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Edward Nalbandian, 78; L.A. Clothier Became a Local Celebrity With Live TV Ads for His Zachary All Store

February 28, 2006|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Edward G. Nalbandian, the longtime owner of Zachary All Clothing on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles who became a familiar face on local television as the commercial spokesman for his men's store, has died. He was 78.

Nalbandian, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease more than nine years ago, died Feb. 22 in a nursing home in Los Angeles, his family said.

Beginning in the early 1960s, Nalbandian became something of a Southern California celebrity for commercials in which he famously emphasized that clothes at his store came in sizes "Cadet, Extra Short, Regular, Long, Extra Long and Portlies."

That's not to mention Zachary All's famous "$99 tuxedo."

"The whole business was built on television commercials," Nalbandian's wife of 55 years, Anna, told The Times.

The commercials were so ubiquitous on Los Angeles-area TV that Johnny Carson once mentioned the store on "The Tonight Show."

The Zachary All commercials even inspired legendary rock satirist Frank Zappa to write the 1972 song "Eddie, Are You Kidding?"

\o7Eddie, are you kidding?

No, no.

Eddie, are you teasing

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday March 01, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Nalbandian obituary -- An obituary of Los Angeles clothing store owner Edward Nalbandian in Tuesday's California section misspelled the names of local television talk show hosts Joe Pyne and Tom Duggan as Pine and Dugan.

About your rancid garments?

Eddie, are you teasing

About your sixty tailors?

I'm coming over shortly

Because I am a portly

You promised you could fit me

In a fifty dollar suit ....

\f7The commercials may have successfully spread the word but the broad selection of sizes carried by Nalbandian, himself a size 42 regular, helped the business succeed.

"These big guys came in and they couldn't get a variety of choices [elsewhere], but they would find it there, and so did a lot of short people looking for their sizes," Anna Nalbandian said.

As she recalled, "Eddie was building a business in the era when there was the Nehru jacket, three-piece vest suits. He did a great business on polyester slacks."

Nalbandian opened his first men's clothing store on Pico Boulevard soon after arriving from Boston in 1953. He and his early partner, Miles Ark, had planned to name the store Clothing Co-Op but had to change it after a lawyer told them they couldn't call themselves a "co-op" without sharing profits with customers.

"I liked the actor Zachary Scott, but you can't just use someone's name. So I said I liked the detergent 'All.' You know, it does it all. So I named the store Zachary All," Nalbandian recalled in a 1994 interview with the Los Angeles Business Journal.

As his business grew, Nalbandian moved in the late '50s to larger quarters on the Miracle Mile strip of Wilshire Boulevard.

"They really took a gamble going on Wilshire," Anna Nalbandian said. "They thought maybe it was too big. As it turned out, each year got better and better."

And the store got bigger and bigger, as Zachary All expanded, ultimately growing to half a block long.

In the beginning, Nalbandian devoted part of the store to custom tailoring. "He did a lot of personal work, and then it got to be too much," said his wife. "Those people who want custom tailoring are very fussy."

For the right Hollywood customer, he would pull out a needle and thread.

"Maybe Buddy Hackett would come in, he'd do alterations because [the comedian's] weight fluctuated," she said. "He did a special tuxedo for Cary Grant. Eddie loved Cary Grant; they were good friends."

Nalbandian began doing TV commercials for his store shortly after moving into the Wilshire location.

"His partner thought Eddie would be great on TV," Anna Nalbandian said. "It turns out, he was. He didn't read anything; he just said whatever came to mind.

"He tried to make it different every time."

In the early years, Nalbandian's Zachary All commercials aired live on local talk shows, including those with hosts Tom Dugan and Joe Pine, as well as during wrestling matches broadcast from the Olympic Auditorium.

"The store was open 9 to 9. He'd come home in a rush, take a shower have a quick dinner and be off to make an 11 o'clock show," his wife said.

In the process, Nalbandian became a local celebrity.

"He was recognized in public all the time," Anna Nalbandian said. "He just opened his mouth and people turned around."

Nalbandian was born Dec. 29, 1927, in Belmont, Mass., near Boston. Beginning at about age 12, he worked in his Armenian-born father's tailor shop.

He left high school to join the Navy and studied custom tailoring and design under the GI Bill. After marrying in 1951, he went to work for an Italian coat maker in downtown Boston "for nothing," his wife said, so he could learn more.

After opening Zachary All on Wilshire, Nalbandian began a wholesale clothing manufacturing business with a partner in South Korea. They later opened another clothing manufacturing plant in Costa Rica.

From the mid-'80s to the mid-'90s, he owned Chanpen, a Thai restaurant in Santa Monica.

Nalbandian continued doing commercials for Zachary All until around 1995. His son took over the Wilshire Boulevard store shortly thereafter and closed it about four years ago.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his son, Edward; daughter, Nancy Barajas; and three grandchildren.

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