There are survivors, and then there are collectors


April 08, 2001|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

The producers of A&E's new weekly series "The Incurable Collector" had no problem finding people who collect interesting, unique and bizarre items.

There's the woman who collects swizzle sticks. "She has a thousand swizzle sticks," says the series' executive producer, Pam Burke. "It is one of the more inexpensive [hobbies] to get involved in."

Burke just "loves" the man who collects vacuum cleaners. "He has 800 vacuum cleaners that date back to the first vacuum," she says.

Then there's the guy who has nearly 700 eggbeaters -- "everything from an eggbeater that automatically flips eggs over to an eggbeater that is water-powered so he runs a hose through it to scramble his eggs."

Burke herself is a collector. Fifteen years ago, she began collecting dolls from the 1950s and then went in reverse, obtaining dolls from the '40s and '30s until now she's buying dolls from the beginning of the 20th century.

Even Barry Schulman, vice president of programming and programming strategy for A&E, is a collector -- he has about 70 or 80 exotic masks on the wall in his family room. "I think there must be a 12-step program for us," Schulman says. "It's almost subconsciously that we collect stuff."

Schulman says "The Incurable Collector," which airs Sundays and repeats Saturdays on A&E, may have been inspired by "The Antiques Road Show," but it serves a purpose different from that of the enormously popular PBS series.

" 'Antiques Road Show' is a show I have admired for years," he says. "But what I think we have done is create a show that goes beyond that. ... We take people to auctions, inside people's homes to see collections. We tell them what to collect today that will be worth something tomorrow."

Burke and her crew followed their noses "everywhere" to find collectors. "We have an incredible network of people," she says. "People lead to people."

Each episode features three experts: "Garage Sale Susan" Goldberg, "The Instant Appraiser" Niles Grace, and Usha Subramanian, who focuses on "fantastic finds."

Host and narrator is Emmy Award-winning actor John Larroquette, who is an incurable collector of first editions by 20th-century writers.

Larroquette has approximately 3,000 books. "Everything is well-protected and on display," he says. "I love reading them. My wife gets irritated sometimes when I fall asleep in bed with a signed William Faulkner on my chest."

Some of his first editions are inscribed. "The primary thing I look for is to find one in as good condition as possible -- preferably the trade edition, because those are the ones which are most ephemeral," he says.

Larroquette began collecting in the early '80s, with a 16-volume collection of Samuel Beckett books. "I wasn't a working actor yet, but I was trying to be a working actor. I scraped together the $100 they were asking for the collection and bought it."

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