King of Sunset Strip “Stars” in “Gangster Squad”By: Julissa Rodriguez
West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. It conjures up hot nightclubs, great live music, trendy restaurants, upscale hotels and high fashion boutiques. But gangsters and Shootouts? Yes! In the 1940s, The Sunset Strip was a wild and action-packed stomping ground, with a mixture of Hollywood movie stars, fancy nightclubs, secret gambling dens like The Melody Room (today it’s the Viper Room) and of course, mobsters, as famous as the Hollywood stars they hobnobbed with. Enter Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Seigel.
Cohen was known as “The King of the Sunset Strip.” He began as a hustler, became a boxer and found his way to the underworld of Los Angeles. He partnered with Bugsy Seigel. Their crime team became the West Coast arm of the East Coast Syndicate, controlling gambling, narcotics, unions and politics, turning it into a multi-million dollar operation. Cohen was Seigel’s right hand “darker half.” Bugsy would party with big Hollywood stars in fancy Sunset Strip nightclubs, then “bed” them, while Cohen would “steal their money and break their bones.”
Cohen took over the operations when Seigel went to Las Vegas to open The Flamingo (apparently The Sunset Strip was prelude to The Vegas Strip). If being a mobster wasn’t enough, he opened a haberdashery, a men’s clothing store on The Strip. Oddly the hats and coats were exclusively in his size. No surprise that it was a front for illegal gambling. Fed up with the mob madness, citizens took matters into their own hands and Cohen was shot and wounded in front of Sherry’s restaurant (now The Key Club) in 1949 causing law enforcement to finally take action against the mob.
It all sounds like fodder for a Hollywood movie. And it is. “Gangster Squad” opens today with Sean Penn (who else?) playing Mickey Cohen. It’s a “heavily fictionalized account” of LA police chief William H. Parker’s (played by Nick Nolte) mission with his special crime squad to bring down Cohen and other mobsters.