A Curious Man is the marvelously compelling biography of Robert
“Believe It or Not” Ripley, the enigmatic cartoonist turned globetrotting
millionaire who won international fame by celebrating the world’s strangest
oddities, and whose outrageous showmanship taught us to believe in the
As portrayed by acclaimed
biographer Neal Thompson, Ripley’s life is the stuff of a classic American
fairy tale. Buck-toothed and cursed by shyness, Ripley turned his sense of
being an outsider into an appreciation for the strangeness of the world. After
selling his first cartoon to Time magazine at age eighteen, more cartooning
triumphs followed, but it was his “Believe It or Not” conceit and the wildly
popular radio shows it birthed that would make him one of the most successful
entertainment figures of his time and spur him to search the globe’s farthest
corners for bizarre facts, exotic human curiosities, and shocking phenomena.
Ripley delighted in making
outrageous declarations that somehow always turned out to be true, such as that
Charles Lindbergh was only the sixty-seventh man to fly across the Atlantic or
that “The Star Spangled Banner” was not the national anthem. Assisted by
an exotic harem of female admirers and by ex-banker Norbert Pearlroth, a
devoted researcher who spoke eleven languages, Ripley simultaneously embodied
the spirit of Peter Pan, the fearlessness of Marco Polo, and the marketing
savvy of P. T. Barnum.
In a very real sense, Ripley
sought to remake the world’s aesthetic. He demanded respect for those who were
labeled “eccentrics” or “freaks,” whether it be E. L. Blystone, who wrote 1,615
alphabet letters on a grain of rice, or the man who could swallow his own nose.
By the 1930s Ripley possessed a
vast fortune, a private yacht, and a twenty-eight room mansion stocked with
such “oddities” as shrunken heads and medieval torture devices, and his pioneering
firsts in print, radio, and television were tapping into something deep in the
American consciousness, a taste for the titillating and exotic, and a
fascination with the fastest, biggest, dumbest, and most weird. Today, that
legacy continues and can be seen in reality TV, YouTube, America’s Funniest
Home Videos, Jackass, MythBusters, and a host of other pop-culture
In the end, Robert L. Ripley
changed everything. The
supreme irony of his life, which was dedicated to exalting the strange and unusual,
is that he may have been the most amazing oddity of all.
Download and start listening now!