8 Facts About Ripley's Believe It or Not!

Kevin Thackwell, also known as Clothes Pin Man, shows his unique talent on Ripley''s Believe It or Not!
Kevin Thackwell, also known as Clothes Pin Man, shows his unique talent on Ripley''s Believe It or Not!
Getty Images

For more than a century, people have considered the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! franchise synonymous with facts, figures, and people too bizarre to be true. But the brand—which was conceived by cartoonist Robert Ripley in 1918 and originally took the form of a newspaper strip before being adapted into other media—prided itself on presenting spectacular stories of the world’s hidden wonders that held up to scrutiny. At one point, 80 million people read Ripley’s strip, which was syndicated to 360 newspapers around the world. The franchise has since grown to include television series and specials, museums, books, and even aquariums.

To commemorate the new Ripley’s Believe It or Not! television series hosted by Bruce Campbell currently airing Sundays at 9 p.m. on the Travel Channel, we’ve rounded up some of the more intriguing trivia behind the original fun fact gatherers of the 20th century.

1. Ripley’s Believe It or Not! was originally titled Champs and Chumps.

Robert Ripley's art for his 'Champs and Chumps' cartoon from December 19, 1918 is pictured
Ripley's Believe It or Not!

From the time he was a child growing up in Santa Rosa, California, Robert Ripley—who was born 1890—wanted to be an artist. He contributed cartoons to his school newspaper and yearbook before making his first professional sale to Life magazine in 1908. The following year, he moved to San Francisco, where he secured a job as a sports cartoonist for local newspapers. Urged on by sports writers like Jack London (Call of the Wild), Ripley decided to head to New York and take a job at the New York Globe, where his sports cartoons received both local and national attention in syndication.

During one slow sports news day, Ripley decided to dash off an illustration detailing unusual human feats he had read about, including a man who had held his breath for over six minutes; he called it Champs and Chumps. He revisited the idea again in 1919 and once more in 1920 with a new name: Believe It or Not. The Globe also sent him on trips to the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp as well as around the world, the latter resulting in a strip he dubbed Ripley’s Rambles ‘Round the World. In 1926, he was working at the New York Evening Post when he decided to resurrect the strip. This time, it stuck around. Readers became fanatical about Ripley’s odd collection of arcane facts and both the syndicated strip and its author grew into worldwide sensations.

2. Most of Robert Ripley’s facts were discovered by one man in New York.

The cover to a 'Ripley's Believe It or Not!' book is pictured
Amazon

Although Ripley lived up to his reputation as a globetrotter, traveling everywhere from Tripoli to India to Africa, many of the facts presented in Ripley’s Believe It or Not! were not the result of his expeditions but of one man combing through books in the New York Public Library. In 1923, Ripley met Norbert Pearlroth while searching for someone who could read articles and journals in foreign languages. Eventually, Pearlroth—who was fluent in 14 languages—spent upwards of seven days a week at the library excavating details for Ripley to use in his strip or information he could take with him during a fact-finding mission. He was so relentless that library officials sometimes had to ask him to leave at closing time. Pearlroth worked for the Ripley’s brand as its sole researcher for an astounding 52 years before retiring in 1975. He died in 1983 at the age of 89.

3. Ripley discovered "the Star-Spangled Banner" wasn’t actually the national anthem.

Robert Ripley's art for a November 3, 1929  'Ripley's Believe It or Not!' cartoon depicting the origin of the 'Star-Spangled Banner' is pictured
Ripley's Believe It or Not!

Always invested in semantics, in 1929 Ripley discovered that "The Star-Spangled Banner” had never actually been formally adopted as the country’s national anthem. That fact had merely been assumed, never confirmed. The ensuing outrage led to 5 million people signing a petition that was forwarded to Congress, who finally recognized the song in an official capacity by introducing a bill President Herbert Hoover signed into law in 1931.

4. Ripley became one of the most successful cartoonists of his era.

Robert Ripley poses for a photo in front of his drawing board circa the late 1940s
Cartoonist Robert Ripley poses for a photo in front of his drawing board circa the late 1940s.
Ripley's Believe It or Not!

The wide appeal of Ripley’s work wasn’t lost on the media. Following the 1929 publication of a book that compiled both new and original strips, Ripley was inundated with offers. Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst hired him for his King Features Syndicate label at a salary of $1200 plus profit-sharing, which amounted to over $100,000 a year. Radio shows, books, and lectures added to the total. Ripley was earning over $500,000 annually in the 1930s and at the height of the Great Depression. In 1936, a newspaper poll found that Ripley was more popular among Americans than actor James Cagney, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or aviator Charles Lindbergh.

5. Ripley was a rather unusual man.

Robert Ripley poses with two Balinese dancers
Robert Ripley poses for a photo with two Balinese dancers.
Ripley's Believe It or Not!

Befitting his curious nature, Ripley himself was a bit of an anomaly. While researching a 1940 profile of Ripley for The New Yorker, writer Geoffrey T. Hellman jotted down various observations in his notebook. Among them: Ripley was found of working in only his bathrobe and wearing his dead mother’s wedding ring; he owned a fish who could only swim backwards, a shrunken head from Tibet, and a whale penis; he could not drive; and he seemingly amassed a number of women from around the world to live with him in what might be described as a harem. At one point, Ripley’s housekeeper observed that of everything in Ripley’s Mamaroneck, New York mansion, “The most unusual thing in the house is Mr. Ripley.”

6. Peanuts creator Charles Schulz had his first published work in the Ripley’s strip.

Wall art featuring 'Peanuts' characters Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Linus are pictured
brian kong, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Before Charles Schulz found acclaim in newspaper pages for his Peanuts strip, he got his start in Ripley’s strip. In 1937, when Schulz was 15 years old, he submitted artwork featuring his dog, Spike, claiming that the canine could eat unappetizing fare like pins and tacks. The strip credited Schulz as “Sparky,” his nickname. Spike also bore a passing resemblance to another, more well-known pet: Charlie Brown’s pet Snoopy.

7. You can visit a number of Ripley’s Odditoriums across the globe.

Magician and escape artist Albert Cadabra performs at the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium in New York in 2013
Robin Marchant, Getty Images

In 1933, Ripley displayed some of his more sensational artifacts for crowds at the Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago. Though the exhibit of human marvels—including a live demonstration of a man who could blow smoke out of his eyes and another who could turn his head 180 degrees—was temporary, a permanent location debuted in New York in 1939. Since then, a number of Ripley Odditoriums have opened in San Francisco, Ontario, and Baltimore. There are currently over 30 locations in 10 countries worldwide.

8. Ripley died a somewhat ironic death.

A bust of Robert Ripley sits on display at the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium in Grand Prairie, Texas
A bust of Robert Ripley sits on display at the Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium in Grand Prairie, Texas.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Many people recognize the Ripley’s brand from a series of television shows, including versions hosted by Jack Palance, Dean Cain, and now Bruce Campbell. But Ripley himself was the host of the first iteration, which debuted in 1949 to great success. While taping his 13th show, the cartoonist suddenly fell over on his desk, dead of an apparent heart attack. The show’s topic? The history of the military funeral anthem “Taps.” Believe it or not.

12 Bizarre Moments From Oscar Award Ceremonies Past

La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz announces that Moonlight is the real winner of the 2017 Best Picture Oscar.
La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz announces that Moonlight is the real winner of the 2017 Best Picture Oscar.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

The unforgettable 2017 snafu where La La Land was erroneously awarded Moonlight's Best Picture Oscar might very well be the strangest thing to ever happen at the Academy Awards, but it’s definitely not the only one. Gear up for the 92nd Oscars, which will be handed out on February 9, by revisiting 12 other unexpected events from ceremonies past.

1. When Will Rogers didn’t specify which Frank won Best Director.

frank capra
Frank Capra photographed in the 1930s.
Columbia Pictures, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1934, Oscar host Will Rogers revealed the winner of the Best Director award by casually saying “Come up and get it, Frank!” Unfortunately, two Franks had been nominated that night, and Lady for a Day director Frank Capra had nearly reached the open dance floor before he realized the spotlight had spun around to illuminate the real winner, Cavalcade director Frank Lloyd. Capra would bounce back to win Best Director the following year for It Happened One Night, but he took the loss pretty hard at the time.

“I wished I could have crawled under the rug like a miserable worm,” he wrote in his autobiography. “When I slumped in my chair, I felt like one. All my friends at the table were crying.”

2. When Hattie McDaniel became the first black Oscar winner—and needed special permission to attend the ceremony.

When Hattie McDaniel was nominated for her unforgettable performance as Mammy in 1939’s Gone With the Wind, producer David O. Selznick had to call in a favor to get the Ambassador’s Cocoanut Grove nightclub to break its "no blacks" policy and let her attend the ceremony. That favor, however, didn’t secure McDaniel a seat at the table with her fellow cast members. Instead, she sat at a tiny table in the back with her escort and agent, and to trek a fairly lengthy distance to accept her Best Supporting Actress award later that night.

3. When the Oscars ended 20 minutes early and Jerry Lewis had to kill time.

When the final award of the 1959 Oscars ceremony was given out a full 20 minutes early and producers scrambled to figure out how to fill the time, co-host Jerry Lewis was left to his own comedic devices. Standing center stage among a sea of presenters and award winners, Lewis announced that they’d be singing 300 choruses of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” before watching a Three Stooges program to “cheer up the losers.” He then politely hijacked the conductor’s baton and led the orchestra in song until NBC finally cut to a sports review show for the rest of the time.

4. When Sacheen Littlefeather refused Marlon Brando’s award for him.

When Marlon Brando was announced as the winner of the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in The Godfather in 1973, Native American Sacheen Littlefeather refused the award on his behalf and explained that he was boycotting the Oscars to bring attention to the deplorable treatment of Native Americans in the film industry. Her statement was met with a smattering of applause and a chorus of boos, and Brando was criticized for the stunt. It did, however, succeed in drawing attention to the cause, and the trend of politically-charged acceptance speeches has definitely only gained popularity since then.

5. When a streaker snuck onstage behind David Niven.

In 1974, conceptual artist and photographer Robert Opel snuck into the Academy Awards ceremony disguised as a journalist and jogged across the stage in his birthday suit, flashing a peace sign and interrupting co-host David Niven. Niven laughed it off, joking, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen,” before introducing presenter Elizabeth Taylor, who admitted it would be a “pretty hard act to follow.”

6. When Rob Lowe sang with Snow White.

An opening number centered around Snow White singing a rewritten version of “Proud Mary” with her “blind date” Rob Lowe seems like a recipe for confusion at best, and disaster at worst. At the 1989 Oscars, it was both. The long, painful performance baffled the audience, and certain high-profile Hollywood actors—Gregory Peck, Paul Newman, and Julie Andrews, to name a few—even signed a letter to the Academy condemning the program as “an embarrassment.” On top of that, Disney filed a lawsuit against the Academy for not officially licensing Snow White, though they backed down with a simple apology.

7. When Jack Palance’s acceptance speech included push-ups.

A genial Jack Palance ambled up to the podium in 1992 to accept his Best Supporting Actor award for City Slickers and treated the audience to a demonstration of three one-armed push-ups in the middle of his speech. The 72-year-old actor was attempting to illustrate what casting directors sometimes make younger actors go through during auditions, but the septuagenarian’s impressive athletic feat no doubt made a much bigger impression than anything he said.

8. When Tom Hanks outed his former drama teacher, which inspired the 1997 film In & Out.

Tom Hanks accepted his Best Actor award for Philadelphia in 1994 by thanking (among others) his former high school drama teacher, Rawley Farnsworth, and calling him one of the “finest gay Americans.” Though many people thought Hanks had accidentally outed Farnsworth, Hanks had actually gotten his permission beforehand. Still, the confusion inspired screenwriter Paul Rudnick to create In & Out, a 1997 movie about a closeted teacher (Kevin Kline) whose secret was accidentally disclosed during a former pupil’s (Matt Dillon) acceptance speech.

9. When South Park's creators dressed as Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Trey Parker, left, dressed in drag as Jennifer Lopez, and Matt Stone as Gwyneth Paltrow, center, arrive at the 72nd Annual Academy Awards, March 26, 2000 in Los Angeles, CA.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone dressed as Jennifer Lopez and Gwyneth Paltrow at the 2000 Oscars.

David McNew, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 2000, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone celebrated their Best Original Song nomination (for “Blame Canada” from South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut) by showing up to the Oscars clad in iconic ensembles from other red carpets. Parker rocked a recreation of Jennifer Lopez’s Versace dress from the Grammys earlier that year, and Stone glowed in a low-cut, pale pink number that mirrored Gwyneth Paltrow’s from the 1999 Oscars. The pair later admitted that they took LSD right before the event, but they didn’t mention whether or not drugs were involved when they chose their outfits.

10. When John Travolta called Idina Menzel “Adele Dazeem.”

If John Travolta had just stumbled through Idina Menzel’s name during his introduction of her performance of “Let It Go” in 2014, we might have simply let it go. However, he quite clearly enunciated a completely different, fictional name, “Adele Dazeem,” which has cemented itself in the minds of anybody who watched the ceremony and many people who didn’t. Menzel exacted good-natured revenge on Travolta at the 2015 Oscars by calling him “Glom Gazingo.”

11. When the “In Memoriam” segment featured a living woman.

jan chapman in the 2017 oscars in memoriam segment
ABC

The 2017 “In Memoriam” segment should’ve been an especially somber affair. Not only did the slideshow feature both Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, but it was backed by Sara Bareilles’s emotional rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” However, it also featured a photo of Australian film producer Jan Chapman—who is still alive—next to the name of costume designer Janet Patterson. Chapman, who worked with Patterson on 1992’s The Last Days of Chez Nous and 1993’s The Piano, said at the time that she was “devastated” by the mistake. “I am alive and well and an active producer,” she told Variety.

12. When La La Land won Best Picture, and then it didn’t.

The “In Memoriam” error could’ve been the wildest Oscars fail for decades to come, but it was unseated later that same night, when presenters Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty announced the wrong winner for Best Picture—and the mistake wasn’t corrected until after the La La Land cast and crew had waltzed onstage, accepted their awards, and delivered heartfelt speeches. Then, La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz declared to a rightfully puzzled audience that Moonlight was the real winner, brandishing the correct results card and repeating “This is not a joke.” We’d later find out that Beatty had accidentally been handed a duplicate envelope for “Best Actress,” which Emma Stone had won for La La Land. (Amazingly, this was far from the first or only time the wrong winner had been announced at a major award ceremony.)

10 Facts About Alan Alda

Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

America’s funniest military doctor is now America’s funniest great-grandfather—a perpetually vibrant screen presence who’s still crafting memorable performances as an octogenarian. Born Alphonso D’Abruzzo on January 28, 1936, Alan Alda has graced us with some of the best movie and television performances of all time.

Nearly a half-century before the term “prestige TV” first entered our pop culture conversations, Alda was making us laugh and cry on M*A*S*H. He was also building a bigger shelf for all the Emmys he scored (he won a total of five for the series, plus another in 2006 for The West Wing). After M*A*S*H ended, Alda continued to build a formidable career improving every role he’s been in with his trademark charm and guile.

Here are 10 facts about the man behind the second Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce.

1. Alan Alda smoked a pipe at age two for publicity.

Alan Alda’s father was a singer in burlesque shows, so the family was constantly on the road. Before performances in Toronto when Alda was a toddler, his father hit upon the idea of posing the two-year-old Alda with a pipe for a Toronto Daily Star photographer to spark a minor sensation. The headline read “CHILD OF TWO SMOKES PIPE; ONCE BROKE MOTHER’S NOSE."

2. Alan Alda had a stage name waiting for him.

A lot of actors change their names, but Alda’s stage name was already in the family. His father, Alphonso Giuseppe Giovanni Robert D’Abruzzo, acted under the name Robert Alda—“Alda” being a portmanteau made from the first two letters of his first and last names.

3. Alan Alda served in Korea.

American actor, director and writer Alan Alda in the driving seat of a jeep, surrounded by Loretta Swit and other cast members of the hit television show M.A.S.H, in costume as members of a US Army medical corp.
Keystone/Getty Images

Before acting in the fictional 4077th medical unit stationed in Korea during the war, Alda served a six-month tour in Korea in charge of a mess tent as part of the Army Reserve. “They had designs of making me into an officer, but, uh, it didn’t go so well,” Alda later said during a Q&A at Southern Connecticut State University.

4. Alan Alda's first major nomination was for a Tony Award.

We think of Alda as a TV and film star, but he began his career doing live theater, first at the Cleveland Play House and then on Broadway. He starred in The Owl and the Pussycat on Broadway in 1964 and scored a Tony nomination in 1966 for The Apple Tree. He’s won Emmys and Golden Globes, but he’s also been nominated for an Oscar and several Tonys, putting him at times within arm’s reach of an EGOT.

5. Alan Alda was the only M*A*S*H cast member who knew what would happen to Colonel Blake.

For three seasons, McLean Stevenson played the affable, laid-back Lt. Colonel Blake, whose ultimate fate was a shock to fans. It was also a shock to cast members who filmed the finale but weren't given the last page of the script. As a writer, director, and main star on the show, Alda knew that producers were planning to kill Blake off-camera.

“After three years of showing faceless bit players and extras portraying dying or dead servicemen, here was an opportunity to have a character die that our audience knew and loved, one whose death would mean something to them,” producer Larry Gelbart said.

6. Before Alan Alda was on The West Wing, he was almost on The West Wing.

Actor Alan Alda circa 1999
Newsmakers/Getty Images

Alda joined the The West Wing in its sixth season after showrunner John Wells asked the actor if he wanted to “run for President as the Republican nominee.” He played Senator Arnold Vinick until the series finale, where he spent most of his time on the series trying to become President. But he almost got the job when the show began. Before Martin Sheen signed on to play President Josiah Bartlet, Alda was in the running to play the POTUS, but turned the part down because he didn’t want to be tied down to a regular series.

7. Alan Alda is the only person to win acting, directing, and writing Emmys for the same program.

An astonishing feat (technically rarer than the EGOT), Alda’s dedication to 11 seasons of M*A*S*H resulted in five Emmys—three for acting, one for writing the episode “Inga,” and one for directing the iconic episode “Dear Sigmund” (which he also wrote). More than mere trophies, Alda also had a hand in writing the series finale, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” which was viewed by more than 121 million viewers, making it the most-watched finale of a TV show ever.

8. Alan Alda helped the BBC report on the Large Hadron Collider.

As a sincere science enthusiast, Alda hosted Scientific American Frontiers for PBS for years. So when CERN launched the Large Hadron Collider, the BBC called on Alda to offer his perspective alongside Britain’s most famous public intellectual, Professor Brian Cox. Alda also got to visit the Collider a few years later. His favorite part? “Standing on that platform, looking at that giant device, and this frightening millisecond I had when I heard that after the collision the particles are flying through the air to get to the detector,” Alda said. “They would have been going through me."

9. The Boston Globe dubbed Alan Alda an "honorary woman."

Actor Alan Alda speaks during 'Bridge Of Spies' Q&A on Day 5 of the 23rd Annual Hamptons International Film Festival on October 12, 2015 in East Hampton, New York
Matthew Eisman, Getty Images for Hamptons International Film Festival

Alda is a staunch feminist who spent years campaigning aggressively for the Equal Rights Amendment and co-chaired the Equal Rights Amendment Countdown with First Lady Betty Ford. He also served on the National Commission for the Observance of International Women’s Year in 1976 after an appointment from President Ford, and his involvement as an early, highly public ally led one Boston Globe writer to name him “the quintessential Honorary Woman: a feminist icon.”

10. Alan Alda hosts a podcast.

Alda is 84 years old—and he hosts a podcast. Clear + Vivid is focused on how we communicate with each other and how we can all do better. The actor has spoken with guests as diverse as violinist Itzhak Perlman, Judge Judy, and novelist Ann Patchett to learn how they listen and communicate. Alda may have to make room on that shelf for a few podcasting awards.

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