by Sandi Berg
Robert LeRoy Ripley rose to fame during the Great Depression, transforming himself from a skinny, bucktoothed boy into an entertainer who mesmerized the nation with a razzle-dazzle blend of homespun Americana, colorful exotica and freakish oddities. Over three decades, his “Believe It Or Not!” franchise grew into an entertainment empire, expanding from newspapers to every form of “new media” in the 20th century: radio, film and, ultimately, television.
At the center of it all was Ripley, whose obsession with the odd and keen eye for the curious made him one of the richest men in the country. Americans not only loved his bizarre fare, but were fascinated by the man himself, and the eccentric, globetrotting playboy became an unlikely national celebrity.
This worthy documentary airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings).