A juggernaut of a franchise spanning books, films, cartoons, themed museums and even games, Ripley's Believe It or Not!
was the brainchild of cartoonist Robert Ripley (1890-1949). Its raison d'etre
is chronicling people, places and events so bizarre that readers might well question the claims, hence the title.
In 1918, Ripley got his own cartoon feature in the New York Globe. At first calling it "Champs and Chumps", he focused on depicting sport facts and trivia. Within a year, Ripley had expanded the facts covered to little-known scientific facts, unusual occurrences and coincidences, etc. By 1923, his strip had survived the demise of the Globe and was successful enough for Ripley to hire a researcher, linguist Norbert Pearlroth (1893-1983). Assigned to search for unusual material from the foreign-language press and in the books of the New York Public Library, he performed his job "ten hours a day, six days a week" from 1923 to 1975, covering about 7,000 books each year. Along with Ripley's own tireless research and submissions from readers, there was always more than enough material to publish.
In 1929, Ripley got a contract with William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) which ensured a syndicated run for the strip in multiple newspapers. When Ripley died, Hearst's King Features Syndicate took over the strip. Pearlroth continued business as usual, Paul Frehm took over the artwork, etc. The first book collecting material from the strip was published in 1929, and several publications followed over the decades. The first radio version appeared in 1930 and ran in various formats until 1948. A few theatrical shorts were produced by the Warner Brothers Vitaphone in the 1930s.
There was also a television series of that name, featuring Robert Ripley himself as its host. It started in March, 1949, however Ripley died of a heart attack in May 1949, before the completion of the first season. Various friends of his then served as emergency substitute hosts. In the second season, Robert St. John served as the permanent host.
The television series was revived from 1982 to 1986, featuring a rotating stable of regular hosts: Jack Palance (1982-1986), Catherine Shiriff (1982-1983), Holly Palance (1983-1984), and Marie Osmond. A third incarnation of the series lasted from 2000 to 2003, featuring co-hosts Dean Cain and Kelly Packard.
Tropes related to this franchise:
- Cash Cow Franchise - Each year, a book annual is pumped out, and their museums around the world are still visited daily.
- Catch Phrase: Besides the obvious, there's "Unbelievable? Believe it." from their TV shows.
- Collector of the Strange - The museum's oddities include diseased skeletons, weird art, torture implements, sideshow hoaxes and plenty of other randomness. Ripley himself hoarded these - owning everything from Barnum and Bailey's hoaxes to an authentic Chinese Junk.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The original show was about Ripley saying 'believe it or not' about the weird stuff in his collection.
- Licensed Pinball Table: Released by Stern Pinball in 2004. Click here.
- Schmuck Bait - Every museum has a mirror with a video and information on the rare few individuals that can twist their tongue. Problem is, it's a one-way mirror, so you can look like an idiot trying to twist yours, or you can watch others look like idiots!
- 'Tis Only a Bullet in the Brain: One of the most infamous cases was a man named "El Fusilado", a Mexican rebel who survived getting shot several times, a few in the head. By a firing squad... and a point blank coup-de-grace.
- Another was a Chinese woman who didn't find out she had been shot in the head until an X-Ray decades later.