Tag: 8800 Sunset Blvd.

Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of L.A.’s Notorious Mobster, by Tere Tereba

After Ben Siegel was assassinated, in June 1947, the Syndicate’s East Coast bosses put Mickey Cohen, Bugsy’s one-time enforcer, in charge of their Southern California rackets. Later that year, Cohen moved his headquarters into a deluxe private office suite in a storefront building at Palm Avenue and Holloway Drive on the Sunset Strip. The next few years, as he ruled his multimillion-dollar underworld empire from the Strip, would prove to be the pinnacle of Mickey’s career. By 1951, after having survived two attacks by gun-wielding would-be assassins — including one who entered his offices and blew the head off one of his bodyguards — and a series of bombs set off at his home, Cohen would finally be run to ground by an IRS investigation that ended with a sentence to federal prison.

Memories of Cohen had faded until recently. If he was remembered at all, he was thought of as a caricature of a mob thug, the enforcer who operated in Siegel’s shadow. He started coming back into his own in 2008, in a seven-part series on the LAPD’s Gangster Squad, written by Paul Lieberman, that became the book, Gangster Squad: Covert Cops, the Mob, and the Battle for Los Angeles , published in 2012, and the movie, “Gangster Squad,” which was released earlier this year. In 2009, Cohen’s life was treated in a dual biography with his nemesis, LAPD Chief Bill Parker, in John Buntin’s L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America’s Most Seductive City.

But Mickey Cohen: The Life and Crimes of L.A.’s Notorious Mobster, by Tere Tereba, published in 2012, stands apart. It is a meticulously researched, fast-paced recounting of Cohen’s journey from rags to riches, gangster-style. It traces Cohen’s rise — from Boyle Heights street kid to stick-up artist in Cleveland and Chicago, who eventually became Los Angeles mob goon and bookmaker, then Hollywood celebrity who spent his evenings hobnobbing with movie stars in Sunset Strip nightclubs — and his fall — from tax investigations and stints in federal prison to his post-prison return to celebrity, though diminished, back out on the scene in Los Angeles — with a level of detail not found anywhere else.

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Johnny Stompanato, Sunset Strip Resident

Johnny Stompanato

The gangster Johnny Stompanato lived here in the late 1940s. His boss, Mickey Cohen, owned a storefront building at the foot of Horn, at 8800 Sunset. Stompanato ostensibly worked at Courtley’s, a jewelry store next door to Michael’s Haberdashery, the men’s clothing store Cohen operated on the side. In reality, of course, Cohen ran illegal gambling and other rackets for his bosses back east.

Stompanato was different from the other guys who worked for Cohen. He was not Jewish, for one thing. For another, he was a Marine, who had seen action in World War II.

The reason Johnny Stompanato is remembered today is because of the way he died. He was killed by a stab wound in the bedroom of his girlfriend, Lana Turner. Lana’s teenaged daughter, Cheryl Crane, confessed to the crime saying she did it trying to protect her mother from Stompanato’s physical abuse. The killing was ruled to justifiable homicide.

For a while Stompanato lived on Horn Avenue, directly above the building that housed Cohen’s businesses. His apartment building happened to be directly across the street from CafĂ© Gala, the celebrity gay-straight lounge, which was also the site of the first Spago’s restaurant many years later.

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