LACKAWAXEN, PA — Seventy-four years after his death, the popular Western novelist Zane Grey is still a local celebrity in the Upper Delaware River Valley. He was born on January 31, 1872, and on that date this year and for the following two days, his birthday will be celebrated at his Delaware River home in Lackawaxen (now the Zane Grey Museum, operated by the National Park Service). In addition, Zane Grey himself (portrayed by actor Darren Fouse) will visit his own birthday party at The Columns, the museum of the Pike County Historical Society, to share some of his own story.
“He’s quite an interesting character,” Fouse said in a recent interview. The actor has been working hard on his monologue, having never before portrayed the famous author, who is perhaps best known for writing “Riders of the Purple Sage.” Published in 1912, the Western novel has sold more than two million copies over the years and its story made into three Hollywood movies. But if that’s all you know about Zane Grey, you just may learn a few things from Fouse and his presentation.
Fouse himself has discovered things he didn’t know about Grey, who is the latest historical character the actor will portray for the Pike County Historical Society (PCHS). (Previously he has portrayed Abe Lincoln; Father Francis Craft, a Pike County youth who later in life served as liaison between the United States and Native Americans at the Battle of Wounded Knee, among other interesting tales; and David Irwin, whose book “Alone: Across the Top of the World,” published in 1942, tells of his 3,000-mile trek across Alaska and the breadth of Arctic Canada in the early 1930s.)
Fouse was surprised to find that as a young man Grey set out to be a dentist, graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1896, where he is still a bit of a celebrity (www.upenn.edu/pennnews/current/node/4028 ), known mostly for his prowess on the baseball diamond.
“And I didn’t know about the whole baseball thing,” Fouse reflected, telling how Grey played for a brief time in the minor leagues and his brother, who “got to play one day in 1903 with the Pittsburgh Pirates,” made a living as a minor league player.
Fouse says he tries to make a personal connection with his characters, seeking things in his own life that help him relate. Thus, on some level, he identified with Grey’s “going with the dentistry thing, but not wanting it for the career.” (Grey established his own dental practice in New York City in 1888, but left dentistry to pursue writing in 1905 after he married and moved to a house on the banks of the Lackawaxen and Delaware rivers.)
A key piece of research for Fouse is Grey’s personal narrative about fishing called “A Day on the Delaware,” which was the author’s first published article, appearing in Recreation magazine, May 1902. “It’s a story about the love of natural beauty and the big catch,” Fouse explained.
Fouse, who did his share of acting “a long time ago,” as he describes it, acted in France and in LA; has some TV and movie credits to his name; and has done some “Off Off Off Broadway” theatre. He was bitten by the acting bug again after he moved to Milford, where he and his wife of 25 years, Nancy, own and operate the Waterwheel Café. He also began his association with the local historical society after Columns Museum Director Lori Strelecki instigated his historical one-man works.
“As the official historical society of Pike County, we want to share our local history with people by taking these characters and making them accessible to people by making them interesting. Sometimes people want to see their history rather than to read about it,” Strelecki observed.
Pike County Commissioners will declare Friday, January 31 as “Zane Grey Day.” The birthday bash, where Fouse will appear, will be held that evening at 7 p.m. at the Columns Museum, 608 Broad St., Milford. It is free and open to the public.
The Zane Grey Museum in Lackawaxen, which is usually closed in the winter, will be open in honor of its namesake’s birthday on Friday, January 31 and over the weekend of February 1 and 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.