Started in 1937 by former costume and set designer Ben Cooper, Ben Cooper, Inc. initially sold costumes of ghosts, goblins and other creatures but began licensing characters like Superman and Zorro as the popularity of their TV shows grew. If you were a kid growing up in the United States during the 60s, 70s or 80s, the chances are pretty doggone high that at one time or another you wore a Ben Cooper, Inc. costume on Halloween.
As the leaves would start to change from green to browns, reds and yellows, store shelves would begin to fill with boxes covered in images of popular characters from cartoons, television and movies. If you were of a certain age (generally five to 10 years old, or so), you would go nuts upon seeing these in K-Mart or a local five and dime store – you could be almost ANY character you could think of. Did you want to be Spider-Man? Maybe Evel Knievel or a generic witch or ghost? No matter what you wanted, chances are good that Ben Cooper, Inc. had a costume for it – although calling it a costume requires a fairly liberal definition of the word. Each costume consisted of a plastic mask and vinyl smock, the former molded and painted to look like the character while the latter was printed to look like the character’s outfit (although there were a lot that just had an illustration of the character on it which seemed really dumb. Seriously – Underdog’s costume should be red with a ‘U’ on it, not a picture of Underdog flying).
Sadly, all good things must come to an end and The Ben Cooper company was not exempt from the winds of change. The company struggled in the 80’s as sales dwindled and, in 1988, filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. In a textbook case of “when it rains, it pours”, their facility burned to the ground in January of 1989. Despite paying off their creditors and emerging from bankruptcy, a lengthy court case involving their insurance companies and a relocation from Georgia to North Carolina, caused Ben Cooper, Inc. to file for Chapter 11 once again which they were unable to recover from and, in 1992, the company was sold to Rubies Costume Company.
So, in honor of this trailblazing pioneer of a company that provided countless kids with Halloween costumes for generations, let’s take a look at some of their best (and worst!) offerings.