Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, marveling at how close were the links between the movie studios in the Forties and Fifties and organized crime.
The big studios today are run as faceless corporate entities by interchangeable bureaucrats operationally on another planet from the Bugsy Siegels and Mickey Cohens of Hollywood lore. But back then, gangsters were required by studio bigwigs for all manner of purposes — both business and personal — and it was not uncommon for mobsters to date actresses.
Through the years, those interested in Hollywood mobsters have generally focused on the antics of Siegel, the Brookyn-born tough guy who transformed himself into a Los Angeles social smoothie with access to big and small studios alike and entrees to various actresses of varying popularity.
He was shot to death in the Beverly Hills home of his mistress in 1947. He was played in the movie, Bugsy, by Warren Beatty in 1991 .
Up until recently, Cohen, perhaps the more vicious of the two, got short shrift. Although he garnered reams of publicity in his time, he never got a bigtime movie named after him. With Warner Bros.’ Gangster Squad, Mickey finally receives his due — or is it comeuppance. (Squad is about an intrepid band of tough LAPD cops in an off-the-books assault on Cohen and his empire.)
The recently released film portrays Cohen as a psychopathic slob, all facial grimaces and tics, spouting a fare smattering of fake deez, dems and doz.
In fact, Cohen was a wily, balding, fat-nosed runt of a man (a fast 5-feet, 5-inches tall) who was brought down on tax evasions charges (not murder, as the movie has it) and sent to Alcatraz. He died of stomach cancer in 1976, which for sheer longevity gives him an influential edge over Siegel.
Perhaps his closest link with mainstream studio life was via Johnny Stompanato, whom Cohen took on as a gofer-enforcer-bodyguard in the Forties.
Born in 1925 in Woodstock, Illinois, Stompanato went to a military high school before joining the Marines in 1943, and seeing combat in the Pacific. After a failed marriage, he arrived at 22 in Hollywood in 1948, and quickly connected with Cohen, according to the author Tere Tereba’s biography of the gangster, Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of L.A.’s Notorious Mobster.
Johnny’s FBI file describes him as a procurer of girls for Mickey Cohen’s out-of-town contacts. The LAPD blunt characterization: a notorious pimp. Cohen described him as lacking a ‘vicious nature,’ a lover, not a fighter. His bedroom prowess quickly became legendary, writes Tereba. Oscar, his nickname, referred to the Academy Award-winning size of his phallus.
No wonder, then, that Stompanato is best remembered as Lana Turner’s lover — the one who came to that bloody finale.
The end of the affair came on a rainy Good Friday night, April 4, 1958, with the information that Stompanato’s dead body could be found on the floor of the pink bedroom of Lana’s Bedford Drive residence. And eight-inch kitchen knife had been shoved into his solar plexus, piercing his aorta and kidney. Cheryl Crane was found to have committed justifiable homicide in trying to defend her mother, writes Tereba.
Interestingly, the character and legend surrounding Stompanato is left out of Gangster Squad. Not left out is Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen, a portrayal described by British film journal Sight & Sound as “a mannered, manic performance.” Right on the money. Mickey deserved better.