Today is the birthday of Robert Ripley (1890-1949), whose own life was just as amazing as any of his cartoons. Entrepreneurial from the first, Ripley hired a team of researchers to dig up amazing factsfor his various media enterprises, and he traveled the globe many times over to learn about the diverse peoples of the world and collect interesting objects. His empire began in 1918 with a regular sports cartoon called Chumps and Champs in the New York Globe. Within a few months he began including facincating facts unrelated to sports and changed the name to Believe it or Not! A decade later William Randolph Hearst picked the comic up for syndication and Ripley became a national figure. A year after that he began a national radio show and a series of Vitaphone shorts for theatrical release. He introduced his first Believe it or Not Odditorium (now a huge international franchise) at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. Almost single-handedly the Odditoriums have kept the magical idea of the dime museum alive into the 21 century. (Most of the tradional ones had folded before Ripley even got started). Ripley had just launched his first television series in 1949 when he died of a heart attack. The comic strip was taken over by other artists, and the tv show was revived with great success in the 1980s with Jack Palance as host.
Now, here he is in one of his early Believe it or Not Vitaphones from 1930:
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chainof Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc