Frederick Faust was one of the most prolific writers of all time, publishing nearly thirty million words in his lifetime. Faust had more pen names than Destry had bullets. (In the film, Destry Rides Again, based on the Faust character, James Stewart famously shoots his Colt seven times.) He wrote more than 500 novels and short stories—all with two fingers on a manual typewriter. In his day, Faust was one of the highest paid writers in the world. Late in his career, Warner Brothers paid him $3,000 a week and he made a fortune from radio, film, and television adaptions of his Dr. Kildare character. Despite writing poetry and fiction in every genre, it was Westerns that made Faust famous, albeit under the pseudonym Max Brand.
Although Faust had once worked on a ranch, he was not a true Westerner. He was born in Seattle in 1892 and grew to maturity in California. He attended the University of California at Berkeley for four years without graduating. He was enamored with the Greek and Latin classics his entire life and often incorporated ancient mythology into his stories. His real life’s ambition was to be a poet, and he wrote genre fiction in the afternoons so he could pursue his passion for poetry in the mornings.
Faust wrote his first Western as a magazine story in 1918. Faust’s editor had recently lost Zane Grey to a competitor because Grey’s Western stories had become so popular. This editor convinced Faust to try to fill his boots. Faust’s first Western novel, The Untamed (1919) was highly derivative of a 1910 Grey Western titled The Heritage of the Desert.
Grey and Faust were different writers. Grey was enthralled with the landscape and expansiveness of the West, while Faust preferred to explore internal conflicts. Grey brought setting almost to life as a character, while Faust had a knack for describing animals in a way that made them vital characters in his stories. Faust preferred pursuit plots, delayed revelation, and his fiction was character driven. Faust was a more literary writer, especially when he put his mind to it. Jon Tuska, a literary critic/agent, wrote: “The Biblical overtones that run throughout Faust’s Western fiction are as striking and unique as his imagery from classical literature. Indeed, Zane Grey’s avowed pantheism is wan beside the vivid evocation of the presence of God in Faust’s fiction, whether as the Great Spirit of the Plains Indians or the Christian Deity … every story Faust ever wrote seems to have to a degree both surface action and a subtext, a story within the story that functions on the deepest level.”
Although Faust received praise from literary critics, his lack of historical accuracy, scant descriptions of the landscape, and minimal actual experience on the frontier generated harsh criticism by those who admire realistic detail in Western fiction. Additionally, His writing quality was inconsistent. Most of his books and stories were produced at a breakneck pace, which sometimes amounted to 6,000 words in a single day. His work has also been butchered by editors who severely abridge his serialized stories for publication as novels.
Frederick Faust was a one-man fiction factory. He was also a great storyteller who invented enduring characters. Faust believed that “there is a giant asleep in every man. When that giant wakes, miracles can happen.” This was certainly true for him.