A mask by Ben Cooper Inc. of the cyclops Rell from the 1983 film ‘Krull.’
After launching his company, Ben Cooper Inc. in 1937, Brooklyn native Ben Cooper Sr. would help make his costume business hugely successful thanks to their prolific production line of kooky plastic masks. If you owned a plastic mask anytime in the 1940s through the 1980s or so, it was probably made by Ben Cooper Inc. or their closest competitor, Collegeville which was founded in 1923.
I’m a sucker for Halloween ephemera, even though most of what Ben Cooper Inc. put out would eventually find its way into large chain stores like JC Penney and other discount retailers where you could buy cheap but cool costumes and masks of all varieties for a less than four bucks. Whoever you wanted to be for Halloween, Ben Cooper had you quite literally covered. The company would start production of their costumes and masks as early as the first of the year which would yield a veritable hoard of costumes for the coming season. From famous icons like President John F. Kennedy to hyper-colored riffs on classic movie monsters and other ghouls, Ben Cooper Inc. was a Halloween machine. The company had several licensing agreements with high profile clients such as Walt Disney and George Lucas allowing them access to some of the most popular fictional characters of all time. Cooper even scored a license in 1979 to make a costume modeled after H.R. Giger’s xenomorphs that terrorized filmgoers in Alien that same year.
Political masks were also popular items in Ben Cooper Inc.‘s supply chain. In addition to JFK and his first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, they also made other presidential masks such as Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and even Mikhail Gorbachev. Following Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, the company destroyed its entire supply of JFK and Jackie Kennedy masks. Then, in 1982 the horrific news that a child and six adults died after ingesting Extra Strength Tylenol that had been tainted with cyanide in metropolitan locations of Chicago rocked the U.S. about a month before Halloween. The story quickly fueled mass hysteria based on speculation that Halloween candy and treats might also be poisoned. Costume sales for Ben Cooper Inc. (and every other costume and candy manufacturer for that matter) came to a grinding halt, and for many years following the unsolved incident, the Halloween costume business struggled to recover.
Most of the masks and costumes I’ve featured in the post can be found on auction sites like eBay or vintage Internet purveyors like Etsy. Check ‘em all out below!
The rare JFK and Jaqueline Kennedy masks.
A colorful vintage vampire mask by Ben Cooper Inc.
A vibrant Phantom of the Opera mask.
Moe Howard of The Three Stooges.
One of Ben Cooper’s many Native American masks.
The H.R. Giger inspired and officially licenced Alien/Xenomorph mask.
A set of masks based on the Sid and Marty Krofft show ‘The Bugaloos.’
A fantastic example of Cooper’s use of eye-popping color for their masks.
Morticia Addams mask.
Devil mask with hair.
A glittery, hairy vampire mask.
Another one of Ben Cooper’s Native American masks.
A mask allegedly based on Vampira.
A rather unsetteling Mouseketeer mask by Ben Cooper Inc.
A sweet female vampire mask by Ben Cooper Inc.
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Happy happy joy joy!’: Hyper-realistic Ren & Stimpy masks
Amazing Venom, Motörhead, and DEVO masks!
Eye-popping latex masks of Lemmy, Prince and David Bowie
Feed your fictional cosmic entity fetish with these leather ‘Cthulhu’ masks
Freaky and frightening latex masks of GG Allin, Booji Boy, Eddie the Head, André the Giant and more
Giant, creepy papier-mâché masks from the Venice Beach Mardi Gras Festival in the mid-1930s