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Want Johnny Carson's desk? A trove of TV memorabilia is up for auction

Johnny Carson's <em>Tonight Show</em> set.
Heritage Auctions
Johnny Carson's Tonight Show set.

Are you interested in taking home the bar from Cheers? How about Johnny Carson's desk from The Tonight Show set? Or the prop rifle that made Jed Clampett a millionaire in the Beverly Hillbillies?

It's all up for auction, as Hollywood memorabilia collector James Comisar looks to relinquish a trove of treasures — from scripts to costumes and even fake mustaches — that have taken decades to amass.

Barbara Eden's costume for Jeannie, from the TV show <em>I Dream of Jeannie</em>.
/ Heritage Auctions
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Heritage Auctions
Barbara Eden's costume for Jeannie, from the TV show I Dream of Jeannie.

Comisar said his bond with television was formed early on.

"I ran home, grabbed a Pop-Tart and sat there watching all these great shows," he told NPR.

Later, when he learned the iconic costumes and props were being thrown away he knew he had to take action. In the midst of his work as a writer in Hollywood, Comisar moved into building his collection full-time.

"When I started collecting in the early 1990s, I already had a day job. I was writing questions for bachelors on The Dating Game," he said. "I was writing jokes at night for Joan Rivers and Howie Mandel and others, and I was busy. But it became clear to me that these pieces were being actively thrown into the garbage and taken to the dump."

The bar from <em>Cheers</em>.
/ Heritage Auctions
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Heritage Auctions
The bar from Cheers.
James Comisar has collected decades worth of TV treasures.
/ Heritage Auctions
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Heritage Auctions
James Comisar has collected decades worth of TV treasures.

Comisar said he's gathered more than 10,000 pieces of TV history and sees himself now as curator of pop culture more than a memorabilia collector.

"I would say in my core collection there were many, many thousands," he said. "But I wanted to make sure that there was something for every price point and most of the pieces in the [auction] start at $1."

George Reeves' Superman tunic.
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Heritage Auctions
George Reeves' Superman tunic.
The costumes for Burt Ward's Robin and Adam West's Batman.
/ Heritage Auctions
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Heritage Auctions
The costumes for Burt Ward's Robin and Adam West's Batman.

The auction has the original George Reeves Superman costume, Batman and Robin's crime fighting capes, and some fine custom suits worn by Tony Soprano's crew in HBO's hit The Sopranos.

The online auction, which ends on June 4, puts a fine point to a career of collecting that all started with some Carson cue cards.

The Bunker family living room from <em>All in the Family.</em>
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Heritage Auctions
The Bunker family living room from All in the Family.

But not everything in the Comisar collection is up for sale.

"I did keep Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox's California Highway Patrol uniforms from CHiPs and a few other pieces that were sort of at the heart of my watching television as a young person," he said. "They sort of motivated me to start this hunt for TV treasures, and I think those are going to live on with my family for a good, long time."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Gabriel J. Sánchez
Gabriel J. Sánchez is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. Sánchez identifies stories, books guests, and produces what you hear on air. Sánchez also directs All Things Considered on Saturdays and Sundays.
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.