John Bowie* I had planned to see a recent film on the archangel of legal evil, Roy Cohn. Yes, yet another. Having spent a good part of one afternoon with Cohn for an interview in the early ’80s I wanted to see whether “Where’s My Roy Cohn” was another Cohn hit job, although it would not be a breath-holding exercise.
For an attorney who acted for major mafia figures, among a raft of other clients spanning Manhattan’s social spectrum, Cohn has suffered more hits than his client Gambinos dished out.
His very name has come to symbolize sin and everything dark, demagogic and dodgy about America. Vanity Fair recently described Roy Cohn alongside Adolph and Uncle Pol of the Khmer regime you may think that is drawing a rather long bow.
But the antiChrist image remains, burnished by movies like “Where’s My Roy Cohn”, a title that was provided by former Cohn client and current President Donald Trump.
I missed the movie but the trailer (below) shows it is a rake-over of just how this man-monster was someone like a mutant snake that could rip the heads off orphans and piss down their necks.
And they ain’t finished with him yet. The man who helped prosecute the atomic bomb traitors Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were fried for their treachery, have a Rosenberg daughter, who changed her name to the bizarre Ivy Meeropol , and who has now completed an HBO film on Cohn just in case we forgot how evil he was.
Well, that will be a study in objectivity for her subject matter.
There’s no escape for Cohn and his legacy. He represented the dons – Tony Salerno, John Gotti, Carmine Galante, Carlo Gambino – and the more recent Donald.
He also handled work for a clutch of clients that would levitate most rolodexes: the Catholic Archdioceses, Rupert Murdoch, Truman Capote, advisor to Ronald Reagan and more society figures than you could poke a reefer at.
And most famously perhaps, he was the youthful sidekick to Joseph McCarthy during his infamous ‘witch hunts’.
I spent a couple of hours with Cohn in the early 80s for an interview at his townhouse office where he displayed great good humour and represented more perspicacity than perniciousness.
Surprisingly well informed on life in the antipodes, where I live, although the closest he ever came was to Perth.
My encounter was of course affable because I was there to meet the monster and found him monstrously pleasant, to the point where he poured the tea and inscribed his latest book (“How To Stand Up For Your Rights And Win”) with a reference to my homeland (New Zealand) and his, as the former colonies that enjoyed a shared history.
Still, history has painted him black. Worse, actually. Mud. S**t.
Roy Cohn’s corner-cutting, hunt-and-kill approach to life and the law also represented much of what America wanted. He didn’t fill his rolodex by playing a curtsying courtier to his clients.
But in an age of virulent media liberalism his closeted gayness, (he died of AIDs), right wing attachment and communist chasing was enough to condemn him to everlasting vitriol.
Maybe its time for America to grow up and get over a man they have obsessively demonized and who they – at the same time – invited into their major institutions and courts to do their bidding.
There’s a certain playbook that media relate to when writing about someone like Roy Cohn,who has featured in plays (“Angels Over America”), books too numerous to count, and even popular music (“We Didn’t Start the Fire”, by Billy Joel).
The point with Roy Cohn, I believe, is he had multiple touch points and could fight in any corner with an unabashed aggression so beloved of those who seek out attorneys in the first place.
Secretly, in most litigants’ hearts, they want a Roy Cohn to so deconstruct their opponents piece by piece until little of the existing life form remains.
It might be said that he actually represented a more accurate face of what was truly American than the puritanism and hypocrisy that they now favour. But the face of America that Cohn presented was never one they liked. And now, with as Trump White House, even less.
*John Bowie is publisher of LawFuel.com