The 1900s Life of Mickey Cohen From The Mafia

Mickey Cohen

Mickey Cohen aka Meyer Harris “Mickey” Cohen (1913 – 1976) was an American gangster from Los Angeles and part of the Jewish Mafia. You may know about him from movies such as Gangster Squad, Bugsy and L.A Confidential. The mobster also had strong ties to the American Mafia from the 1930s through the 1960s. Cohen’s Inmate Case File scribed during his time at Alcatraz, Atlanta and McNeil Island federal penitentiaries, provided a detailed background, including family history that was provided directly from Cohen during interviews.

The 1900s Life of Mickey Cohen From The Mafia

Early Life in New York:

Mickey Cohen was born in New York City, New York, to Max and Fanny Cohen, Russian-Jewish immigrants, natives of Kiev, Russia. He was born in the early 1900s because his parents had just come to America during the turn-of-the-century. According to family members, his father operated a fish market in New York until his death from tuberculosis in 1914( just a year after Mickey was born) in that city. Because he didn’t know his father the mobster stated that his father had another name other than the Americanized version but is unable to recall it. He is also uncertain whether his parents ever took out citizenship papers.

Mickey Cohen was not yet two years old when his father passed away. Mickey’s parental home, according to his sister Pauline, was very religious with both parents keeping the Hebrew Sabbath strictly into the letter. Pauline recalls that their father’s funeral took place at home and many friends that had come to the wailing ceremonies as was the custom of the church. The five children, with Mickey, the youngest, were present. According to his sister and his future wife, Mickey did not speak much about the loss of his father, but has always been sympathetic towards his mother, his only knowledge of him being what he is been told. 

As you can see, Cohen never knew his father but his mother had always worked very hard until her age and infirmities would not permit. He once said that his mother had to borrow money to come to Los Angeles following his father’s death because of her health. Both his mother and his older brothers and sister used to suffer from severe privation during this time. He remembers the other children were more educated than himself because  his father was alive to provide them an education. If you read below, you can see that during his time at Alcatraz, he was an avid reader reading books he would have picked up at school on subjects such as general works books, sports books, science (math), poetry, better speech and English, philosophy, travel, character, biographies and biology books. It is noted that the books he loaned were strictly nonfictional in nature.

But coming back to his childhood, as he was denied the basic privilege of attending school, he felt the world suggesting a feeling of being underprivileged in this respect in comparison with the others. Mickey recalled that he would relate closest to his sister Lillian, believing this was circumstanced by her having to take care of him as a small child when his mother tried to work after arrival in Los Angeles, to alleviate the dire financial circumstances they were in.  

Moving to Los Angeles, A Significant Shift: 

Not uncommon from other American mobsters, Mickey Cohen started out hustling newspapers on the streets of New York City for the now extinct “Record”, “Express” and “Examiner.” He started at a very early age around five or six to support his family who depended on their single mother. 

But his Orthodox Jewish family rewrote the traditional script by moving from New York to Los Angeles when Mickey was nine years old because of his mother’s health. For a period of about five years, she was nervously ill, having tension in the throat and a hoarseness of the voice somewhat hysterical in nature. It is thought she received some clinical treatment in Los Angeles after her arrival, during which the condition left her as suddenly as it set in. Pauline, Mickey Cohen’s sister, was barely nine years of age when little Mickey was made her responsibility. She remembers him as an easy child to manage, that he was toilet trained early, walked and talked early. The home was kept immaculately clean with the example set by their mother. This habit would continue, as documented about from his wife and in-laws who were impressed by his early training. They said he was fanatically clean and everything about him felt clean too. 

His mother-less relationship presented no complication of a prenatal nature, and he was loved and wanted as were the other children. Because of money constraints however, his mother did not have much time for Mickey during the impressionable age of mother-dependent upbringing and in experiencing her absence from him, he felt rejection and being unwanted. Emotional growth, lacking a father figure, a picture of a young Mickey Cohen should someone who wasn’t normally adjusted to the world. So Cohen related to his next brother in age, about eleven years his senior. But he remembers he did not play or associate with any of his brothers during childhood, that he had to “fight his own way” particularly with the other young newsboys in the Boyle Heights district. Throwing it back to old Los Angeles, Mickey Cohen recalls “… If you came from Los Angeles, you know Boyle Heights.” 

Mickey Cohen Went to Reform School:

Through these years and through savings, Mrs. Cohen finally bought a small grocery and later a restaurant, working fourteen and fifteen hours a day. This meant that Mickey Cohen finally had enough money in his family to go to school but quickly got into trouble. 

During this time, he remembers school as a “special school”, possibly a school for retarded children, though this has not yet been verified. Mickey complained that he didn’t learn anything in regard to reading or writing, but in company with twelve or fourteen other children, he drew pictures and made crafts, whiled away the time which he describes as irksome and distasteful. 

At this time, along with pride and approbation, he describes his effort in self teaching spelling, letter writing and arithmetic. He does not remember how far he progressed in school. His family does not remember his grade level, either but he quit voluntarily at the age of ten with not much pressure. Although it has been recorded that his sister Pauline indicated that she tried to impress upon him the fact he was indeed a bright boy and should learn some kind of trade. He had no trouble getting along with other schoolmates but did break his leg when about eight or nine years old and it made him miss school. During the 1920’s it didn’t really matter if you went to school or not, and since Cohen felt a sense of being different from the norm and he gave up school, soon he picked up amateur boxing. 

Boxing and Moving to Cleveland:

PC: Alcatraz History

Mickey Cohen states he quit school and decided to work to assist his mother. He wanted to box when he learned about it through his newsboys group. He is unable to remember how but remembers taking part in newsboy exhibitions at a very early age. Developing this interest, possibly as an unrecognized outlet for childish insecurity and a need for attention, he becomes more active in the newsboy boxing cards, which in turn supplemented his earnings. Through the father, the other children had the early opportunity to receive training in the Hebrew school, with the sisters studying piano. Mickey did not have any such extra activities so instead learned the need for money and all it would bring to help in the home situation.

When Cohen later shifted to Cleveland in an effort to become a professional boxer, he started competing in some minor fights. At the time, many fights were “fixed” — the outcome was known in advance — although that did not deter gamblers from wagering. On April 8, 1930, Mickey Cohen fought his first professional bout in Cleveland and won against Patsy Farr in the only fight of Farr’s short career. But his luck ran out and lost his next five in a row. 

According to Boxrec.com, Mickey Cohen ended his boxing career with a lifetime record of 7 wins, 11 losses and 1 draw. A majority of his fights were held in Cleveland, but there were two in Chicago and two in California, including one in his hometown of Los Angeles. Interestingly, for at least one bout in Cleveland, he fought under the moniker “Gangster Mickey Cohen.” 

Starting His Life of Crime:

Through his boxing in Cleveland, Mickey Cohen met associates of Moe Dalitz, a Midwestern bootlegger. They would go on to become one of Las Vegas’ leading casino operators. It also was in Cleveland that Cohen was arrested for armed robbery, although he beat the rap.

In an effort to avoid the scrutiny of police, who now had Cohen on their radar, the young gangster moved to Chicago, where he went to work for the Outfit, the criminal organization founded by Al Capone. According to published biographies, Mickey Cohen ran a gambling operation there in the waning days of Prohibition. The young mobster would later claim to have met Capone, but the timeline is difficult to reconcile: Capone likely was already in prison for income tax evasion by the time Cohen was operating in Chicago.

Coming Back to Los Angeles as A Mobster:

In 1937, with the backing of the Outfit, the criminal organization founded by Al Capone, Mickey Cohen relocated to Los Angeles with a mission. He was there to organize the rackets  swiftly growing in Southern California. Mickey Cohen eventually found his way to other mobsters, especially Jack Dragna, his rival for rackets and the lucrative “race wire.” It was a long-running, vicious and bloody gang war in 1930. 

Mickey Cohen’s businesses and criminal rackets were all over the map during his long career in L.A. during which he operated jewelry stores and ice cream trucks, dinner clubs and loan-sharking operations. Mickey shook down business and labor groups, and he allegedly was at the center of a pornography and blackmail operation that penetrated deep into the heart of the Hollywood community and local government leadership. In addition to traditional mob businesses, Mickey also took advantage of the movie industry by controlling unions and also through blackmail. In 1947 Mickey Cohen became the West Coast crime boss.

Mickey was arrested and fined a certain amount for beating up a rival in 1942, but, with a lawyer paid for by national Syndicate boss Frank Costello, the killing of a professional rival, Max Shaman, in May 1945, was ruled self-defense by the L.A. County district attorney.

Through some way or another, Cohen publicly and financially supported the congressional campaign of a young Richard Nixon. He would also meet and befriended a young evangelical named Billy Graham, even made a fan of William Randolph Hearst, the publishing magnate.

In June 1951, Cohen was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to four years in prison. A decade later, Cohen was again convicted of tax evasion and did 11 years in federal prisons (where he survived an assassination attempt, one of a reported 11 in his career).

Already famous – or infamous — after his testimony before the Kefauver Committee and for his high-profile lifestyle in Los Angeles, Cohen did a live television interview in 1957 with Mike Wallace, later of 60 Minutes fame. During the interview, Cohen admitted to killing at least one man in self-defense and harshly attacked Los Angeles Police Chief William Parker.

In his personal life, Mickey Cohen was married to the wholesome-looking actress LaVonne Cohen from 1940 to 1958 and he was also linked to actress Liz Renay, who spent three years in jail for refusing to inform on him. He even dated the burlesque queens Tempest Storm, Candy Barr and Beverly Hills. Mickey Cohen hired John “Johnny Stomp” Stompanato as a bodyguard. Stompanato would later be killed by his girlfriend, Lana Turner’s daughter, in a domestic violence situation in 1958. Cohen paid for John Stompanato’s funeral. Mickey Cohen continued to operate various businesses throughout his life. The mobster was diagnosed with stomach cancer after leaving his second stint in federal prison in 1972 and died peacefully in his sleep in 1976.

General Trivia:

What did Mickey Cohen do?

Mickey Cohen was born in Brooklyn, New York and grew up in Los Angeles. Mickey Cohen’s  businesses and criminal rackets were all over the map during his long career in L.A. during which he operated jewelry stores and ice cream trucks, dinner clubs and loan-sharking operations. Mickey shook down business and labor groups, and he allegedly was at the center of a pornography and blackmail operation that penetrated deep into the heart of the Hollywood community and local government leadership. In addition to traditional mob businesses, Mickey also took advantage of the movie industry by controlling unions and also through blackmail. In 1947 Mickey Cohen became the West Coast crime boss.

How long was Mickey Cohen in jail?

In June 1951 Cohen was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to four years in prison. A decade later, Cohen was again convicted of tax evasion and did 11 years in federal prisons (where he survived an assassination attempt, one of a reported 11 in his career).

At Alcatraz, Mickey used to correspond regularly with his brother, girlfriend, and sister, Lillian Weimer, Los Angeles California and occasionally with his friends: Abe Phillips, Beverly Hills, California and Ed Trascher. He had been quite prolific in his writing and has been warned several times about violations of correspondence regulations. At Alcatraz, Mickey Cohen had received two visits every month from his brother, Harry Cohen, Oakland, California and his girlfriend, Claretta Hashagen, Las Vegas, Nevada who alternated their visits. Aside from these two, he had several visits from his attorneys. During this time he only had $335.05 in his personal account.

How long did Mickey Cohen serve in Alcatraz?

When he was 49 years old, he was sentenced to serve fifteen years for an attempt to evade and defeat income tax. The resident of Los Angeles was committed directly to Alcatraz July 28, 1961 but released on appeal bond October 17, 1961. 

He was returned to custody May 8, 1962 with 202 days of his sentence inoperative, and returned to Alcatraz May 14, 1962. After his return to this institution from appeal, he was assigned to the Clothing Room on May 24, 1962, and his work supervisor reports say that he is a very good worker because he is concerned about doing his share of the work for fear someone will think he isn’t carrying his share of the load. In the cell house, he was very cooperative and polite towards officers. He kept one of the neatest cells in the cell house, went to the yard whenever he could, and seemed to be well adjusted to his present situation. He had a great tendency to be a packrat. In the cell house, Cohen was also reported as having made a good adjustment and spending playing cards. He wasn’t seen as one with any trouble to the inmates and had an attitude that deserves special consideration. Even though he obeyed the rules and regulations when faced with them, the cell house officer states, “This man is apt at getting what he wants by any means open to him.” Mickey Cohen was part of a family with Jewish faith and attended such services regularly. The Protestant chaplain remarked that Cohen had some individual counseling, and actually seemed to be making a better adjustment, being friendly and cooperative with the chaplain.

He used to read a great amount, according to his book loans from the institution library, it was a wide range of material as general works books, sports books, science (math), poetry, better speech and English, philosophy, travel, character, biographies and biology books. It is noted that the books he loaned were strictly nonfictional in nature.

Eventually, he was eligible for parole on January 18, 1967 and his mandatory release date was February 14, 1972. 

Is Mickey Cohen still alive?

No, he died. 

How did Mickey Cohen die?

Cohen, who was 62, died of stomach cancer in his sleep in 1976 and is interred in the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.

When did Mickey Cohen die?

29 July 1976

Where did Mickey Cohen live?

Brooklyn and New York 

Where did Mickey Cohen die?

Mickey Cohen died in his hometown of Los Angeles, California, United States

Where is Mickey Cohen buried?

His place of burial is the Hillside Memorial Park, Culver City, California in the United States. 

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