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Mickey Cohen--author

August 4, 2007 |  9:36 pm

1958_cohen_sep_01 Aug. 4, 1957

Box 7, Folders 216-229 of the Ben Hecht archives at the Newberry Library in Chicago appear to contain whatever was produced during the time Hecht worked with gangster Mickey Cohen on the story of the mobster's life.

"It might be the basis for a top book," Hecht said. "It's exciting, unusual, frank and startling."

The men began work in 1956 on a film to be produced by United Artists under the title "The Mickey Cohen Story" or "The Poison Has Left Me," according to The Times, which noted that Hecht was working on "A Farewell to Arms" and had obligations to write two pictures for British film companies. 

By the summer of 1957, Cohen had produced a 150-page manuscript that he showed to Hecht, who was staying in Oceanside.

Noting that Cohen had apparently dictated the manuscript, Hecht said: "He must have done it himself. No one but Mickey uses words that way. It's a goldmine of facts--I haven't seen so many facts since I was a newspaper reporter. It has Mickey's indelible stamp."

Hecht dismissed any speculation on the project, saying: "Mickey brought it to me and asked me to read it and tell him what I thought of it. I don't know of any plans he may have for it."

In truth, Hecht and Cohen worked on the manuscript with some diligence. "I spent four days in Oceanside with him and we got a lot done," Cohen said. There were so many interruptions that Hecht suggested the two of them retreat to his villa in Rome, but the federal government took a dim view of the former mobster going to Italy, home of Lucky Luciano, Joe Adonis and other deported gangsters.

"They seem to think maybe I'm going over there for something other than the reason I'm really going," Cohen said.

In January 1958, Cohen went to Chicago to work with Hecht on the book. Earlier that day, Cohen allegedly roughed up a waiter who spilled coffee on him during an early morning gathering at the Villa Capri, 6735 Yucca St., as Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum and several others were celebrating Sammy Davis Jr.'s opening appearance at the Moulin Rouge.

The next month, Cohen said he had given up his flower shop to spend all of his time with Hecht writing the movie version of his life.

The book was nearly finished by March and was due out in the fall of 1958, at least according to Cohen. "It'll knock the blocks off people," Cohen said as he left Los Angeles for Los Cocos Hotel in La Paz,  Mexico, to spend a week with Hecht on the project.

George Bieber, Cohen's attorney, said a studio had offered $200,000 ($1,433,056.75 USD 2006) and 80% of the profits but that Cohen wanted $200,000 and 20% of the gross. Bieber also said the book would bring Cohen about $500,000 to $750,000 and that 50,000 copies had already been ordered.

And then everything went off the rails, as happens so often in Hollywood.

In September 1958, the Saturday Evening Post began a four-part series titled "Mickey Cohen: The Private Life of a Hood" by freelance writer Dean Jennings. In October 1958, Cohen sued Curtis Publishing, the parent company of the Saturday Evening Post, saying that the series ruined any possibility of publishing his book, but he dropped the suit in December 1958.

It's clear from testimony in Cohen's 1961 tax evasion trial that he was selling interest in the book. Nightclub owner Bernard "Happy" Koomer said he gave Cohen $15,000 in May 1957 for a 10% share. Koomer testified that he stopped payment on several checks and that when he met Cohen, the gangster tore up the checks, threw the pieces in Koomer's face and seized a diamond ring given to Koomer as security. It is interesting to speculate that the book may have been far more profitable if it remained unpublished--rather like "The Producers."

Apparently whatever remains of the Cohen project is in the 94 cubic feet of material in the Hecht archives in Chicago. There's a good dissertation in there for some historian, I guarantee you.

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