Mark Hamill has been collecting comic books, original artwork, toys and other memorabilia since the early 1970s, and now he gets to share his passion and enthusiasm for collecting in his new web series, Mark Hamill’s Pop Culture Quest. Kicking things off at the DC Comics headquarters with the legendary Jim Lee, throughout the season, the actor, who is a pop culture icon in his own right, will uncover comic book memorabilia, film props, countless Godzilla items, pinball machines and so much more.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, Mark Hamill talked about what he’s collected, over the years, losing things along the way, whether he could see himself opening the Mark Hamill Museum to display his own collection, the gigantic tsunami of Star Wars memorabilia, and what he’d save, in the case of a fire threatening his own collection.
Collider: Watching the first episode and seeing you with some of the titans of the comic book industry shows your own history with comic books. When did you first start collecting and do you still have everything you bought, or are there things you wish you still had that got lost, along the way?
MARK HAMILL: I’m smack dab in the middle of seven children and my father was in the Navy. We got transferred so often that I went to nine schools in twelve years. What happened, with alarming regularity, is that I’d get to the new location and say, “Where are my Toody and Muldoon Car 54 puppets?” And my mom would say, “Oh, I gave them to Goodwill.” And I’d be like, “Why?!” And she’d be like, “You’re 11 years old! You got those when you were 6. Those are baby toys!” I would find packed boxes and take the cardboard from my father’s shirts when he got them back from the cleaners, and I would put my favorite comic books, three or four at a time, between two of these sheets of cardboard, and tape them up and slip them into the box that had the silverware in it, to try to keep anything. I didn’t have a lot of money for collecting, so I did a lot of what kids do, which was to go through the Sears Roebuck catalog and make a list of all the toys that I would love to have. And I would drool over all the ads in the Famous Monsters magazine, for the rubber masks, model kits and all the things I wished I had.
I started making money, before I got married and was single. I had a little recreational money and I remember starting to see items in things. For instance, I had those Car 54 puppets. I don’t have the box they came in, unfortunately, which looked like a squad car, but I had the puppets themselves. A lot of it was stuff I either had as a kid, or wanted as a kid. My problem is that it’s not focused enough. I remember Jonathan Winters, the brilliant comedian, collected just Civil War memorabilia, which is a vast subject matter and really pricey because it’s so rare, but that was his focus. I’m all over the place. The first collection I bought, when I was in college, was from a girl who needed quick cash for college and I gave her $126 for 14 or 15 pieces of Beatles memorabilia, with the bobble head dolls, lunch boxes, etc. That was the first time I went, “Wow, I just bought a collection!” So, it crept up slowly, and it’s all over the place, with board games, cereal boxes and model kits. Board games are big. When the kids were small, we played them a lot as a family. Now, you pull out a board game and a five-year-old will look around to see how it turns on.
To me, the people that collet these things are as fascinating as the items themselves, and sometimes more so. Typically, the items turn out much more interesting than you that, but the stories behind the collectors are fascinating to me. There’s a certain kindred spirit. It doesn’t matter that I don’t collect Barbies. The girl or guy who does has the same tendencies that I have, it’s just that they focused on a different item than I would have. There’s just a kindred spirit that you share with all collectors.
When you have a large collection of toys, comic books and memorabilia, you obviously can’t display everything. Have you thought about opening the Mark Hamill Museum, so that you can put everything on display?
HAMILL: You know, it’s funny you should say that. About eight years ago, the house next door went up for sale, and we’re kicking ourselves now because we could have bought that house and just put my collection in that house. We actually took storage space, 90 minutes from here, up the coast in Port Hueneme, and that was the death knell that made me think this had gotten too far. And I haven’t visited it since we got it. Something has gotta give. I can’t keep collecting things. There’s just no room in the attic, the basement, the pool house or the guest rooms. A lot of it is preserved. You don’t want it to be everywhere, so that people think you’re related to the Addams Family. If you came over to my house, you wouldn’t even know I was in Star Wars. That’s not something I collect. My son, Nathan, is the big Star Wars collector, so I give him all that stuff.
What’s really important to me is sharing this stuff. It’s not just having it in mint condition. I don’t just have The Beatles’ “Flip Your Lid” game, but I also played it. I don’t just keep it behind glass. That would be great. It’s larger than me. There should be a Hollywood museum. It was really a cryin’ shame that Debbie Reynolds wasn’t able to get any interest in a museum, either in Los Angeles or Las Vegas, because she had the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and she had real cinematic history there. If she can’t get that done, I don’t think there’s very much hope for the Mark Hamill Museum.
There was a rumor that when you signed on to do Return of the Jedi, you asked for one of everything, as far as the collectibles, toys and memorabilia. Is that rumor true?
HAMILL: The story is right, it’s just the wrong movie. I remember doing that on Star Wars. I said, “I read the script, George, and it’s like a big, giant toy box, with the light swords and the floating cars and the robots. I’d gladly be on a list.” I knew there were comp lists, so I said, “Can you get me one of everything?” And he said, “Yeah, sure!” I thought there would be an original soundtrack album of John Williams’ music and there would be a poster, and there was a t-shirt they made for the crew, that yellow one that’s probably really valuable now, but I had no idea about the absolute, gigantic tsunami of merchandising that was to come. I could imagine a board game, but I didn’t imagine a sleeping bag, Underoos and a toothbrush. I love all that stuff! I know there’s a downside and people think it’s over-commercialized and that the focus is too much on the merchandising rather than the stories themselves, and I can see the criticism. But playing devil’s advocate, it’s supply and demand. People want this stuff. I never thought people would want a Jawa cookie jar, but somebody does.