Meyer Harris “Mickey” Cohen was born on September 4, 1913, in Brooklyn, New York. His mother, a Russian immigrant from Kiev, moved with Mickey and his sister Lillie to the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights. There the family opened a grocery store. By the age of nine, Mickey had already been arrested for making deliveries of his older brother’s illegal moonshine. (Like many mobsters, Mickey got his criminal start smuggling alcohol during Prohibition.) Mickey also boxed in illegal prizefights in Los Angeles, and moved back east hoping to succeed as a professional boxer. Mickey’s boxing career never took off, but he made connections with New York area mobsters, and began a career as an enforcer in Chicago on their request. After an attempt on his life, Cohen moved to Cleveland, where he became acquainted with Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel.
Cohen moved back to Los Angeles. In 1937, he and Bugsy Siegel created a branch of the National Crime Syndicate. Together they controlled a multimillion dollar gambling and narcotics business. After Siegel’s death in 1947, Cohen became the de facto leader of the National Crime Syndicate’s West Coast operations. During the 1940s and 50s, Cohen’s connections to show business figures like Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra contributed to the many legends about the link between entertainment and the Mafia. In 1961, Cohen was charged with tax evasion and sentenced to 15 years at Alcatraz; two years later, an inmate attacked Cohen with a lead pipe. Cohen survived, but was partially paralyzed. After his release in 1972, Cohen lived quietly in Los Angeles until his death in 1976.
Mickey Cohen, 2009
Mixed Media Silkscreen on Paper
19″ x 29″