The wonder that was Ben Cooper Halloween Costumes

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Ben Cooper, Inc. was an icon in Halloween costumes. Seeing them now, it is hard to believe that they were considered one of the top Halloween costume manufacturers in the United States for 50 years. Let’s take look back at the rise and fall of Ben Cooper, Inc., as well as some of their best (worst?) costumes.

Ben Cooper Sr. founded the Ben Cooper company in Brooklyn in 1937 after his theatre costume company suffered during the Great Depression. Live theatre became a rarity and Halloween was becoming a more and more popular holiday, so Cooper made the change. He obtained a license from the Walt Disney Company to produce costumes based on their characters after assuming control of (and eventually merging with) A.S. Fishbach, Inc. They became one of the most prominent costume manufacturers in the 1940s and went on to obtain licenses to create costumes in the likeness of characters like Spider-Man and Batman in the early 1960s when these characters were virtually unknown. The late 1960s and 1970s brought licenses from two science fiction franchises that are still highly celebrated today: Star Trek and Star Wars. At their height, Ben Cooper was said to have controlled between 70 and 80 percent of the entire licensed character business.

In the 1980s, the company suffered a massive financial setback. A potassium cyanide scare in which seven people died from Tylenol that had been tampered with and laced with the drug in September of 1982 lead to parents not allowing their children to celebrate Halloween. Sale plummeted and it took several years to recover, but the damage had been done. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1988, saw their facility burn to the ground in 1989 resulting in a loss of between $2 and $3 million, went through legal battles with their insurance companies, emerged from bankruptcy, and then filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy again. They were eventually bought by Rubie’s Costume Company in 1992, a company that still produces costumes today.

The costumes Ben Cooper, Inc. manufactured are highly collectible today and it is easy to see why: They’re completely ridiculous by today’s standards, but they are also a great representation of a simpler time. Comprised of cheap plastic masks and silk-screened vinyl smocks, Ben Cooper costumes sold for generally less that $3 at big box retailers like J.C. Penney and Sears. While the company held the licenses for some of today’s most celebrated characters in the worlds of comics, television, and film, in today’s world of super accurate cosplay garments, Ben Cooper’s costumes are laughable. Most of the masks were a fairly decent representation of the characters for that time, albeit a tad unsettling and demonic with their cutout eye holes. The smocks, however, were ill-fitting and often printed with the characters themselves instead of being designed to reflect what the character in question actually wore. The costumes were a paradox; a bastardization of a character essentially wearing itself. It’s both endearing and awful. Why they chose to use this design principle I’ll never understand.

The company produced countless costumes. There are far too many to explore here, but here’s ten of our personal favorites in all of their terrible glory:

 

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Holly Amos
Holly Amos 125 posts

Pro Trekspert. Sherlockian. Tolkienist. Movie/TV freak. Music lover. Sports enthusiast. Cosplayer. Fangirl/geek extraordinaire.