One of the most successful entertainment figures of his time, Robert Ripley's life is the stuff of a classic American fairy tale. Bucktoothed and hampered by shyness, Ripley turned his sense of being an outsider into an appreciation of the weird and wonderful. He sold his first cartoon to LIFE magazine at eighteen, but it was his wildly popular ‘Believe It or Not!' radio shows that won him international fame, and spurred him on to search the globe's farthest corners for bizarre facts, human curiosities and shocking phenomena.
Ripley delighted in making preposterous declarations that somehow turned out to be true – such as that Charles Lindburgh was only the sixty-seventh man to fly across the Atlantic or that ‘The Star Spangled Banner' was not the USA's national anthem. And he demanded respect for those who were labelled ‘eccentrics' or ‘freaks' – whether it be E. L. Blystone, who wrote 2,871 alphabet letters on a grain of rice, or the man who could swallow his own nose. By the 1930s, Ripley possessed a wide fortune, a private yacht and a huge mansion stocked with such oddities as shrunken heads and medieval torture devices. His pioneering firsts in print, radio and television tapped into something deep in the American consciousness – a taste for the titillating and exotic, and a fascination with the fastest, biggest, wackiest and weirdest – and ensured a worldwide legacy that continues today.
This compelling biography portrays a man who was dedicated to exalting the strange and unusual – but who may have been the most amazing oddity of all.