The name Zane Grey has a ring to it (more of a ring, certainly, than his real name, which was Pearl Gray. Any sap knows you can't build a legend and a fortune on "Pearl Gray"; even "Pearl Hemingway" isn't much). There are doubtless great collections of his books stored in attics across the land. If Zane Grey got to you at the right time you probably went through that whole collection of Westerns while the girls your age were reading Cherry Ames or the Bobbsey Twins, and the boys you knew of a less adventurous bent were testing Tom Swift's electronic dog. But it would be interesting to learn how many sportsmen and conservationists, well-informed and ill-informed, owe some of their reverent idealism to Grey, when few who knew him as a novelist even realized he was also an outdoor journalist of amazing versatility. Now George Reiger, an editor for National Wildlife, has collected and sharply edited a selection of Grey's best journalism, in honor of his centennial year, under the title Zane Grey: Outdoorsman (Prentice-Hall, $9.95). It is a handsome book, with some 40 pages of fascinating photographs. Grey lived to the hilt in a golden age of outdoor sport, and the splendor recorded here affords the reader a pleasant, if jealous, melancholy.
Some will consider Grey's enthusiasm naive, but the judgment should be tempered by historical perspective. Grey was simply there "first," in a sporting sense, on so many occasions. For example, his was the first bill-fish over a thousand pounds to be taken on rod and reel. Some of his other saltwater trophies would be astounding if caught on modern tackle (one of the records still holds) and were absolute triumphs on the antique equipment he was forced to use. Though his greatest passion was billfishing, he was also expert with bonefish and permit, tarpon, yellowtail, steelhead and smallmouth bass. He seems to have lost interest early in hunting mammals, and his efforts in general lacked any of the snobbishness we associate with the international sports fop, though his sporting life was amazingly complicated and required much of the several million dollars his books earned him.
The writings make it clear that Grey was a conservationist as surely as Gilford Pinchot, and Reiger's selection is enhanced by a commentary preceding each article pinpointing the place of the sport in Grey's life—it is almost chilling to read how Grey once watched a school of sails so huge that it took two hours to pass his boat off Sand Key in Florida. Finally it seems fitting that the man should have died after exhausting himself in the practice fighting chair he had set up on his porch in Altadena, Calif.