Brent X. Mendoza at TheSunsetStrip.com:
THESUNSETSTRIP.COM:The new book, what initially sparked your interest in Mickey Cohen? Was it your time on The Strip and growing up in Hollywood?
TEREBA: That’s part of it; I wanted to know about the L.A. underworld. We know about the organized crime from everywhere else, but was there not an underworld in L.A.? So my book essentially takes you all the way back to prohibition when Mickey Cohen was a very small child, and it takes you through 1976, and much of it plays out on The Sunset Strip.
I didn’t know that that was going to happen… After uncovering history from ten years of research and going over documents and rare photos, I found I was able to finally deliver a realistic look at L.A.’s underworld, which hadn’t ever been done before. So it really started with me being curious and then I realized that this is an extraordinary story and it’s never really been properly, or even partially, told.
I was fascinated, and shocked by it all… There were literally multiple shootouts on The Sunset Strip; there were shootouts in Brentwood, on Sunset in Bel Air that didn’t make the papers, downtown L.A. Gang war was raging from 1946 to 1950 on the streets of L.A. all surrounding Mickey Cohen…and what I uncovered was a much more involved story of what was going on with Bugsy Siegel being a major Hollywood socialite and how he goes to war right before he was assassinated in 1947. He starts a war with J. Edgar Hoover… All sorts of things going on right around where I live and where I went about my daily business. All of this history around me that had never been put together in one document and exposed.
THESUNSETSTRIP.COM: Did you initially start out with the intention of writing a book, or was it more of an interest where eventually you realized you had all this material that would make a great book?
TEREBA: What I was finding was so extraordinary. Things had been seen from the side of law enforcement and politicians, but Mickey Cohen was often in collusion with them, so some of the stories that had been brought out prior to my book were stories that Cohen and the authorities had concocted as a sort of a smoke screen from their mutual illicit activities.
These rogues he was working with, they obviously wanted to cover up what was going on, so it took a long time to stitch it all together, and try to get down to naming the names of the actual gang members, that had never been done, and talking about who was fighting who in the gang war, and who were the politicians involved, and how all these things happened. It was very hard to do and took a lot of work and a lot of research, but it was always fascinating…
THESUNSETSTRIP.COM: I’m actually speaking to you from The Viper Room. Can you give us any info on the former Melody Room and what was going on then in regards to Mickey Cohen?
TEREBA: That was definitely a place that was used by them as a hangout. He had many hangouts and businesses that were fronts a few blocks to the east by Palm and Holloway on The Sunset Strip. That’s where one of the shootouts happened, there on the corner of Palm. They tried to assassinate Mickey Cohen in his haberdashery, and they killed one of his top lieutenants. And then two years later there was a big shootout in front of the Key Club.
He was being body guarded by a special high ranking state officer that had been assigned to him to protect him by California’s attorney general and there were numerous civilians wounded. Mickey Cohen was winged and another one of his men died; the special state officer was severely wounded and for a few weeks was on the brink of death but eventually recovered.
So that brought a lot of attention to what was going on, because it was the biggest outbreak of violence in L.A. history that had occurred up until that time. It was an amazing period—there were socialites, European intellectuals, and princes all in L.A. after [World War II]. And during the war there were all kinds of people like movie stars and moguls, and Mickey Cohen brought the violence literally next door to where they were partying at Ciro’s [now The Comedy Store] and the Mocambo.
He also, in 1944 had a casino in a big amazing mansion, up off Coldwater Canyon… So even after all the other clubs closed, he still operated a full service casino where everyone wanted to go, where reservations were required, and it was high rollers only. But it was eventually shut down because the neighbors formed a line—a human barrier on the little lane the casino was located off of—preventing the gamblers and partyers from going to the “exclusive party house” they called it.
It was just extraordinary how they were so out front with everything and very much mixing in with the normal goings-ons of the day, it wasn’t hidden… Just east of Book Soup was [Cohen’s personal tailor] Al Pignola’s shop, then it was Courtley’s jewelry store and Michael’s exclusive haberdashery—these were three fronts of his.
And then where The Roxy is now, was a black market for very expensive foods that were sold during World War II, where for the right price people could get whatever they wanted.
And then where Duke’s [was], in the ’60s, ’70s, and maybe ’80s was a steak house where his gang ran operations. So for the kids going to the Whisky, this would be the complete opposite type of a place… It was this little slice of a place called Sneaky Pete’s—pitch black with a few red lights punctuating it, and it probably looked like the mouth of hell to the kids going to the Whisky…but it was for Mickey Cohen’s men and also some aging “ladies of the night.” They served excellent steaks and this was where they monitored The Strip.