Biography: Robert Ripley

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Birth/Death

Birth: Dec. 25th 1890
Death: May 27th 1949

Occupation/Title

Cartoonist, explorer, reporter, entrepreneur, radio and television personality

Bio Summary

Robert Ripley led, by all accounts, a very singular life. He created one of the most popular panel comics in history, Ripley’s Believe It or Not, along with immensely popular radio and television programs of the same name. As his popularity grew, so did his ability to travel the world and bring the strange and bizarre from foreign lands back to Mr. and Mrs. America.

Early Life/Family

Born Leroy Ripley on Christmas Day 1890 in Santa Rosa, California to Isaac Davis Ripley and Lillie Bell Yocka Ripley. He was the oldest of his two siblings, Ethel Ripley and Douglas Ripley. As a young man, Ripley was already a promising artist and athlete. By 13 years old he pitched semi-pro baseball and made the advertisements for the games. Robert had sold a drawing to Life magazine at the tender age of 14 (Life was an early magazine, unrelated to LIFE of today). During Robert’s first professional baseball game he broke his arm, effectively ending his sports career at age 15. This event no doubt lead him to take up cartooning as his profession. He officially changed his name to Robert Ripley in 1913 because the editor of the editor of the Newspaper at which he worked said that Leroy did not sound “manly” enough for a sports writer.

Education/Training

Robert Ripley’s official education stops at Santa Rosa High school, which he dropped out of.

Career Outline

Mr. Ripley started his career as sports writer for the San Francisco Bulletin, later he continued the same line of work at the San Francisco Chronicle, before moving out east. In 1913, Robert moved to New York and shortly got onto the payroll of the New York Globe, again as a sports writer. After a very slow day in sports, in lieu of the next day’s column, he submitted a cartoon of nine random bits of sports trivia entitled “Champs and Chumps.” The cartoon was far more popular than his column ever was. So, after a name change, Ripley’s Believe It or Not was born.
After a couple of years at the Globe, and later the New York Post, his strip went into syndication in 1929. By this point Believe It or Not had become immensely popular, and Robert Ripley started to travel internationally, reportedly visiting 201 countries and traveling a distance equal to 18 trips around the world. In 1933 he opened his first Odditorium in Chicago wherein performers would showcase their bizarre abilities, such as Joe Laurello, who could swivel his head 180 degrees. Until the late 1940s Robert hosted a radio program based on his cartoons, which he then turned into a television program.

Comments On Style

Influences

Personality

Robert Ripley seems to be a bit of a contradiction. He was noted as being extremely shy, yet also a well established ladies-man, sometimes with upwards of five girlfriends at a time. He believed smoking and card playing were evil, but that did not stop him from being a big social drinker and enjoying chasing young women. One thing that seems consistent is his eccentricities. He was known for wearing the traditional costumes of many cultures that most North Americans would never have heard of. He owned a Chinese Junk, but didn’t know how to swim, and a collection of cars, but never learned how to drive. While he was very through with his work and claimed that all his cartoons are extensively fact-checked, he was an outrageous liar in his personal life, lying about his date of birth, and that he had an extensive college education when he was a high school dropout.

Anecdotes

Miscellaneous

Published Charles Shultz’s first paid work when the Peanuts cartoonist was only 12 years old, about his dog Sparky, who could eat glass. Sparky would form the basis for Charlie Brown’s dog Snoopy.
Robert died after filming the 13th episode of his television program, about curious death and burial customs from around the world.

Filmography

Honors

Honorary degree from Dartmouth college
Voted the most popular man in America by the New York Times

Related Links

http://www.animationarchive.org/2007/04/cartooning-byrnes-complete-guide-to.html

Bibliographic References

Ripley’s Believe It or Not! special edition
http://www.nndb.com/people/293/000113951/
http://www.ripleys.com/robert-ripley.php
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Ripley

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