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Mickey Cohen mugshot
|Born||Meyer Harris Cohen
September 4, 1913
Brooklyn, New York
|Died||July 29, 1976
Los Angeles, California
|Cause of death||Stomach cancer|
|Known for||Mob Activity|
|Height||5 ft 5 in (1.65 m)|
Meyer Harris "Mickey" Cohen (September 4, 1913 – July 29, 1976) was a gangster based in Los Angeles and part of the Jewish Mafia, and also had strong ties to the American Mafia from the 1930s through 1960s.
Mickey Cohen was born on September 4, 1913, into an Orthodox Jewish family living in the Jewish Brownsville section of Brooklyn. His mother Fanny, who'd become widowed in September 1914, had emigrated from Kiev, Ukraine. At the age of six, Mickey was selling newspapers on the street; his brothers Louie or Harry would drop him off at his regular corner, Soho and Brooklyn Streets. Soon, however, Fanny moved her family to Los Angeles. In 1922, petty crime landed Mickey in reform school there.
As a teenager, Cohen began boxing in illegal prizefights in Los Angeles. In 1929, the fifteen-year-old moved from Los Angeles to Cleveland to train as a professional boxer. His first professional boxing match was on April 8, 1930 against Patsy Farr in Cleveland, Ohio. It was one of the preliminary fights on the card for the Paul Pirrone/Jimmy Goodrich feature bout. On April 11, 1933 Cohen fought against Chalky Wright in Los Angeles, California. Wright won the match and Mickey was incorrectly identified as "Mickey Cohen from Denver, Colorado" in the Los Angeles Times sports page report. His last fight was on May 14, 1933 against Baby Arizmendi in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. On June 12, 1931 Cohen fought and lost a match against World Featherweight Champion Tommy Paul, having been knocked out cold after 2:20 into the first round. It was during this round he earned the moniker "Gangster Mickey Cohen". In Cleveland, Cohen met Lou Rothkopf, an associate of Moe Dalitz. Cohen later moved to New York, where he became associates with Tommy Dioguardi, the brother of labor racketeer Johnny Dio, and with Owney Madden. Finally, Cohen went to Chicago, where he ran a gambling operation for the Chicago Outfit, Al Capone's powerful criminal organization.
Prohibition and the Chicago Outfit
During Prohibition, Cohen moved to Chicago and became involved in organized crime working as an enforcer for the Chicago Outfit, where he briefly met Al Capone. During this period Cohen was arrested for his role in the deaths of several gangsters in a card game that went wrong.
After a brief time in prison, Cohen was released and began running card games and other illegal gambling operations. He later became an associate of Mattie Capone, Al's younger brother. While working for Jake Guzik, Cohen was forced to flee Chicago after an argument with a rival gambler.
In Cleveland, Cohen again worked for Lou Rothkopf, an associate of Meyer Lansky and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel. However, there was little work available for Cohen in Cleveland, so Rothkopf arranged for him to work with Siegel in California.
From syndicate bodyguard to Sunset Strip kingpin
In 1939, Mickey Cohen was sent to Los Angeles by Meyer Lansky and Lou Rothkopf to work under Bugsy Siegel. During their association, Mickey helped set up the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas and ran its sports book operation. He also was instrumental in setting up the race wire, which was essential to Vegas betting. In 1947, the crime families ordered the murder of Siegel due to his mismanagement of the Flamingo Hotel, most likely because Siegel or his girlfriend Virginia Hill were skimming money. According to one account which does not appear in newspapers, Cohen reacted violently to Siegel's murder. Entering the Hotel Roosevelt, where he believed the killers were staying, Cohen fired rounds from his two .45 caliber semi-automatic handguns into the lobby ceiling and demanded that the assassins meet him outside in ten minutes. However, no one appeared and Cohen was forced to flee when the police arrived.
Cohen's violent methods came to the attention of state and federal authorities investigating the Dragna operations. During this time, Cohen faced many attempts on his life, including the bombing of his home on posh Moreno Avenue in Brentwood. Cohen soon converted his house into a fortress, installing floodlights, alarm systems, and a well-equipped arsenal kept, as he often joked, next to his 200 tailor-made suits. Cohen briefly hired bodyguard Johnny Stompanato before Stompanato was killed by actress Lana Turner's daughter. Cohen bought a cheap coffin for Stompanato's funeral and then sold Lana Turner's love letters to Stompanato to the press.
In 1950, Mickey Cohen was investigated along with numerous other underworld figures by a US Senate committee known as the Kefauver Commission. As a result of this investigation, Cohen was convicted of tax evasion in June 1951 and sentenced to prison for four years.
When he was released in October 1955, he started again, and became an international celebrity. He sold more newspapers than anyone else in the country, according to author Brad Lewis. His appearance on television with Mike Wallace in May 1957 rocked the media establishment. He ran floral shops, paint stores, nightclubs, casinos, gas stations, a men's haberdashery, and even drove an ice cream van on San Vicente Boulevard in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles, according to author Richard Lamparski.
In 1957 Time magazine wrote a brief about Mickey Cohen meeting with Billy Graham. Cohen said, "I am very high on the Christian way of life. Billy came up, and before we had food he said—What do you call it. that thing they say before food? Grace? Yeah, grace. Then we talked a lot about Christianity and stuff." Allegedly when Mickey did not change his lifestyle, he was confronted by some Christian acquaintances. His response: "Christian football players, Christian cowboys, Christian politicians; why not a Christian gangster?"
In 1961, Cohen was again convicted of tax evasion and sent to Alcatraz. He was the only prisoner ever bailed out of Alcatraz; his bond was signed by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice, Earl Warren. After his appeals failed, he was sent to a federal prison in Atlanta, GA. His heavily armored Cadillac from this period was confiscated by Los Angeles Police Department and is now on display at the Southward Car Museum in New Zealand. During his time on "the Rock," another inmate attempted to kill Cohen with a lead pipe. In 1972, Cohen was released from the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, where he had spoken out against prison abuse. He had been misdiagnosed with an ulcer, which turned out to be stomach cancer. After undergoing surgery, he continued touring the U.S., including television appearances, once with Ramsey Clark.
Cohen's girlfriend Liz Renay herself spent three years in prison for refusing to inform on him. One of his many other girlfriends, Candy Barr, served prison time for marijuana possession. Two of his other favorites were Tempest Storm and Beverly Hills, the former having her breasts insured with Lloyd's of London.
Cohen's extended family number many cousins who today reside in Wisconsin, New Jersey, New York, Florida, Washington, Vermont and California.
Popular culture and media
- In the film Bugsy, Mickey Cohen is portrayed by actor Harvey Keitel. Keitel received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
- In the film So I Married an Axe Murderer, Mickey Cohen is mentioned as being a past inmate at Alcatraz.
- In the L.A. Quartet book series by James Ellroy, Cohen plays a major supporting role in the three novels The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, and White Jazz.
- In the film L.A. Confidential, Mickey Cohen is portrayed by actor Paul Guilfoyle.
- In the film The Black Dahlia, Mickey Cohen is mentioned as being an illegal bookmaker taking bets on an underground boxing match.
- Patrick Fischler plays Mickey Cohen in the 2011 video game L.A. Noire, who is involved in a few cases while working the Vice desk.
- In the film Gangster Squad, Cohen is portrayed by actor Sean Penn and is the main antagonist of the film.
- In the Frank Darabont series Mob City, Cohen is portrayed by Jeremy Luke.
- Davies, Lloyd G., Los Angeles City Council member, 1943–51, questioned police wiretaps on Mickey Cohen
- Kelly, Robert J. Encyclopedia of Organized Crime in the United States. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000. ISBN 0-313-30653-2
- Phillips, Charles and Alan Axelrod. Cops, Crooks, and Criminologists: An International Biographical Dictionary of Law Enforcement. Updated edition. New York: Checkmark Books, 2000. ISBN 0-8160-3016-2
- Sifakis, Carl. The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York: Facts on File, 2005. ISBN 0-8160-5694-3
- Sifakis, Carl. The Encyclopedia of American Crime. New York: Facts on File, 2001. ISBN 0-8160-4040-0
- Ed Clark, "Trouble in Los Angeles", Life, 1950
- Cohen, Mickey and Nugent, John Peer. Mickey Cohen, In My Own Words: The Underworld Autobiography of Michael Mickey Cohen, As Told To John Peer Nugent (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1975) ISBN 0135808529
- Kelly, Robert J. Encyclopedia of Organized Crime in the United States (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2000) ISBN 0-313-30653-2
- Phillips, Charles and Alan Axelrod. Cops, Crooks, and Criminologists: An International Biographical Dictionary of Law Enforcement, Updated Edition (New York: Checkmark Books, 2000) ISBN 0-8160-3016-2
- Sifakis, Carl. The Mafia Encyclopedia (New York: Facts on File, 2005) ISBN 0-8160-5694-3
- Steve Stevens and Craig Lockwood, King of the Sunset Strip: Hangin' With Mickey Cohen and the Hollywood Mob (Cumberland House Publishing, 2006)
- F. Murray, "The Charmed Life of M. Cohen", Front Page Detective, 1966, 30(3):44–45, 63.
- Lewis, Brad. Hollywood's Celebrity Gangster: The Incredible Life and Times of Mickey Cohen (New York: Enigma Books, 2007) ISBN 1929631650, ISBN 9781929631650.
- George A. Day, JUANITA DALE SLUSHER alias CANDY BARR (ERBE Publishing Company, 2008 ISBN 978-0-9818220-0-6)
- United States Treasury Department, Bureau of Narcotics, Mafia: The Government's Secret File on Organized Crime (Skyhorse Publishing, 2009) ISBN 978-1-60239-668-5
- Tereba, Tere. Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of L.A.'s Notorious Mobster (ECW Press, May 1, 2012) ISBN 1770410007
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Mickey Cohen|
- Benny's Shadow: All about Mickey Cohen by Mark Gribben
- Recollections of Mickey Cohen on the Los Angeles Times' Daily Mirror blog
- Biography of Mickey Cohen - Biography.com
- Time, April 15, 1957
- "Mickey Cohen". Find a Grave. Retrieved June 11, 2013.