Sonoma People

Freak Fan: Believe It Or Not

PBS is rolling out the biopic, “Ripley: Believe It Or Not,” following the life of the native Santa Rosan and his fascination with freakish oddities.

(photo courtesy KQED)

Santa Rosa’s favorite oddball son, Robert Ripley, is enjoying a surprise resurgence of late. Last year, the page-turner biography, “A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert ‘Believe It Or Not!’ Ripley,” painted a portrait of the globe-trotting pioneer far more complex than just a freak show huckster whose name emblazons tourist-trap curiosity museums around the world.

Now PBS is rolling out the biopic, “Ripley: Believe It Or Not,” (9 p.m. Jan. 6, KQED), following the rags-to-riches rise of the “skinny, buck-toothed boy” and Santa Rosa High grad who later “mesmerized the nation with his razzle-dazzle blend of homespun Americana, colorful exotica and freakish oddities.”

Executive producer Mark Samels calls the pith-helmeted Ripley “the first true multimedia mogul of the 20th century,” who traveled the world unearthing shrunken heads, firewalkers and a man who could blow up a balloon with his eyeball.

In his prime, Ripley settled down far from his native Santa Rosa, living in a 27-room mansion on Long Island, N.Y., while raking in half a million dollars a year from his Hearst syndicated newspaper strips, books and radio and TV shows.

If you’re feeling inspired after watching Ripley’s life story, take a trip down to the Odd Fellows Lawn Cemetery in Santa Rosa, where Ripley is buried. His grave marker is a little hard to find, but look for the quirky “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” font on the headstone. If you park by the mausoleum on Franklin Street, the grave is about 50 yards south, near a large juniper bush.

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