- Behind Every Man: The Story of Nancy Cooper Russell, and: Dolly & Zane Grey: Letters from a Marriage
Behind Charlie Russell and Zane Grey, according to these two very different books, were their loyal wives. Nancy Cooper Russell and Dolly Grey were near-contemporaries who come across as capable businesswomen lifting humble or self-doubting husbands from obscurity to international fame and fortune. Although rooted in research, Stauffer's dramatized first-person re-creation of Cooper Russell, which she also performs on stage, admittedly "is not written for scholars"; whereas Kant, author of Zane Grey's Arizona (1984), presents primary source documents containing Dolly's authentic and unmediated voice (vii).
According to Stauffer's imaginative re-enactment, without his "extra-ordinary woman" Charlie Russell could well have continued as a cowpuncher, trading sketches for drinks in Montana taverns (vii). She curbed his rowdy ways, put him on a work schedule, influenced his choice of subjects, and even had him touch up paintings to increase their appeal to collectors. They lived and traveled together in a lifelong state of connubial near-bliss, or so it appears. Every show is a success, every painting sells for a higher price, prominent names are dropped, wealth and status are achieved—and when Charlie dies, with a hundred pages still to go, the pace barely slackens as Cooper Russell continues her full-bore stoking of the Charles Marion Russell publicity machine.
Similarly, "Doc" Grey sans Dolly (née Lina Elise Roth) might have remained a mediocre New York dentist and weekend fisherman. As a new bride, she nurtured his early work and then stayed home to polish and market the novels, stories, and outdoor sagas while he traveled the world fishing and hunting. Their unconventional relationship has already been examined by recent biographers, but these letters show the full extent of the role she played and the price she paid. Kant includes fewer of Dolly's letters than her husband's, perhaps because Doc didn't save them all; nevertheless, Dolly is revealed here in greater detail than ever before. "Do you want to rewrite it? Or shall I try?" she asks him about one overwrought love scene in Desert of Wheat (1918), and later he laments the temporary [End Page 305] absence of her editorial assistance: "Alas! What all this stuff will look like without your help, I can't guess" (138, 194). She suggests plots and characters, criticizes his manuscripts, and reports on family and business affairs. Most unbelievably, she frequently turns to the topic of his "lady friends," the multiple mistresses who always accompanied Doc's entourage (188).
Dolly's awareness, tolerance, and enabling of his adulterous behavior prove astonishing, as does her continuing loyalty to a guy who calls her, among other unflattering nicknames, "Dear Old Fatty" (147). For over twenty years, she advised him in his unfaithfulness. "What on earth has Claire [Wilhelm] done now to incur your displeasure?" she wonders and reassures him not to "worry about M.S.'s [Mildred Smith's] attitude" (146, 185). She occasionally draws a line, as when she worries that "some female would get to swish around in my new fur coat ... as your wife I'm entitled to a few things better than the rest" (188-89). She disavows favoritism: "I didn't make one scrap more fuss over Lillian [Wilhelm] or Claire [Lillian's sister, both of them Dolly's cousins!] than I did over Mildred" (222). Then she signs off with gushing salutations like "ever and ever, your Dolly," "yours so far, and always, I think," and "your young and innocent wife" (174, 178, 188). Only occasionally, and mostly early on, does she angrily protest his infidelities; for example, she declines to meet him on his arrival home from a Florida Keys fishing trip because he has arranged his own welcoming party of paramours, and she "couldn't think of intruding on...