by serving pro-bono. There isn’t one person in the Society who is paid.