Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News

A night out with Bob Masterson

by Jim Seay

To say that Bob Masterson is the modern version of the adventurous Robert Ripley would be an understatement, writes Jim Seay of Premier Rides. Here he shares his recollections of a memorable night out with the Ripley Entertainment chief and outgoing IAAPA chairman.

I can’t think of a single time when I have been with Bob that he wasn’t either coming from or heading to some exotic locale such as Lassa, Tibet or Cambodia. He is one of the few people I have met that is not only worldly but who also knows so many people around the world on a personal level.

What impresses me more is that beyond the high profile people such as politicians and mega-million dollar entrepreneurs, Bob also knows so many other strata of people. When I was heading to Singapore one time, Bob gave me names of a few restaurants and even waiters and menu suggestions. Take his recommendations seriously. I have asked for a specific waiter at a small exotic restaurant at some far off corner of the world and the moment I mentioned Bob’s name his face lit up and for the rest of the night I was treated like royalty.

He is the greatest of hosts and works tirelessly to ensure everyone around him is having the best time possible. If you are out with Bob, you had better plan on a late evening, but if you have a meeting with him the next morning, don’t be late. He has a reputation of always starting meetings at the exact time planned (or earlier).

Last year, I had the privilege of being invited to the opening of Ripley’s Times Square Odditorium. I can’t think of a more perfect place than Manhattan to open an attraction that has boasts so many oddities and unbelievable collectables. It’s a natural!

The scene was something of a cross between the Oscars (which I have also had the good fortune to attend) and The Night of the Living Dead. I strolled down the red carpet much to the annoyance of the scores of photographers who all stared blankly at me and were thinking ”who is he and why doesn’t he move along faster?” when suddenly the cameras starting flashing frantically and people cheered as “one” of the stars of the night appeared – the conjoined female twins.

One after another, the real heroes arrived. The lizard man who immediately threaded a coiled wire through his nose and out his mouth, the woman who swallows a maraschino cherry and then sticks a sword down her throat to pull it out, the woman with the 3ft-long fingernails, the man with hair all over his body, and a cast of others.

Theme parks may have people running around in hundred degree heat wearing costumes pretending to be cartoon characters but Ripley’s has the real deal and that night they were the All Stars.

The ribbon cutting looked like Fort Knox with security forming a gauntlet. I was pressed to the background when that all so familiar booming voice of Bob punctuated the raucous New York City street noise with “Jim get over here – let’m through” and I was “in” just like that standing with Ripley regulars Bob, his wife Phi, Jim Pattison Jnr and Tim O’Brien. I have to say Ripley’s is a company that knows how to really enjoy and share its accomplishments with those in its sphere of business.

One by one the stars approached Bob, their hero, and congratulated him on a successful opening. If you can imagine the scene of black ties, thousand dollar Versace gowns and Bob’s cast of characters, it was quite the site. Bob had pulled off quite a feat. He’d brought together high society and what was once called in a politically incorrect manner “the freak show” and put them all on the same level. I don’t know anyone else who could have done that and I felt special being part of the event. I remember at one point looking to my left and toasting my Bud Light with industry regular John Shawn and then turning to my left and doing the same with the “wolf” boy.

Now rumour has it that Bob and I, after a “few” beverages, danced the night away with the conjoined twins. Well, to be honest I am not sure if that happened but it wouldn’t have surprised me although it would have been tough as one of the twins is distinctly shorter than the other. Come to think of it though Bob wouldn’t have wasted a second to command a chair or stool to “even things out” and get the dancing started. That’s the kind of guy he is. He makes everyone feel special – conjoined or not. He’s damn good at it and our industry is a more special place because of it.

At one point in the evening, one of Bob’s staff came up and said that the press wanted a picture of him and a couple of the “A-List” celebs attending the event – Jenny McCarthy (pictured below with me and Bob) and Carmen Electra. Without blinking an eye Bob said “Sure thing! But Jim’s going to be in the picture with me,” as he immediately dragged me over to the photo site. Of course Bob didn’t have to do that but that is what he does. He always finds a way to make an event more special for his circle of friends.

If you have met or personally known any celebrities you will know two things – first, because of their larger than life stature, they are always smaller in real life than you expect. Second, they are mostly standoff-ish – that is part of their character. Bob has a great way of disarming celebs though and he did that with both Carmen and Jenny. Jenny represents the one girl with a Playboy history that you could take home to your parents and Mom would hug her first before she hugged you. Jenny and Bob got along like best friends. I honestly think she was more in awe of him than he of her.

In fact, we all got along like best pals talking about – what else – the world’s oddities and the world’s best rollercoasters (she loved Revenge of The Mummy at Universal which made me feel pretty good). As her harried handlers pulled her away she asked us both for business cards and asked if it was ok for her and her boyfriend Jim Carey (I liked how she always referred to him as “my lover”) could call us to get some input on upcoming projects. It’s not a bad night that ends up with Jenny McCarthy asking for your business card. But as with many of those nights out with Bob, I tend to always expect the unexpected.

Bob reminds us all that we are fortunate to be part of an amazing industry that provides lifelong memories to millions of guests. During his year at the helm of IAAPA he focused intensely on the global nature of our business – and the world certainly had to keep up its guard.

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