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A Dearth of Freaks

Believe it or not, Ripley's held a casting call, and no one came

June 28, 2002|ROY RIVENBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Where have all the weirdos gone?

Although the Census Bureau doesn't keep statistics, the folks at Ripley's Believe It or Not insist that California is second only to Texas in the number of residents with bizarre talents and hobbies.

For example, there's the Long Beach woman who turned laundry lint into a life-size sculpture of John Wayne, the Covina man who fashioned a statue of Jesus from 65,000 toothpicks and the Beverly Hills matron whose body is 68% silicone, collagen or botox.

OK, we made up the last one, but nobody would be surprised if it were true, right? After all, California has a reputation for kooks and freaks.

Thus, when auditions were announced for the next edition of "Ripley's Believe It or Not Encyclopedia of the Bizarre," Los Angeles seemed a logical starting point.

Except nobody showed up. Believe it or not!

When Ripley archivist Edward Meyer held a casting call at the Barnes & Noble bookstore at the Grove shopping center in the Fairfax District on Wednesday night, he faced a virtually empty house.

"I don't know what to say," sighed his publicist, Kim Dower. "We thought we were going to have hundreds of people. Maybe L.A. has become so bizarre that nobody realizes how bizarre they are anymore. I mean, Melrose Avenue is a freak show. Tourists go there just to gawk."

The Ripley's crew had slightly better luck the night before in Sherman Oaks. A girl from Encino showed up with the ability to blow bubbles out of her eye. Of course, it's nothing Meyer hasn't seen before in his 24 years with Ripley's. The current encyclopedia includes a man who smoked a pipe through his eye. "Some people have a duct that shouldn't be there," he explained.

Another Ripley's wannabe at the Sherman Oaks tryout said he was ambidextrous enough to play tennis with both hands at once. "He's trying to get into the Guinness Book of Records and Ripley's," Meyer said.

At the Grove, however, the freakiest thing was outside the bookstore--a statue of a girl in pink shoes holding a statue of a garden hose squirting real water into a statue of a dog. If the dog had been real, its bladder would have absorbed enough liquid in 24 hours to irrigate every fire hydrant in the Western Hemisphere.

Hoping to liven things up, the publicist for the event had invited two ringers: Dr. MegaVolt, a Santa Barbara man who electrocutes himself, and Morris Katz, a New Yorker who is known as the world's fastest painter. Katz, who has reportedly produced a quarter-billion paintings during his career, is to art what McDonald's is to hamburgers. When he and Meyer appeared on a local news show earlier this week, the anchor told him to "get going" on his blank canvas. Katz replied, "I'm almost finished."

But Katz and Dr. MegaVolt didn't attend the Grove event.

Fortunately, archivist Meyer had enough weird anecdotes and props to entertain the handful of spectators at the event. Spread out on a table before him were a two-headed chicken, a vest made of human hair, miniature deer antlers carved from pecan shells, a size 37 shoe worn by the world's tallest man (8 feet, 11 inches) and a tiny Adam and Eve carved onto a piece of blackboard chalk by the same artist who painted a replica of the "Mona Lisa" on the eye of a housefly.

Meyer also told tales about a man who created a replica of Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper" using 364 pieces of burned toast and a guy who spent 12 years building a full-size Rolls-Royce with matchsticks.

"One thing that becomes clear in this business is that people have way too much time on their hands," Meyer said.

But that doesn't mean everyone in Ripley's is a nut case, he added. For example, in Texas, Meyer met a guy called the Lizard Man, who tattooed green scales over his entire body, inserted a ridge of bones over his eyes and is considering grafting a tail onto his backside.

"On the one hand, he is one of the strangest people I've ever met," Meyer said. "But after sitting in a taxicab with him for 2 1/2 hours while stuck in traffic, I though he was perfectly normal and very intelligent, like the guy next door."

Despite the apparent dearth of new "talent" in Los Angeles, Meyer predicted Ripley's would have no trouble filling its next encyclopedia. "We get 200 e-mails a day from people with two-headed cows, clothing made from hair and other oddities," he said. "People looking for Andy Warhol's 15 minutes of fame come to Ripley's."

Except in Los Angeles.

"Maybe people here don't want to be in Ripley's Believe It or Not," theorized Jan Lindstrom, community relations manager for Barnes & Noble. "Maybe they won't accept anything less than a film deal."

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