Hollywood's Celebrity Gangster: The Incredible Life and Times of Mickey Cohen

Hollywood's Celebrity Gangster: The Incredible Life and Times of Mickey Cohen

by Brad Lewis

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Mickey Cohen was under 5'5 but in the crime world he was considered a giant especially in LA, his chosen hunting ground. His contacts were spread all over the country and included an array of politicians, newsmen and columnists, movie moguls, movie stars and mobsters all of them ready to take his calls from coast to coast. His involvement in crime related matters


Mickey Cohen was under 5'5 but in the crime world he was considered a giant especially in LA, his chosen hunting ground. His contacts were spread all over the country and included an array of politicians, newsmen and columnists, movie moguls, movie stars and mobsters all of them ready to take his calls from coast to coast. His involvement in crime related matters reads like a history of those years from 1938 to the mid-1970s when he was on the prowl. Written by a tough and knowledgeable insider Brad Lewis tells the whole Mickey Cohen story with this biography. All the whispered anecdotes, the news items and the underside of the crime rackets where Mickey operated are in this book, open to scrutiny. From Bugsy Siegel to Lucky Luciano and Albert Anastasia to Meyer Lansky and Carlos Marcello, Mickey knew them well and worked closely with them for many years. He had dealings with an array of highly unsavory characters like Jack Ruby and was involved peripherally in the JFK assassination investigation because of his close connection to Carlos Marcello. Brad Lewis has researched this biography for a decade and the result is a book that tells the definitive story of one of the toughest gangsters America ever produced.

Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times
"A colorful biography of the Mick, a nattily attired, 5-5.A. gangster who declared he never killed anyone who "didn't deserve killing" and who feared nothing but germs (hence, his habit of taking 2-hour showers). Hollywood's Celebrity Gangster is a fascinating portrait of how a Boyle Heights newsboy grew up to cross paths with movie stars, religious leaders, jetsetters and newspaper folks - when he wasn't dodging assassination attempts on Sunset Boulevard. Lewis' book shines a light on an often overlooked chapter of the history of crime, L.A.'s mid-20th century underworld (called the 'Vicecapades" by one columnist). Mickey struck me as a guy I would have loved to dine with - as long as it wasn't on Sunset Boulevard."
—Steve Harvey
Library Journal

A purported biography of gangster-celebrity Mickey Cohen (1913�76), this book is more a vehicle for name-dropping. Former actor Lewis (Displacia), an oral surgeon and writer, is obviously enamored of Hollywood and at first glance seems the perfect biographer for the celebrity-obsessed mobster and associate of Bugsy Siegel. Alas, no clear portrait emerges of who Mickey Cohen was or what he did. The descriptions of Cohen's mob-related activities are as shady as the activities themselves; about all we learn is that he was a bookie and may have been involved in various businesses run as fronts for laundering gambling money. He had expensive tastes, was a dandy dresser and a bit of a germaphobe, and loved to hobnob with Hollywood's elite. Lewis cannot resist relaying any gossip he can, the more sensational the better. He even drops bons mots in the extensive yet muddled footnotes. In fact, he clearly sums up his book's raison d'être in the final chapter when describing Cohen's own autobiography as having "none of the salacious celebrity stories that people crave." Not recommended.
—Karen Sandlin Silverman

Product Details

Consortium Book Sales & Dist
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from Hollywood's Celebrity Gangster: The Incredible Life and Times of Mickey Cohen by Brad Lewis. Copyright � 2007. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Mickey Cohen was a little man with a larger-than-life presence. His wardrobe and custom-built automobiles rivaled those of presidents, heads of state, and royalty. When Mickey strolled into a room, his pervasive cologne, dazzling diamond pinky ring, solid gold watch, brand new sparkling shoes, and immaculately tailored suits compensated for his pugilist's countenance.
Mickey Cohen would have objected to this book's publication. He always tried to control what was written about him, and brazenly fought all his critics. The underworld czar dogmatically denied his role in prostitution, illegal drugs, and sexual extortion rings. His blackmail targets included Marilyn Monroe, Lana Turner, and department store heir Alfred Bloomingdale. The most social of any mobster in history, Mickey bridged the gap between Hollywood, Las Vegas, and Washington. Unlike many of his criminal predecessors, Mickey had unique and likeable attributes that attracted movie stars, religious leaders, politicians, jetsetters, and international business moguls. Mickey had the ear of many powerful people, including Richard Nixon, Reverend Billy Graham, and Washington Post columnist Drew Pearson. Enemies like Robert Kennedy were relentless in trying to topple Mickey.
Mickey Cohen committed murder while still a young man. His explanation centered on his mixed moral perspective, "I have killed no man in the first place that didn't deserve killing by the standards of our way of life...in all of these...what you would callkillings...I had no alternative. It was either my life or their life. You couldn't call these cold-blooded killings."
To live the maturing American dream fostered by the media and Hollywood, robbing became second nature, and extortion a means to an end. Jewish mobsters like Mickey developed their own moral codes, justifying their perverse approach to life, while embracing mother and siblings as taught in the Talmud. Mickey's puzzling moral compass couldn't be pinpointed as easily as that of other criminals; he openly bragged about his ability to judge those that deserved murder, while lecturing young men about respect for family and friends. His multilayered and conflicted personality allowed him to be generous with the poor and come to the rescue of the downtrodden, never forgetting his humble origins, despite his flamboyant personal choices for housing, dining, and clothing. Mickey's role in the history of this country can't be dismissed as either good or evil. Some tried to murder him for one or the other, in both reality and the court of public opinion, while others celebrated him with unabashed gratitude in a way that was and still is uniquely American.
We should not forget Mickey Cohen's America. Generations of amnesia-suffering witnesses have refused to admit that Jewish organized crime ever existed. The shameful portrait of Jewish gangsters is not something fearful parents and grandparents eagerly discussed with their offspring. Still, the Jewish gangster was as much a part of the Jewish-American prototype as a lawyer or doctor.

What People are saying about this

Arthur Marx
Never in my years of reading for pleasure, has such an infamous mobster as the late Mickey Cohen been written about with such insight, truthfulness and good humor as Brad Lewis has accomplished in this page-turning bio. For anyone into Jewish or even gentile folklore, this is a must read.
author of Life With Groucho, The Nine Lives of Mickey Rooney, Goldwyn: A Biography of the Man Behind the Myth , Red Skelton, The Secret Life of Bob Hope , Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime (Especially Himself ) - Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and the play, The Impossible Years
Howard Schwartz
"Cohen's life crossed the lives of many. The book's index includes the Mob's Albert Anastasia; stripper Candy Barr; Hollywood big shot Harry Cohn; Frank Costello; gangster Jack Dragna; Jimmy Fratianno; Momo Giancana; J. Edgar Hoover; racket investigator Estes Kefauver; Mob brain Meyer Lansky; actor George Raft; the dapper Johnny Rosselli; ; President John Kennedy and his brother Robert.

This is both a fascinating history of time gone by and a biography of a survivor and Lewis has written it with flash and substance."--(Howard Schwartz, Gambler's Book Club (Shop) Las Vegas)
Allan R. May
This is Mickey Cohen! Inside and Out! The most comprehensive biography ever written about Hollywood's bantam gangster. Bradley Lewis gives us the complete story of the most famous West Coast mobster in history, complete with his ties to the underworld hierarchy across the United States. Lewis shows us multiple sides of Cohen and for the first time gives us a clear understanding of his far-reaching influence, separating fact from fiction along the way.
Irwin Winkler
I found Celebrity Gangster intense, dramatic, a real page turner.
Producer of Rocky, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Night and the City and The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight

Meet the Author

Brad Lewis is a novelist, biographer, playwright, screenwriter, and former actor. He co-wrote the bestselling biography of Milton Berle, My Father, Uncle Miltie, with the comedian's son, a candid look at the irreplaceable American television icon. Lewis' novel Dysplasia is a scalpel thriller centered on the sordid lives and weird sexual habits of "celebrity doctors", exposing the seamy side of high profile specialists who perform unnecessary surgery on their female patients.
Lewis has written often about the Hollywood scene, and is no stranger to celebrities and celebrity doctors. He personally and professionally has known Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Frank Sinatra, Willie Mays, Diane Keaton, Hugh Downs, Henry Mancini and Henry Kissinger. Anonymous underworld "businessmen," often sent their lady friends for treatment in his offices. That experience with known mobsters contributed to Lewis' interest in how gangsters, Hollywood, and Washington somehow connect in the American landscape.
As an actor, Lewis appeared on television in As the World Turns, Love of Life, The Guiding Light, and trained at the prestigious H. B. Studios in Manhattan, with its founder Herbert Berghof and fabled acting teacher William Hickey. He appeared in many off and off-off Broadway productions. Lewis has advanced degrees from CUNY (Psychology) and New York University; a fellowship at Columbia University, College of Physicians and Surgeons, and St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital. A popular talk show guest, he has appeared on numerous radio and television programs. Lewis is a native New Yorker.

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