Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It or Not!" Ripley

                                                                  by Neal Thompson

        I freely admit that when I requested A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It or Not!" Ripley by Neal Thompson from Vine, I had no idea what an interesting read it would be. I, like so many others have been aware of the Believe or Not phrase for much of my life. In fact, it has been some time since I've heard it, or given any thought to the man who created it. What I think of first when thinking of Ripley are the museums and the magazine like television show that aired so long ago. I never gave any thought to the man behind it, just to the curiosities displayed.

As it turns out LeRoy Robert Ripley, who changed his name in order to please an employer early in his career, had a very difficult start. His family was poor and worked hard to keep body and soul together. Both is mother and father doing the best they could to keep their children clothed and fed. Ripley was an unusual looking individual as well, as it turns out. This of course led to him being teased mercilessly as a child and youth. Having an unfortunate stutter did not help matters. His talent, his passion and his escape was art. Despite the help of a sympathetic teacher, who allowed him to do do drawings instead of papers and read aloud reports, Ripley left high school without finishing. He went in search of work, or more precisely adventure that would put some money in his pocket. 

He tried to follow his dream with mixed success. Even though his passion was his art, he was untrained. This resulted in him being able to secure only low paying positions and in fact having his employers lose interest after a short time. Finally, at one point in his early years he did seek out some art training which allowed him to improve and to do what he set out to do, draw cartoons more successfully. 

He made his way to New York and there began his climb to not only success but celebrity, as he became more and more successful in his carrer, if not his personal life. 
The first cartoon to carry the Beieve It Or Not title appeared in 1919. This became his trademark phrase.After finding that he had become a successful cartoonist, and then something of a story teller, he was offered the chance to travel around the world and report back on what he saw. He found that his talent went beyond presenting the ludicrous, but describing the beautiful and the tragic and particularly the gruesome and the freakish. 

It is a little known fact that through many years he had a silent partner by the name of Norbert Pearlroth. Pearlroth was a good looking and inteligent man from the Austrian section of Galicia. He sported a nearly photographic memory and once invested in an encyclopedia called the Library of Entertainment and Knowledge. From these books and Pearlroth's memory came many of the unusual facts and stories used in Ripley's cartoons, and later his books. 

This was a quick and interesting read, which gave a good long look at the man behind the mysterious and bizarre, and all things entertaining that we are told To Believe It or Not!

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