LOS ANGELES - James Comisar is the first to acknowledge that people have questioned his sanity for spending the better part of 25 years collecting everything from the costume George Reeves wore in the 1950s TV show
to the entire set of
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Then there are the pointy Spock ears Leonard Nimoy wore on Star Trek and the guns Tony Soprano used to rub out a mob rival on The Sopranos.
"Along the way, people thought I was nuts in general for wanting to conserve Keith Partridge's flared pants from The Partridge Family," the former TV writer said. "But they really thought I needed a psychological workup," Comisar, 48, added with a smile, "when they learned I was having museum curators take care of these pieces."
A museum is exactly where he wants to put all 10,000 of his TV memorabilia items, everything from the hairpiece Carl Reiner wore on the 1950s TV program Your Show of Shows to the gun and badge Kiefer Sutherland flashed on 24.
Finding one that could accommodate his collection, which fills two temperature-controlled warehouses, however, has been as hard as acquiring the boots Larry Hagman used to stomp around in as J.R. on Dallas. (The show's production company finally coughed up a pair after plenty of pleading and cajoling.)
"Some of the biggest bidders for Hollywood memorabilia right now reside in mainland China and Dubai, and our history could leave this country forever," said Comisar, now a broker and purchasing expert for memorabilia collectors.
What began as a kid's lark morphed into a full-fledged hobby when, as a young man writing jokes for Howie Mandel and Joan Rivers, and punching up scripts for such producers as Norman Lear and Fred Silverman, Comisar began scouring studio back lots, looking for discarded stuff from the shows of his childhood. From there it developed into an obsession.
In the early days, collecting such stuff was easy for anyone with access to a studio back lot. Many items were simply thrown out or given away when shows ceased production. When studios did keep things, they often rented them out for small fees, and if you lost or broke them, you paid a small replacement fee. So Comisar began renting stuff right and left and promptly losing it, acquiring one of Herman Munster's jackets that way.
These days almost everything has a price, though Comisar's reputation as a serious collector has led some people to give him their stuff.
If Comisar sold it all, he could probably retire as a millionaire. Last month, someone paid $480,000 for a faded dress Judy Garland wore in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz."I've spent 25 years now reuniting these pieces, and I would be so sick if some day they were just broken up and sold to the highest bidder," he said.
The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Foundation looked into establishing such a museum some years back, but settled for an online archive with more than 3,000 hours of filmed oral history interviews.