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  • Feb 12, 2013
Amongst the fun facts that enliven this lightweight tabloid-level biography of gangster Cohen I learned that Warren Zevon's father was a lower-level associate of Cohen.  Perhaps Warren wrote the song based on his father's accounts of his old gangster days.

I also learned that there really was a Gangster Squad, a small elite unbadged corps within the LAPD given free reign to bring down Cohen.  I don't know how the recently released movie tells the story, but Cohen died of cancer in 1976 at the age of 63, brought down only by disease and the IRS.  Unfortunately while there might be more to the story, you won't read it here, as Tereba's account is too breezy and tabloid-superficial to dig for the story.

Still, while not great writing, this is a fun companion volume to the DVD double feature I just enjoyed:  Chinatown and L. A. Confidential.  The booming desert town on the edge of the Pacific was the real star of both movies, and for twenty years it was Mickey's town.  The center of the action was the Sunset Strip, where the divided jurisdiction of L. A. county and city made for lax and uncertain enforcement and marginally legal businesses like those Cohen ran to front his real moneymakers could flourish.  And it is fun to learn about some of the real life haunts we see in those movies, like the Pantages Theatre.   And Tebera's book provides some useful background that makes L. A. Confidential's action make sense, such as the corruption within the LAPD and the police forces war against out of town gangsters, especially those from Cleveland (Cohen earned his gangster
stripes there, and may have been controlled by Cleveland  crime families even during his L. A. time).

Teresa does include an extensive bibliography, where it appears that most gangsters were busier telling their stories to ghostwriters than they were strong arming legitimate businesses or muscling in on rival gangs.  Much like the outlaws of the Wild West, it appears that the gangsters of the following century were at least in part products of their own publicity.  So you can dig deeper and read the accounts from the primary and secondary sources Tereba cites if you really want the truth behind the headlines.

But if you just want the headlines from today's "Hollywood Nite Life" (Cohen's tabloid mouthpiece) just hit play on Chinatown and L. A. Confidential and flip to page one.

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Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #1
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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"With great style and boatloads of new information, Tere Tereba has crafted a page-turner about the greatest gangster LA has ever seen. . . . Few lived on the edge as long as Cohen, and fewer still earned a biography this entertaining." —Gus Russo, Pulitzer Prize-nominated author, The Outfit and Supermob

"The author does a superb job of tracing the ins and outs of Hollywood's gang world in the 1940s and '50s." —Wall Street Journal (May 16, 2012)

"This is a slashing good book — a razor-sharp bio of malevolent macher Mickey the C: the confounding Kingpin of L.A. crime. Buy this book now — it'll hang you out to dry!!" —James Ellroy, author, The Black Dahlia and L.A. Confidential

"[An] absorbing and gritty account of Cohen's rise from a tough as nails pugilist from East L.A. to a seemingly untouchable gangster." —www.HollywoodOutbreak.com

"[A] gripping yarn about the life and times of the 20th-century Los Angeles underworld." —www.InterviewMagazine.com

"In Mickey Cohen, Tere Tereba brings to life the pugnacious nature of a hoodlum unique in the annals of American gangsterism. . . . Tereba captures the essence of the man and his times with insight and flair." —T.J. English, New York Times bestselling author of Havana Nocturne and The Westies

"Tereba brings the bantamweight crook back to vivid life in this biography, along with the night clubs and race tracks he frequented and the no-holds-barred L.A. in which he flourished. This is a ...
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