Robert Ripley: Believe It or Not


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 facts for 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 fascinating 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 traditional 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.

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