In 1918, sports cartoonist Robert L. Ripley sketched out a comic strip based on some unusual facts and feats he had gathered. The result was Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, an instant hit in newspapers across the U.S.A. (and later, around the world). Ripley soon began doing his strip for a living, traveling the world several times over to find new material for his successful creation. He later parlayed his comic-strip success in equally successful radio and a television show that he hosted until his untimely death in 1949.
In 1982, inspired by the success of That’s Incredible! and other reality shows, NBC brought Ripley’s collection of curiosities into the modern era with a new Ripley’s Believe It Or Not hosted by screen legend Jack Palance. Along with co-host Catherine Shirriff (later replaced by Palance’s daughter Holly, then by Marie Osmond), Palance would present a combination of the original oddities provided by the Ripley Estate and new oddities sought out by the show’s film crews. These segments were narrated by the hosts, who also provided intros and outros from appropriately picturesque locations linked to each story.
Jack Palance in particular added a lot to these linking segments, speaking in a hushed, ominous tone as he prowled his way through a set of ruins or through the musty corridors of a creepy old building. The curiosities he and his co-hosts dished up were just as intriguing: everything from albino gorillas to drive-in funeral homes. The show balanced these outré elements with segments that were either journalistic in nature (the unearthing of a long-lost film clip, for example) or educational, like the effects of weightlessness on daily life in a space station.
The newly-remodeled Ripley’s Believe It Or Not was an instant hit when it debuted on ABC in 1982. It enjoyed a four-year run that ended in 1986, and its long-term success provided an obvious inspiration for later celebrity-hosted “reality shows” like Unsolved Mysteries and Rescue 911. Ripley’s has also enjoyed a long life in syndication, inspiring another new version in 1999, this time hosted by Dean Cain. This ongoing success proves that people will never tire of the challenge, “Believe it… or not.”
USA / ABC – Columbia Pictures Television / x50 minute episodes / Broadcast 26 September 1982 – 4 September 1986
Theme Music: Henry Mancini
Catherine Shirriff (1982-83)
Holly Palance (1983-85)
Marie Osmond (1985-86)