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James Comisar: Screen Gems

The former screenwriter reigns as the king of TV memorabilia

PB Collection: James Comisar

Gregg Segal

James Comisar among his collection of iconic TV artifacts

YOU NAME IT, we've got it. The Fonz's leather jacket from Happy Days? Right here. Howdy Doody's costume? In that box. And everything else — from Gilligan's hat and Johnny Carson's Tonight Show set to the Cheers bar and Pee-wee's Playhouse set to the original operating room from ER.

I started in Hollywood with two credit cards and a used Jeep. I was 19, working as a punch-up writer for TV. Nobody cared about this stuff back then. So I filled my apartment with these TV treasures. Then I couldn't park in my garage because I had a spaceship from My Favorite Martian inside. I later got a storage unit and eventually 10 more. Now the Comisar Collection conserves about 10,000 objects in two warehouses. Why? I am documenting our shared American pop-culture experience.

Each piece has a story. The famous bottle from I Dream of Jeannie is actually a recycled 1955 Jim Beam Christmas decanter. Cindy Brady's costume came with a marble in one pocket. And I found Colonel Klink's monocle from Hogan's Heroes at a rural auction house in Wisconsin.

Things once considered junk have now become priceless treasures in a white-hot art market. It's a great honor to have them, but it's also a giant responsibility. I make money for the collection by buying and selling pieces that are not essential to the TV-collecting mission, such as the Cowardly Lion costume from The Wizard of Oz, which I sold for $3 million in 2014.

It bothers me that some people refer to classic shows as comfort television. I find that pejorative. The Andy Griffith Show, Batman, M*A*S*H, All in the Family, I Love Lucy — they've endured because they're timeless, quality entertainment. We're making progress toward building a Museum of Television to make the collection available to the public, and I hope these pieces can live on to tell their stories.

—As told to David Hochman

James Comisar, 50, is a memorabilia dealer and an adviser to auction houses and museums.

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