Believe it or not, Ripley’s first desire, like my own actually, was to be a baseball player. Unable to fulfill that dream, he fell back to doing art, again like me. In the end, he was internationally famous and the most popular man in America. Not yet me.
At age 16 Ripley played semi-pro baseball but also showed an aptitude for art, selling his first piece that year. After a few years striving to make it in baseball, his foremost passion, an injury knocked him out of the game and he continued with his art. He sold his first cartoon titled “The Village Belles are Wringing” to Life magazine when he was 18.
His road to fame took a big leap forward when he created his first Believe It Or Not panel ten years later with a sports motif called Champs and Chumps.
In 1929 one of his cartoons stated “Believe It or Not, America has no national anthem,” which eventually led to legislation that made the Star Spangled Banner the county’s official anthem.
That year really opened up the big time for Ripley though as he joined the William Randolph Hearst Syndicate and went from 17 newspapers to international visibility. Hearst funded his passion for travel to exotic places and in 1930 a fourteen year stint in radio began.
Believe it or not, in a 1936 nationwide poll of newspaper readers, Ripley was voted the most popular American, beating out President Roosevelt.
His cartoons were often collected and sold in paperback books which every kid enjoyed reading. Or, at least my brothers and I enjoyed them as kids. I’m sure a quick perusal of my mother’s basement will yield some Believe It Or Not paperbacks on some of the shelves there. There may even be some of the large full color hardbacks that pepper America's libraries, an ever reliable diversion.
Ninety years ago today Robert Ripley sold his first Ripley’s Believe It Or Not cartoon, which I why I have chosen to mark the event with this blog entry, including my interview questions. I attempted to reach him, but since he passed away half a century ago my efforts proved futile.
ennyman: You recorded radio broadcasts from underwater, the sky, caves, snake pits and foreign countries. What was the most unusual place you ever broadcast from?
ennyman: When the duck billed platypus was discovered and sent to England in a previous century, scholars there thought it a hoax. But it was not. Did this ever happen to you, sir, where you rejected something because it was too much to believe, then recanted? What was it?
ennyman: On the other hand, how did you handle it when you were indeed fooled? There must have been some people who tried to do that to you.
ennyman: You purportedly received more mail than the president of the United States. What were the primary themes of these letters?
ennyman: Is there a list of the top five most unbelievable Believe It Or Not discoveries?
ennyman: Of all your travel adventures, what was the most interesting place in the world you ever visited?
ennyman: James Michener, at age 63, said his greatest achievement was that he never spent a night in jail. What would you say was your greatest achievement?
And to you, my own readers here... Enjoy something unbelievable today.