Grey Keeps Nation Longing for Frontier: New Version of `Riders' Hits Cable Range Sunday

By Duin, Julia | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 18, 1996 | Go to article overview

Grey Keeps Nation Longing for Frontier: New Version of `Riders' Hits Cable Range Sunday


Duin, Julia, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


"Riders of the Purple Sage," which premieres Sunday evening on Turner Network Television, will continue the mystique of the West that beckons millions of Americans to move there.

Probably the greatest Western written by Zane Grey, the world's most significant Western author, "Riders" is a shoot'em-up and love story set in mid-19th-century Utah. Husband-wife team Ed Harris and Amy Madigan star as Lassiter and Jane Withersteen.

The book has sold 5 million copies since it was published in 1912.

Also airing this weekend on TNT is "Writers of the Purple Sage," a documentary on the literature of the West featuring historian Joe Wheeler, the chairman of the English department at Columbia Union College in Takoma Park and an expert on Zane Grey.

Grey's one surviving son, Loren Grey, 80, is interviewed along with Western writer Elmer Kelton and Kathy L'Amour, widow of Western writer Louis L'Amour.

"To Grey, the land was always more important than the people," Mr. Wheeler says. "He felt there was a mystique about the land that created character. The desert either ennobled you or shattered you.

"If you lived in the harsh conditions of the frontier times and survived, it was because you became strong."

The West is the last frontier for many Americans. Led by Idaho, Montana, Utah and Colorado, seven of the country's most economically vibrant states are in the Rocky Mountain region. The "roaring Rockies" are experiencing surging population growth and business investment.

"There's a lone-eagle mentality with the kind of person who, thanks to computers and modems, can go anywhere and live anywhere," Mr. Wheeler says. "They can go where they wanted to be all along with clear skies, less urban crime, year-round sports and family values. There is a nostalgia thing.

"There's also a perception that California has lost it, and the Rockies are Shangri-La. Ranches are being broken up for the developers and retirees are moving in.

"The sad part is they will wreck the very things people are moving there for. No one seems to be coherently saying before it's all wrecked, `Do we really want to do this?' At least Boulder [Colo.] insists on greenbelts and puts a 2 percent cap on growth."

Grey, who wrote 115 books, 57 of which were Western novels, was not a native of the West. He grew up in Zanesville, Ohio, named after an ancestor, and set his first three books in the Ohio Valley. …

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