The exploits of early 20th century newspaper cartoonist-turned-amateur anthropologist, Robert LeRoy Ripley, offer ample fodder for a film adaptation. Paramount once had such a movie in the works, titled Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, set to be directed by Tim Burton – but that $175 million production infamously collapsed over three years ago.
Now the studio is reviving the real-life-is-stranger-than-fiction project and has recruited Oscar-winner Eric Roth (Forrest Gump) to rework the original script by Scott Alexander and Larry Kraszewski (Burton’s Ed Wood and the Andy Kaufman biopic, Man on the Moon).
Back in 2007, Ripley’s Believe It Or Not had been greenlit and was gearing up for production when its leading man, Jim Carrey – who, coincidentally, was also the star of Man on the Moon – approached Burton with some ideas to give the film a major overhaul. Deadline says that the Gothic auteur was highly receptive to the comical actor’s suggestions, but that this caused the production to grind to a halt. Burton eventually left the project to make Sweeney Todd instead and Paramount officially pulled the plug on Ripley’s, just a week before shooting was originally scheduled to begin.
Carrey remains attached to star as Mr. Ripley, though it’s highly unlikely that Burton will direct, seeing as he’s already involved in about half a dozen other upcoming projects. Mr. Ace Ventura is currently in the midst of filming an adaptation of the children’s literary classic, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, but his schedule is otherwise open – which means that Ripley’s Believe It Or Not could well end up being one of his next onscreen ventures.
Robert Ripley made a name for himself back in the early 20th century as a cataloger of all things unusual and bizarre in the world. His career took off in the 1920s when he began to cover exotic locales and foreign cultures in his cartoons, first for the New York Globe, then the New York Post. Ripley’s work attracted the attention of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst (a.k.a. the real-life inspiration for Citizen Kane), who began to publish the traveling journalist’s illustrations in papers around the country. By the 1930s, Ripley had moved beyond newspaper and into the fields of motion-picture production and radio broadcasts.
While Ripley left his mark on history (case in point – he inspired the U.S. to select “The Star-Spangled Banner” as its national anthem), he was widely renowned for being passionate about his career and having a genuine appreciation for the foreign cultures and practices he encountered around the world. Roth knows a thing or two about the lives of driven men, having scripted the Muhammad Ali biopic and the tale of whistle-blower Jeffrey Wigand in The Insider. Carrey is rather apt at playing fascinating real-life characters like Andy Kaufman or most recently con man Steven Russells in I Love You Phillip Morris. So that bodes well for this new project.
Ripley’s Believe It Or Not is not expected to reach theaters until either late 2012 or 2013.
“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” Image Source: USA Today