Sunday, July 19, 2009

Mickey Cohen (1913-76)

Meyer Harris Cohen was born September 4, 1913, in Brooklyn, New York. His mother had immigrated from Ukraine. At three, he moved with his sister Lillie to the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles. Two of his brothers (Harry and Louis) became gangsters at a very early age. His father was a gangster. His brother Sam took a different route and lived the ordinary life of a hard working Orthodox Jew. Ironically, most people saw Mickey as a sweet kid with a delightful personality.

He went back to New York in 1923 and began working in the illegal alcohol business at the age of nine. (This was the time of Prohibition, when alcohol was illegal to be sold as a beverage. He would sell the drinks to his older brother who owned a drug store that did a fair business as a speakeasy.

As a teenager, he went back to Los Angeles and began boxing illegally. This led to other criminal activities. He was a smooth talker.

He spent time in Chicago and met Al Capone. Mickey worked with Al's brother Frank for a brief period. But he'd always keep going back to L.A. He became the head of the syndicate in Los Angeles, dealing mostly with illegal gambling... but packing quite a few weapons.

There was also some sex related activity, usually voyeuristic pornography. This was not such a big thing for Mickey. He preferred dealing with schemes that made money.

In 1947, he took over the role that Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel (1906-47) of managing the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Much more happened, but this was not the Mickey Cohen I remember seeing when I was growing up. In 1961 he was sent to Alcatraz Prison on the charge of income tax evasion. After Alcatraz closed in 1963 he was sent to the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. He was released in 1972 on medical grounds. Diagnosed with an ulcer, it was found to be stomach cancer, and it was fatal.

Mickey lived the last five years of his life as a sweetheart of talk shows (including Merv Griffin), becoming a Christian believer at a Billy Graham Crusade (some say that was for show), and informing Attorney General Ramsey Clark (1927-) on the real activities of the mob.

He dealt with the kidnapers of Randolph Apperson Hearst's (1915-2000) daughter, Patty (1954- ) to release her. For those of you who remember that situation, the whole thing was quite confusing... One minute, you thought that she went with the group of thugs on her own free will and the next, you thought she was kidnaped. And that's what TV was like during the spring of 1974!

Mickey died on July 29, 1976, and is interred at the Hillside Memorial Cemetery.

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