ROBERT L. RIPLEY Biography - Other artists & entretainers


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Name: Robert LeRoy Ripley                                                               
Born: 25 December 1890                                                                 
Died: 27 May 1949                                                                       
Robert LeRoy Ripley (December 25, 1890 - May 27, 1949) was a cartoonist,               
entrepreneur, and amateur anthropologist who created the world famous Ripley's         
Believe It or Not! newspaper panel series, featuring odd but true 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 engagingly depicted by         
Ripley's prolific pen.                                                                 
Born in Santa Rosa, California, Ripley was an aspiring professional baseball           
player from 1906 until he was injured in 1913. At the same time, he also found         
steady work as a cartoonist, first at the San Francisco Bulletin and then at the       
San Francisco Chronicle. He moved to New York in 1912, where he published his           
first comic for the The New York Globe and simultaneously tried out for the New         
York Giants.                                                                           
After the injury put an end to his athletic hopes, Ripley turned to a full-time         
career as a professional cartoonist and writer. He later expanded his work into         
other media as well. His background in sports contributed to his interest in           
featuring sports contest records in his graphical work: a 1918 series he wrote         
and drew for the New York Globe was called Champs and Chumps and in 1920 he             
produced feature material about the Olympics, held in Antwerp, Belgium. Champs         
and Chumps -- with its limited focus on sports oddities -- was soon replaced by         
the more general title Believe it or Not!, and with this change of name and             
focus, Ripley's career took off.                                                       
In 1919 Ripley married Beatrice Roberts. He made his first trip around the world       
in 1922, delineating a travel journal in installments, and 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         
the researcher and linguist Norbert Pearlroth as his full-time assistant. That         
same year his feature moved to the New York Post.                                       
Throughout the 1920s, Ripley continued to broaden the scope of his work and his         
popularity increased greatly. In 1925 he published both a travel journal and a         
guide to the game of handball; the next year he became the New York state               
handball champion and wrote a book on boxing. With a proven track record as a           
versatile writer and artist, he attracted the attention of the publishing mogul         
William Randolph Hearst's King Features Syndicate, and in 1929 Believe It or Not!       
made its syndicated debut in seventeen papers worldwide. The success of the             
series assured, Ripley capitalized on his fame to branch out into other media.         
The first book collection of his newspaper panel series was published.                 
On 3 November 1929, he drew a panel in his syndicated cartoon saying "Believe It       
or Not, America has no national anthem." In 1931, John Philip Sousa                     
published his opinion in favor, 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 3         
March 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 an         
eighteen-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 in 1933. 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 -- and Ripley had been voted       
the most popular man in America, received an honorary degree from Dartmouth             
College, and could legitimately claim to have visited 201 foreign countries.           
During World War II, Ripley concentrated on charity efforts rather than world           
travel, but after the war, he again 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, a rather bold move on Ripley's part, given the small         
number of Americans with access to television at that early time in the medium's       
development. Ripley only completed thirteen episodes of the series when he             
became incapacitated by severe health problems. He reportedly passed out during         
the filming of his final show. His health worsened, and on 27 May, at age 58, he       
succumbed to a heart attack. He was buried in his home town of Santa Rosa, in           
the Oddfellows Lawn Cemetery, which is adjacent to the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery.       
Ripley is often regarded as an extraordinary individual. His 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.                                                                   
Some have called Ripley a liar and accused him of exaggerating the facts, but           
throughout the years, he always gave appropriate sources. He claimed to be able         
to "prove every statement he made.", and the major reason he could make such           
a claim was that behind him stood the work of the indefatigable professional           
fact researcher, Norbert Pearlroth, who assembled Believe it or Not!s vast array       
of odd historical, geographical, and scientific facts and also verified the             
small-town claims submitted by readers. Pearlroth, who spoke 11 languages, spent       
52 years as the feature's researcher, working in the New York Public Library ten       
hours a day, six days a week, 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‚1956), Art Slogg at, Clem Gretter (1941‚1949), Carl     
Dorese, Bob Clarke (1943‚1944), Stan Randall, Paul Frehm (1938‚1978) - who         
became the panel's full time artist in 1949) and his brother Walter Frehm (1948&x20     
Ripley's ideas and legacy live on in Ripley Entertainment, a company bearing his       
name, which, since 1985 has been owned 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           
Movie Theater, Ripley's Sightseeing Trains, Great Wolf Lodge overlooking Niagara       
Falls, Guinness World Records Attractions, and Louis Tussaud's Wax Museums.