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Zane Grey, Novelist

Celebrities who gave up dentistry for stardom — and vice versa!

Novelist Zane Grey.
Zane Grey

Considered the “Father of the Adult Western,” Zane Grey (1872–1939) was also the most successful American novelist of the 1920s. He wrote over 100 books and made the best-seller list every year from 1915 to 1924. His best-known work, Riders of the Purple Sage (1912), was made into a movie five different times between 1918 and 1996. His novel The Lone Star Ranger (1915) was likely the inspiration for the mythical “Lone Ranger” character of radio, television and comic book fame. Yet Zane Grey did not start out as a writer, an outlaw, or even a westerner. He was a dentist from Ohio.

A star on the high school baseball field, Grey won an athletic scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania Dental School; in those days, you could go straight to dental school without a college degree. His plan was to follow in the footsteps of his dentist dad — and he did indeed end up opening a practice in New York City. But on his honeymoon in 1906, Grey made his first trip out west, visiting the Grand Canyon and California before returning to the city. The stark beauty of the landscape completely captivated Grey’s imagination. With encouragement from his wife (along with her sizeable inheritance), Grey was able to quit dentistry and gallop down a new career trail as colorful as an Arizona sunset.