A legendary singer and dancer. An Oscar-winning star of stage and screen. The woman that lost her husband to Elizabeth Taylor. All these thoughts come to mind when remembering Debbie Reynolds. But in addition to being Princess Leia’s mom, Debbie’s name was synonymous with Hollywood memorabilia. She was regarded as the greatest collector and preservationist of film artifacts, a hobby which she did for no other reason than her love of Hollywood.

This is a sentiment James Comisar, world-renowned curator and preservationist, understands well. “Debbie was a major motion picture star. She knew everybody in Hollywood. She was doing the collecting all on her own, with her own money. Buying pieces everywhere she could with the hopes of preserving films’ history,” Comisar exclusively told Closer Weekly in a new interview. “But she would tell you that her greatest failure and her greatest disappointment was not getting these pieces into a museum!”

Star Trek Costumes
James Comisar
Comisar’s ‘Star Trek’ costumes.

Comisar himself is often referred to as the “Debbie Reynolds of TV Memorabilia” a title he’s proud to have earned, as Forbes has crowned his personal collection “The World’s Greatest Collection of TV Memorabilia.” His collection first started with a bang when Johnny Carson himself invited Comisar to his Malibu, CA home to hand over the infamous Carnac Turban.

Being vetted by the King of Late Night Comedy goes a long way in TV. Soon Comisar found himself entrusted with the well-being of iconic artifacts from the likes of Norman Lear, Sid & Marty Kroft, and Pee-Wee Herman. He has been responsible for the care of irreplaceable moments in television and American cultural history, like the toga worn by Star Trek’s Captain Kirk in the scene which has been dubbed the very first interracial kiss on television.

Now, he is preparing to put this and many other artifacts from his collection up for auction for the very first time — including Adam West’s Bat Shield from Batman (1966-1968), an item which is expected to fetch over a half a million dollars in the PropStore.com auction. And, while speaking with Closer, Comisar reflected on a conversation he had with Debbie after she reluctantly released her life’s passion to the chopping block.

“What Debbie was faced with, I too might soon be faced with. I’ve spent my whole life trying to get these pieces together into one place with the hope that we can tell the story of 70 years of American pop culture. Debbie’s auctions earned over $20 million,” he explained.

Batman Batshield
James Comisar
Comisar’s ‘Batman’ Bat Shield.

Anyone would consider Debbie’s financial gains a success, but Comisar shared the truth about his fellow preservationist. “I can tell you that she was more sad and felt more unfulfilled after the auction than before. This was not viewed as a financial victory. It was more of a personal failure,” he shared with Closer.

Pained with the thought that just like Debbie, he may fail to make his memorabilia museum a reality, he continued, “It’s not only the sadness that comes with a collection being broken up, it’s the realization that these pieces may leave our country forever. I quietly wonder before I go to sleep every night what the ending of this story is going to be. Is TV, going to receive a kinder fate?”

In the meantime, Comisar continues to fight the good fight in the name of TV history and opens up some of his incredible collection this Saturday, Dec. 1 at 10 a.m. PST at PropStore.com.

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