The Amazing Life of Robert Ripley
The Man Behind “BELIEVE IT OR NOT!”
Robert Ripley, the cartoonist, the explorer, the reporter, adventurer, illustrator, collector and seeker of the odd and unusual, is a man who lived a life that can only be summed up by the statement he himself created; “Believe It or Not!”
His life’s work, his discoveries, his artistry, the tales he told and adventures he lived will forever be the foundation of all that Ripley Entertainment encompasses.
Ripley was one of the most famous people in the world during the first half of the 20th century.
Born LeRoy Ripley in 1890 in Santa Rosa, California, “Roy” was an avid artist and a great athlete at a very young age. He pitched semi-pro baseball at age 13 and also illustrated the posters advertising the games.
At age 14, he sold his first cartoon to LIFE Magazine for eight dollars. By age 15, Ripley was working at the San Francisco Bulletin and soon moved on to the San Francisco Chronicle.
In 1913, he moved to New York and, as ‘Robert’, rather than ‘Leroy’, he began working at the New York Globe sketching sports cartoons. After having done this for several years, Ripley came upon a slow sports day and decided to draw up nine unusual sports event in small sketches. The cartoon was originally titled, “Champs and Chumps”, but after much deliberation, the title was changed to Believe It or Not!. The rest is history!
Once the cartoon took off and became immensely popular, Ripley became a world traveler, seeking stories of bizarre and unusual proportion to put in his internationally known feature. In an era when not many people traveled outside their own hometown, let alone out of the country, he became a compulsive traveler and journeyed whenever he could!
He ventured into unconventional areas in India and the Orient and visited people and cultures that most Americans never knew existed. His favorite destination was China, and for several months after he first traveled to the Orient, Ripley signed his cartoons Rip Li. It was also during these travels that he picked up many strange and unbelievable souvenirs that later became an extensive collection of amazing oddities and stories that serve to entertain the public even today.
“I have traveled in 201 countries and the strangest thing I saw was man”
— Robert Ripley
An Uncommon Man
Ripley was commonly known as being extremely eccentric; his friends called him “his own greatest Believe It or Not!”. Although he was noted as being extremely shy, he dressed in flamboyant color combinations, often wearing bat-wing ties, pith helmets, coolie shirts, and Eskimo parkas. He kept a 28-foot boa constrictor as a pet and let squirrels and chipmunks run around him while he drew.
He thought both smoking and playing cards were evil, but was a heavy social drinker and a notorious ladies man, at times housing up to five or more live-in girlfriends at a time. He loved sailing and purchased a Chinese Junk he called “Mon Lei” or “Infinity”, yet he couldn’t swim a stroke. It has also been rumored that he changed his own birthday from December 26 to Christmas Day in order to accentuate his eccentricity!
Given his unbelievable life, perhaps it is fitting that even Robert Ripley’s death left the world wondering about the “Believe It of Not!” circumstances. At age 58, Ripley died while taping the 13th episode of his television series, an episode that dealt with death and death rituals. He passed out during the show, was taken to the hospital and, soon after, was pronounced dead of a heart attack.
Ripley’s legacy and what he brought to the world is alive in all of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museums and his traditions continue with the Believe It or Not! cartoon series. Today the daily cartoon is seen in nearly 200 newspapers worldwide, in 42 countries, and 17 languages. The majority of the exhibits in all of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museums are based on the collections of oddities obtained by Ripley throughout his world travels. Every year millions of people visit the Ripley’s museums to take part in the adventure, one in which they experience first-hand the incredible world of Robert Ripley! Believe It or Not!