The above photo shows Shy Sis and I in our Halloween get ups around the year ninteen-seventy-mumble mumble mumble. I'm Frankenstein's Monster and Shy Sis is Little Miss Moffitt if she wore a Devil suit. My gut tells me that the year before I probably wore a Devil costume, and the year this photo was taken we found a mask for Sis and dolled her up in my old Devil garb. We were young and full of Halloween excitement, so matters such as that didn't concern us much. The important thing was that the costumes resulted in candy.
Every generation has traditions that they immediately identify with their Halloween experience. If you grew up between the 1950s and 1970s you probably heavily identify Halloween with the type of costumes that we're wearing in that photo. The gold standard of Halloween costuming during that period was manufactured by Ben Cooper Inc. They were one of the top manufacturers of Halloween costumes during that period, and there would be aisles of different get ups made by them.
The typical Ben Cooper costume was packaged in a box, and featured a flimsy mask with a vinyl smock to wear. The design you see above was pretty typical. There would be the mask to identify as the character, but the body would typically feature an illustration that was often pretty redundant, just in case the mask wasn't enough of a give away.
Expensive rubber masks were okay for the older kids, but Ben Cooper costumes allowed younger kids to be the celebrity they always longed to be. Pop culture tie-ins were plentiful with these costumes (and sometimes weird):
Village People/Easy Reader
The Asteroids video game
Professional Poker player Gabe Kaplan
Acquitted murder suspect Robert Blake
...and many many more! A Google search turns up loads of great old photos from past Halloweens, and Ben Cooper costumes are all over them. This popularity surged until the early eighties when an incident unrelated to their product inadvertently caused their sales to plummet. In September of 1982 seven people died when they ingested cyanide laced Tylenol. The tampering caused a panic among parents, and that year sales of Halloween costumed dropped considerably because parents wouldn't let their children trick out of fear that children would be poisoned by tainted candy. By the end of the eighties they declared bankruptcy and sold many of their licensing agreements to Collegeville, their main competitor. Their factory then burned to the ground, resulting in millions in lost product, and their two insurance policies were refused by the issuing companies.
Ben Cooper had seen better days.
Despite emerging from bankruptcy in 1989, they eventually succumbed to financial distress and the company was sold to Rubie's Costume Company in 1992. All heartbreak aside, a fondness for Ben Cooper costumes still exists today, and they have become seriously collectible items. Ebay has a wide variety of styles and prices, if one should choose to go down the slippery slope of Ben Cooper collecting. Heck, a mere $799 can get you a rare Green Hornet costume with the box and everything!
I'm following this post with some photos from around the internet of kids dressed in their Ben Cooper finest. They're glorious.