Who talks about Halloween in May? And covered in glitter, no less? My family did. Halloween was a topic of conversation in some form or fashion literally every day as I was growing up in the Cooper household, not to mention the costume and mask factory itself. My father Nat and his brother Ben were the first generation of a Jewish-immigrant family. Along with two sisters, they were born on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and eventually ended up icons of the American toy industry. The brothers’ business really started to grow when they leased their second factory space in Brooklyn, New York. They made it their living to bring Halloween to millions of kids every year in the form of shiny rayon costumes, multi-color vacuum formed vinyl masks and, eventually, those plastic costumes with characters’ names and action scenes splashed across their little chests. Such was the true Halloween story of Ben and Nat Cooper, who were in the business of manufacturing Halloween memories for generations of Americans.
That’s right, those costumes. An elastic band held the Batman, Superman, Mickey Mouse, or Darth Vader mask in place on your face while you went house to house asking for tricks or treats dressed-up as whatever character was dominating pop-culture at the time. For fifty-five of those Halloweens my family dominated the market. Ben Cooper soared above its competitors: Collegeville Costumes, Bland Charnas, Topstone, Halco and Cesar – all fighting for shelf space in the local Woolworth’s or Woolco, Kresge or Kmart, or the upstart Walton’s 5&10- soon to become Walmart. Mothers and fathers brought their sons and daughters to find their favorite Super-Hero, monster, comic book, or cartoon character costume year-in, year-out. And you could be guaranteed the best, most popular ones were nine times out of ten made by Ben Cooper, Inc.
Halloween was a sacred science in my family. The factory my family owned and operated would sometimes run night and day fulfilling orders for Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, and Strawberry Shortcake. Hundreds worked to get all those costumes out in time for sale right up until twilight on Hallow’s Eve when throngs of Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Six Million Dollar Man bedecked children ran through the dark, porchlight-to-porchlight, on a quest to get as much candy as humanly-possible before another Halloween, the greatest time of the year, came and went once again. The holiday that was made-to-order every year in my family’s Brooklyn factory.
Over the next couple months, I’m going to recount some Ben Cooper history along with my favorite characters growing up; some covered in glitter, some real and some fantasy from the family brand that became synonymous with so many Halloweens. And I’ll tell a few tales from “The Place”, what my family called the legendary costume factory in Brooklyn, New York, where they met, worked, and created new ideas to make each Halloween more successful than the last. Even on a sunny day in May.