Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Mickey Cohen

Benny's Shadow

In Jungian psychology, the "shadow" is the part of the unconscious that contains all of those characteristics the conscious mind considers dark or bad. If the conscious mind thinks aggression is wrong, then the shadow is the part of the personality that is aggressive. Jung believed this was how we cope with having to act in ways we would prefer not to. A healthy personality has a shadow and soul in balance.

Mickey Cohen & Ben
Mickey Cohen & Ben "Bugsy" Siegel
(AP/Wide World)
Mickey Cohen was Ben Bugsy Siegel's shadow. Ben was tall, handsome, suave and welcome in the elite Hollywood circles. He mixed with the glitterati, courted royalty and bedded starlets while his shadow Mickey was picking their pockets, robbing their safes and breaking their bones.

In so many ways they were opposite sides of the same coin. Both were violent men, out of place in the Hollywood environment. They liked many of the same things: good food, fine clothes, beautiful women, shined shoes. But where Benny was able to submerge his dark side and present a more acceptable persona, Mickey was what he was. He was loud, boisterous, and pedestrian. He made no apologies for his lifestyle and his lack of refinement. Together, Mickey Cohen and Benny Siegel were an effective extension of the East Coast Syndicate on the West Coast. They changed organized crime in the West from the backwater Unione Siciliano-Black Hand penny-ante operations that had existed under the old-style Mustache Petes into the multimillion dollar industry that controlled narcotics, gambling, unions, and politics.

After Benny was punished by his Syndicate partners for skimming from the Flamingo project, Mickey Cohen was left alone as the mob's West Coast muscle and easily filled Ben's shoes. He didn't have the flair of Ben Siegel, but Mickey Cohen had a style all his own. Mickey flourished on the West Coast and appeared to have more lives than a cat. He was shot at, bombed, arrested, imprisoned, threatened, and like the fighter he started out as, Mickey kept coming back for more. In the end, he outlasted all of his enemies and went out if not on top, then pretty darn close.

Because organized crime seems to be an East Coast phenomenon, Mickey Cohen never really got the recognition that he deserved. That's a shame because Mickey was a bit of a rarity. In a business where most guys end up in a prison cell or at the wrong end of a gun, Mickey Cohen managed to avoid both of those pitfalls.

One of the reasons Mickey didn't get the recognition that other men he worked with did was because Mick was a second-generation mobster. Just like no one remembers the people who arrived in America on the next boat after the {Mayflower}, Mickey showed up in Chicago long after Al Capone had seized control of the underworld and by the time Mickey came west to join Ben Siegel, Bugsy had already infiltrated the extras union and shown Jack Dragna who was boss in California.

Mickey's rise to power came after the heyday of the Jewish mobsters. Meyer Lansky was well-established in Havana and the Southeast and was looking forward to retiring. The carpet joints were flourishing in Louisiana, Frank Costello was firmly ensconced as the prime minister and there was really no New World to be plundered. The Conquistadores had come and gone and it was Mickey's job to oversee the operations that had been put into place.

He did that with the skill and practice of a journeyman gangster. Mickey may not have been an A-list racketeer, but he was efficient and ruthless at his craft. Like Sam Giancana in Chicago, he paid his dues as a hired gun, worked his way up the chain of command and saw the traps and tricks that had foiled those in front of him. By the time he was in position to run his own operation, Mickey Cohen was as adroit and cunning as the men he succeeded.



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