MORE THAN 110 SHOW-BIZ GEMS MAKE UP THE LEGENDARY AZARIAN COLLECTION
By Robert Wilonsky
It began with Batman and Robin’s costumes, the ones worn by Adam West and Burt Ward on the television series that kapow’d, sock’d and zok’d its way into living rooms in the 1960s. Those were the first pieces of show-biz memorabilia real estate developer John Azarian purchased at auction in 1995. He just couldn’t shake that warm feeling he had as a 6-year-old boy raised in front of the television in the 1960s. He had to have the outfits worn by The Dynamic Duo. No if’s, and’s or bam’s about it.
“Most people collect because it makes them feel nostalgic and there’s some emotion to the items they collect,” Azarian says. “That certainly was the case for me.”
He opened that box full of boyhood memories, digging for one item above all else. And beneath the belts, the boots, the leggings, there it was, the headpiece worn by Adam West: Batman’s iconic cowl. “Holding it made me speechless,” Azarian says.
Before that moment he had never seriously contemplated becoming a collector of Hollywood memorabilia. But holding that one piece, having a memory suddenly made tangible in his hands, changed everything.
In time, Azarian would become world-renowned for his coveted collection of instantly recognizable props and outfits from beloved TV series and motion pictures, focusing primarily on superheroes, science fiction and shows from the ’60s and ’70s. Over the last three decades he has assembled a museum’s worth of moments and memories from the original Star Trek, George Reeves’ Superman series, Lost in Space, I Dream of Jeannie, Gilligan’s Island, Battlestar Galactica, Laverne & Shirley, All in the Family, the first X-Men film, the second Terminator. And on and on.
And on Nov. 7, many of those memories will become someone else’s, as Heritage Auctions proudly presents more than 110 cherished and revered Hollywood treasures from The Azarian Collection.
Among them is something Azarian once kept close despite its inclination to fly up, up and away: a complete costume worn by George Reeves on Adventure of Superman, which aired from 1952 until ’58 and became immortal in syndication, where Azarian consumed it like cotton candy along with his beloved Batman. For years the costume, which experts believe dates to the show’s 1954-’58 run in color, had a prominent place in Azarian’s home, befitting his affection for his other favorite superhero.
“Opening that, seeing it and touching it was such a great experience,” he says, on par with that moment he first held Batman’s cowl. “I could always see it. I could always enjoy it.”
But it’s not the only Man of Steel costume in this auction: Azarian is also making available the costume worn by the first actor to play Superman on the big screen, Kirk Alyn, who took flight in the 1948 serials that led to Reeves’ series. Here, too, is a suit worn by Christopher Reeve in his final turn as the son of Krypton, 1987’s Superman IV: The Quest for Peace.
“These are three of the most important Superman costumes ever,” says Azarian. “I bought George’s first, and I never thought that Kirk’s existed. It just never dawned on me his costume existed, especially in the pristine condition, so when that came up at auction I had to have it. And with Chris, there have been numerous costumes sold over the years, but he was everyone’s favorite Superman. And I so loved the movies, I had to have it.”
But that’s what defines Azarian’s collection: the need to have something, not merely the desire to own a thing. Such as an opening title animation cel from Bewitched, which Azarian bought long before he ever owned a stitch of Batman’s outfit. Or Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-800 ensemble worn in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, a film he loves. Or the gray felt fedora Carroll O’Connor wore as Archie Bunker in All in the Family, one of the most important and impactful sitcoms ever made.
Over nearly three decades of collecting, he has turned down far more items than he has actually purchased, opting for “highly recognizable and iconic pieces.”
As Azarian likes to say, “I never wanted to explain to someone, ‘This was so-and-so’s costume.’ I want them to look at it and go, ‘Oh, my God.’ And when I am watching a show and see one of my pieces, to see Captain Kirk wearing a tunic or to see George Reeves with the Superman costume, it’s like, ‘Oh, I have that – and it’s in the next room!’ That’s what warms my heart.”
The phaser rifle from the second pilot of Star Trek’s original series, September 1966’s “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” is undoubtedly one of those iconic pieces. Designed by The Game of Life’s creator Reuben Klamer, who died at 99 on Sept. 14, the long, stylish weapon made its debut in the episode about a man named Gary Mitchell, played by Gary Lockwood, rendered a god by a blast of radiation at the galaxy’s edge.
In the episode, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) secures the weapon to transport Mitchell to a planet where he’s to be stranded. But in the end, it’s Mitchell’s best friend, Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner), who uses the phaser rifle to topple a mountain of rocks beneath which the godlike Gary is buried. Mitchell – and the phaser rifle – would never be seen again, though the weapon was used in myriad early promo photos for the nascent series that survives today in myriad televised and cinematic iterations.
Azarian has long possessed one of the galaxy’s finest Trek collections, including the uniforms worn by Kirk, Spock, Dr. Leonard McCoy, Lt. Uhura, Scotty and Mr. Chekov on television and in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He counts among his pieces a wrist communicator that made its one and only appearance in The Motion Picture, as well as the miniature of the Tholian ship from the third-season episode “The Tholian Web.” All of those pieces, and myriad others beamed aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise during its ongoing mission to explore strange new worlds, are featured in this auction.
But the phaser rifle was a Holy Grail item for Azarian, who didn’t even think it existed – until it appeared at auction in 2013.
“Over the years you would see the same stuff coming up, and I would be offered the same things at auction houses over and over, yet that rifle was always elusive,” Azarian says. “No one talked about having it. No one talked about it existing. The consensus was it had disappeared for whatever reason, and to see it come up was breathtaking. For being 55 years old, it’s in incredible shape, and to see it in person was, well, breathtaking. That was a key piece.”
Azarian has never considered himself a completist; he never felt the need to buy everything from every series and film he loved. That said, collecting uniforms from his beloved Lost in Space – and he’s offering many, from Professor John Robinson’s spacesuit and helmet from the 1965 pilot episode to Judy Robinson’s ensemble from the third season – was always terribly difficult, as outfits were changed with each season. So he persevered. As a result, this auction is filled with a closet’s worth of memories from Irwin Allen’s series.
Of late, Azarian has changed course on collecting, focusing his attention on Star Wars after so many years chasing boyhood memories. And so he parts with some of his legendary collection to make room for new things to appreciate, adore, stare at or point to whenever they come on screen. Hence his desire to share his extraordinary collection with others who share that unbridled passion to hold those precious memories in the palm of their hand.
“I’ve had many of these pieces for 10, 20, 30 years, and I have thoroughly enjoyed them,” he says. “People have asked me: ‘Aren’t you sad to be parting with these things?’ And I say no, I’m just moving on. If I had owned them for a short time, then perhaps, yes. But I can honestly say I have enjoyed them fully. And now it’s someone else’s turn to love them as much as I have.”
Robert Wilonsky is a staff writer at Intelligent Collector.