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Ripley in 1940.
|Born||Robert LeRoy Ripley
December 25, 1890
Santa Rosa, California
|Died||May 27, 1949
New York City, New York
Cause of death
|Oddfellows Lawn Cemetery, Santa Rosa, California|
|Residence||New York City, New York,
Los Angeles, California,
|Other names||Mr. Ripley|
|Occupation||cartoonist, entrepreneur, Curator, anthropologist|
|Known for||Creator of Ripley's Believe It or Not!|
|Home town||Santa Rosa, California|
Board member of
|Parents||Issac Davis Ripley,
Lillie (née Bell) Ripley
|Family||Douglas Ripley (brother),
Ethel Ripley (sister)
Robert LeRoy Ripley (December 25, 1890 – May 27, 1949) was an American cartoonist, entrepreneur and amateur anthropologist, who created the Ripley's Believe It or Not! newspaper panel series, radio show, and television show which feature odd facts from around the world.
Subjects covered in Ripley's cartoons and text ranged from sports feats to little known facts about unusual and exotic sites; but what ensured the concept's popularity may have been that Ripley also included items submitted by readers, who supplied photographs of a wide variety of small town American trivia, ranging from unusually shaped vegetables to oddly marked domestic animals, all documented by photographs and then depicted by Ripley's drawings.
Throughout the 1920s, Mr. Ripley continued to broaden the scope of his work and his popularity increased greatly. He published both a travel journal and a guide to the game of handball in 1925. In 1926, Ripley became the New York state handball champion and also wrote a book on boxing. With a proven track record as a versatile writer and artist, he attracted the attention of publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst, who managed the King Features Syndicate. In 1929, Hearst was responsible for Believe It or Not! making its syndicated debut in seventeen papers worldwide. With the success of this series assured, Ripley capitalized on his fame by getting the first book collection of his newspaper panel series published.
On November 3, 1929, he drew a panel in his syndicated cartoon saying "Believe It or Not, America has no national anthem." Despite the widespread belief that "The Star-Spangled Banner", with its lyrics by Francis Scott Key set to the music of the English drinking song "To Anacreon in Heaven", was the United States national anthem, Congress had never officially made it so. In 1931, John Philip Sousa published his opinion in favor of giving the song official status, stating that "it is the spirit of the music that inspires" as much as it is Key's "soul-stirring" words. By a law signed on March 3, 1931, by President Herbert Hoover, "The Star-Spangled Banner" was adopted as the national anthem of the United States.
The 1930s saw Ripley expand his presence into other media. In 1930, he began a fourteen-year run on radio and a nineteen-year association with the show's producer, Doug Storer. Funding for his celebrated travels around the world were provided by the Hearst organization, and Ripley recorded live radio shows from underwater, the sky, caves, snake pits, and foreign countries. The next year he hosted the first of a series of two dozen Believe It or Not! theatrical short films for Warner Brothers Vitaphone, and King Features published a second collected volume of Believe it or Not! panels. He also appeared in a Vitaphone musical short, Seasons Greetings (1931), with Ruth Etting, Joe Penner, Ted Husing, Thelma White, Ray Collins, and others. After a trip to Asia in 1932, Ripley opened his first museum, the Odditorium, in Chicago. The concept was a success, and by the end of the decade, there were Odditoriums in San Diego, Dallas, Cleveland, San Francisco, and New York City. By this point in his life, Ripley had been voted the most popular man in America by the New York Times, received an honorary degree from Dartmouth College, and visited 201 foreign countries.
In 1919 Ripley married Beatrice Roberts. He made his first trip around the world in 1922, delineating a travel journal in installments. This ushered in a new topic for his cartoons: unusual and exotic foreign locales and cultures. Because he took the veracity of his work quite seriously, in 1923, Ripley hired a researcher and polyglot named Norbert Pearlroth as a full-time assistant. That same year, his feature moved from the New York Globe to the New York Post.
During World War II, Ripley concentrated on charity pursuits rather than world travel, but after the war, he re-expanded his media efforts. In 1948, the year of the 20th anniversary of the Believe it or Not! cartoon series, the Believe it or Not! radio show drew to a close and was replaced with a Believe it or Not! television series. This was a rather bold move on Ripley's part because of the small number of Americans with access to television at this early time in the medium's development. Ripley completed only thirteen episodes of the series before he became incapacitated by severe health problems. He reportedly passed out during the filming of his final show. His health worsened, and on May 27, 1949, at age 58, he succumbed to a heart attack in New York City. He was buried in his home town of Santa Rosa, in the Oddfellows Lawn Cemetery, which is adjacent to the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery.
The comic strip
Ripley's cartoon series was estimated to have 80 million readers worldwide, and it was said that he received more mail than the President of the United States. He became a wealthy man, with homes in New York and Florida, but he always retained close ties to his home town of Santa Rosa, California, and he made a point of bringing attention to The Church of the One Tree, a church built entirely from the wood of a single 300-ft (91.4-m)-tall redwood tree, which stands on the north side of Juilliard Park in downtown Santa Rosa.
Ripley claimed to be able to "prove every statement he made," because he worked with professional fact researcher Norbert Pearlroth, who assembled Believe it or Not!s array of odd facts and also verified the small-town claims submitted by readers. Pearlroth spent 52 years as the feature's researcher, finding and verifying unusual facts for Ripley and, after Ripley's death, for the King Features syndicate editors who took over management of the Believe it or Not!' panel.
Other employees who researched the newspaper cartoon series over the years were Lester Byck and Don Wimmer. Others who drew the series after Ripley's death include Joe Campbell (1946 to 1956), Art Slogg, Clem Gretter (1941 to 1949), Carl Dorese, Bob Clarke (1943 and 1944), Stan Randall, Paul Frehm (1938–1978), who became the panel's full-time artist in 1949; and his brother Walter Frehm (1948–1989).
Ripley's ideas and legacy live on in Ripley Entertainment, a company bearing his name and owned since 1985 by the Jim Pattison Group, Canada's 3rd-largest privately held company. Ripley Entertainment airs national television shows, features publications of oddities, and has holdings in a variety of public attractions, including Ripley's Aquarium, Ripley's Believe it or Not! Museums, Ripley's Haunted Adventure, Ripley's Mini-Golf and Arcade, Ripley's Moving Theater, Ripley's Sightseeing Trains, Great Wolf Lodge overlooking Niagara Falls, Guinness World Records Attractions, and Louis Tussaud's wax Museums.
||This section is in a list format that may be better presented using prose. (February 2012)|
- 1890 Born in Santa Rosa, California
- 1901 Receives his formal education
- 1906 Becomes a semi-pro in baseball and sells first cartoon to Life
- 1908 Quits baseball briefly to support mother
- 1909 Moves from the San Francisco Bulletin to the San Francisco Chronicle
- 1912 Creates his last drawing for the San Francisco Chronicle and moves to New York that winter
- 1913 On January 2, writes his first comic for the New York Globe and tries out for the New York Giants, but an injury ends his baseball hopes
- 1914 Takes his first trip to Europe
- 1918 On December 19, publishes Champs and Chumps in the New York Globe
- 1919 Marries Beatrice Roberts
- 1920 Takes his first solo trip to Europe to cover the Olympics, held in Antwerp, Belgium
- 1922 On December 3, takes first trip around the world; writes in installments in his travel journal
- 1923 On April 7, returns to the U.S. and hires researcher and linguist Norbert Pearlroth; the Globe ceases publication and the series moves to the New York Evening News
- 1925 Writes travel journal, handball guide
- 1926 Becomes New York handball champion and writes book on boxing score; divorces Beatrice Roberts after being separated for some time.
- 1929 On July 9, William Randolph Hearst's King Features Syndicate features Believe It or Not! in seventeen papers worldwide
- 1930 Begins an eighteen-year run on radio and a nineteen-year association with show producer Doug Storer; Hearst funds Ripley's travels around the world, where Ripley records live radio shows from underwater, the sky, caves, snake pits and foreign countries
- 1931 Releases movie shorts for Vitaphone, second book of Believe it or Not!
- 1932 Takes trip to the Far East
- 1933 First Odditorium opens in Chicago
- 1934 Does the first radio show broadcast simultaneously around the world and purchases 28-room home in Mamaroneck, New York
- 1935 Odditorium opens in San Diego
- 1936 Odditorium opens in Dallas
- 1937 Odditorium opens in Cleveland; Peanuts creator Charles Schulz's first published drawing appears in Believe it or Not!
- 1939 Odditoriums open in San Francisco and New York City; Ripley receives honorary degree from Dartmouth College
- 1940 Purchases a 13-room Manhattan apartment; receives two more honorary degrees; number of foreign countries visited through funding by Hearst reaches 201
- 1945 Stops foreign travel to do World War II charity work
- 1946 Purchases a Chinese junk, the Mon Lei (万里)
- 1947 Purchases third home, at High Mount, Florida
- 1948 Radio program ends; the 30th anniversary of Believe it or Not! is celebrated at a New York costume party
- 1949 Ripley dies of a heart attack on May 27 in New York City, New York, shortly after thirteenth telecast of first television show and is buried in Santa Rosa; auction of his estate is held; estate is purchased by John Arthur.
- NNDB biography of Robert L. Ripley
- Robert L. Ripley. Bizarre Magazine. February 2006.
- Rothstein, Edward (August 24, 2007). "O, Believers, Prepare to Be Amazed!". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-14.
- Robert Leroy Ripley's grave
- Ripley biography
- Ripley Entertainment