Monday, February 21, 2011

Total Pre-Call, Part 2

To the Last Man star Richard Dix at Arizona's Mogollon Rim.

It was probably in the late teens that Zane Grey began work on what would become To the Last Man, his fictionalized account of the real-life Graham-Tewksbury feud, aka the Pleasant Valley War, the bloodiest conflict between cattlemen and sheepmen in the history of the West. The violence began in 1886 in central Arizona’s Tonto Basin region (today a district within Gila County) and reached a deadly climax when the last of the Graham family was murdered in Tempe in 1892. Historians estimate that about 20 deaths can be directly linked to the vendetta.

According to an item in the March 18, 1922, issue of the American Library Association Booklist magazine, Grey made three trips to Tonto Basin to dig out “the truth” about the feud. In an October 1930 letter to Flagstaff’s Coconino Sun newspaper, he estimated he’d spent $30,000 – a king’s ransom in those days – just on research.

Dying on his feet, Blue (Frank Campeau) tells Jean Isbel (Richard Dix) that he has killed two enemies in Last Man.
Grey titled his novel Tonto Basin and added a fabricated backstory that revolved around the illegitimate birth of heroine Ellen Jorth. In his reimagined version of history (so much for “the truth”), it is the lustful behavior of her parents, members of opposing clans who live together without ever marrying, that triggers the bad blood between the two families. The Country Gentleman magazine paid Grey $30,000 for serialization rights to the novel, but nervous editors cut out every last trace of hanky-panky and retitled it the ballsier-sounding To the Last Man when they rolled out the story in 10 parts during 1921. Harper and Brothers later published The Country Gentleman version as a book, and it went on to become, according to Publishers Weekly, the ninth biggest selling American novel of 1922. The sexy plot elements homogenized by The Country Gentleman would finally be restored when the novel was reissued in 2004 under Grey’s original title, Tonto Basin.–––Joe McNeill © 2011 Bar 225 Media Ltd.

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