MUSINGS OF A STORY MERCHANT

Monday, May 6, 2013

Crown Publishing will be releasing the biography of Robert Ripley titled “A Curious Man!, authored by Neal Thompson May 7th


“A Curious Man is the rollicking, terrific story of one of America’s greatest men…Ripley brought back to an awed nation the richness of an endlessly exotic world, and Neal Thompson tells the story with a perfectly-pitched sense of what makes such a man, and a nation, tick.” –Peter Heller, New York Times bestselling author of The Dog Stars

“Anyone who wants to understand America needs to read this book… Neal Thompson gives us a vivid portrait of this complex, restless man in all his maniacally conflicted glory.” –Ben Fountain, National Book Award Finalist and National Book Critics Circle Award winning author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk









A shy, insecure, bucktoothed boy, Robert Ripley willed himself to become a man of the world: a talented artist, an athlete, a rabid traveler, an unlikely ladies’ man, a heavy drinker, a playboy-millionaire, a shrewd businessman, entertainer, and media pioneer. He was Howard Hughes crossed with PT Barnum; Peter Pan crossed with Marco Polo. A goofy everyman, a bit of a yokel, his obsessive curiosity about the world and it’s oddities earned fame and fortune. Yet, as his housekeeper once said, the greatest “Believe It or Not” of all was Ripley himself.

Raised poor in northern California, LeRoy, as he was known, survived the 1906 earthquake a year after losing his father. Forced to quit high school and to find a job, he started his newspaper career as a sports cartoonist in San Francisco. After moving to New York in 1912, he toiled in relative obscurity until his ‘Believe It or Not’ cartoons, created in 1919, became increasingly popular through the 1920s.

His first book of cartoons and essays, published in 1929, became an instant best-seller and led to his hiring by William Randolph Hearst, who paid him $100,000 a year. By the mid-1930s, he had become one of the highest-paid entertainers of his day, earning $500,000 a year from his cartoons, best-selling books, lectures, films, radio shows, endorsements, and museums. He received more mail than any single person in history (millions of letters a year), and in 1936 was voted the most popular man in America.

By the start of WWII, he had become one of the most eloquently traveled men alive, visiting obscure corners of more than 200 countries. He crossed the Atlantic and Pacific oceans dozens of times and belonged to the Circumnavigators’ Club and the Explorers’ Club. He collected oddities from around the world–as well as beautiful women–at his eccentric mansion on a private island off Mamaroneck, New York (where he moved after living for fifteen years at  the New York Athletic Club in midtown Manhattan).

He died after suffering a heart attack in 1949 while filming the 13th episode of his TV show, which featured a story about the creation of the funeral song, Taps.

Believe it!

Charles M. Schulz’s first-ever published cartoon appeared in Ripley’s ‘Believe It or Not’

As a radio pioneer, Ripley broadcast shows from the Grand Canyon, from underwater, from overseas, from inside caves and from the decks of ships.

A talented athlete, he once tried out for the New York Giants and in 1926 became New York City’s handball champion.

Ripley’s popularity foreshadowed such pop-culture phenomena as YouTube, reality TV, Fear Factor, Jerry Springer, Oprah, America’s Funniest Home Videos, and Jackass
  
From the Epilogue:

The revelations that made Ripley gasp – burning ghats in India, shrunken heads in Ecuador, armless/legless girl wonders – seem tame compared to the extremes of shows like Jackass and the exploits of the masses on YouTube.

And yet, the phrase Ripley coined remains part of the English lexicon nearly a century later. In 2010, “believe it or not” appeared 138 times in The New York Times, and a Google search landed more than 5 million “believe it or not” hits. His spirit lives on in shows like MythBusters and River Monsters. Also thriving are the aspirations Ripley embodied – to show people something they didn’t know, to entertain and educate and titillate, to question and challenge the truth – as are the driving passions of voyeurism, exhibitionism, and the base appreciation of freakishness, oddities, and pranks of nature.

The man who considered himself a rube and a farm boy, who indulged in a lifestyle as risky as any character in his cartoons, who taught readers to gape with respect at the weirdness of man and nature, who contributed to the adoption of America’s national anthem and the creation of the memorial at Pearl Harbor and so much more… he may have been the most unbelievable oddity of all.


 ~~ Read a brief EXCERPT [PDF]. For the password, visit neal’s new Facebook page. ~~

“Neal Thompson constructs an elegant argument: the world Ripley created is the world in which we now live.” –David Shields, New York Times bestselling author of The Thing About Life Is that One Day You’ll Be Dead


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