The Modern Marco Polo
He was nicknamed “The Modern Marco Polo”, and in his endless search for unbelievable stories to draw in his immensely popular newspaper cartoon feature, he acquired hundreds of exotic artefacts from around the world.
Mr Ripley’s first Believe It or Not! books, collections of his newspaper cartoon drawings, appeared in 1929 and 1931, and the success of the first book led to a live radio show. Starting in 1930 and running continuously until 1944, Ripley hosted a wildly successful weekly radio show. The show continued briefly in 1947–48, but by that time he was already experimenting with the new medium of television.
In the spring of 1949 Robert Ripley launched a weekly television show. Based loosely on his successful radio show format, Ripley displayed some of his artefacts, drew cartoons on camera, and re-enacted fantastic unbelievable stories, followed by interviews with the actual “stars” of the stories.
Believe It or Not!
- Robert Ripley was the first to broadcast from underground, underwater and falling from the sky!
- Ripley received an average of 3,000 letters a day for over 20 years. That’s over a million letters a year!
- He was the first cartoonist to become a millionaire and, in 1936, was voted the most popular man in America by newspaper readers across the country.
- Even today, the daily Believe It or Not! cartoon is seen in nearly 200 newspapers worldwide, in 42 countries and 17 languages
- The Warner Brothers cartoon character Elmer Fudd was modelled after Robert Ripley!
"I have travelled in 201 countries and the strangest thing I saw was man"Robert L. Ripley
A truly remarkable life
Ripley’s television show was the first “reality” show and was growing quickly in popularity until on show #13 on May 23, 1949, Ripley had a heart attack while on stage discussing the military funeral hymn “Taps”.
Robert Ripley led an incredible life of adventure and excitement and forever will be remembered for coining one of the most recognised and used phrases in the English language: Believe It or Not!
The majority of his artefacts were sold at a four day long public auction, and the lion’s share was bought up by New York City entrepreneur John Arthur. In December 1950 Mr. Arthur opened the first permanent Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium in St. Augustine, Florida.
Today there are 32 Ripley’s Believe It or Not! attractions in ten countries, dozens of Ripley books, a huge internet web presence, and hundreds of television videos in the company’s archive vaults.