| Up Close & Personal
Charles S. Cohen of the Award-Winning Cohen Media Group
Part 2 - Charles Cohen's Personal Odyssey
Charles S. Cohen heads the
Cohen Media Group and is President & CEO of Cohen Brothers
Realty Corporation. Courtesy Photo
harles S. Cohen's Cohen Media Group has established the reputation
of acquiring, producing, and/or distributing some of the finest foreign
films, many of which have been submitted for the Best Foreign Language
Academy Award.* His ability to build his vast film library stems
from the wealth acquired through his real estate family business. President
and CEO of Cohen Brothers Realty Corporation, he helms one of
the country's most important commercial real estate companies. The portfolio
of office buildings and design centers are located throughout the country
including New York, Texas, and Florida. He also
owns southern California's Pacific Design Center on Melrose
Avenue. Referred to as the "Blue Whale," the center
is a multi-use facility which houses the West Coast's top decorators
in the approximately 130 showrooms. It is also the home of The
SilverScreen Theater, which hosts many screenings, exhibitions,
lectures, meetings, special events, as well as receptions for the design,
entertainment and arts communities. The firm's portfolio spans twelve
million square feet.
Cohen's personal wealth, estimated at 2.8
billion dollars, has given him the opportunity to become an influential
patron of the arts. He serves on the Board of Trustees of the Museum
of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles, The Cooper Union for the
Advancement of Science and Art, The Lighthouse International Theater,
The Public Theater, the Stella Adler Studio, and The Film Society of
Lincoln Center. Cohen is married to his second wife, Clodagh
"Clo" and lives in their primary residence in Manhattan.
Cohen recently sat down with a group of select
journalists to discuss, among other topics, his, Cohen Film Classics,
a new film series on debuting on KCET. That segment of the interview
was covered in Part
1. The following Part 2 has been edited for content and
continuity for print purposes.
(L & Far Rt.) John Duran,
City Councilman West Hollywood, and Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky
with Charles S. Cohen, (center) recipient of the Alliance for
Quality Construction for his Red Building, the newest addition
to the Pacific Design Center.
Tell us about your background
Cohen: I grew up outside of New York City in
a small town called Harrison. My family was in real estate. It
was an opportunity for me and I am an opportunist. It has given me the
capability to invest in this library and, as a private person, build
a great collection of films. There are people who collect art. I collect
Speaking of real estate. How did you acquire the
Pacific Design Center?
Cohen: I came out here for a designer marketplace and
was knocked out by the blue and green buildings and in 1999 bought
them from the mortgagee. The Red Building was built on the site
of a parking lot. It took twelve years to complete construction. I think
you'll agree that I have one of the most dramatic offices a human being
can have. We have a terrace with a barbeque. Unfortunately, it's a little
chilly for a barbeque. We can do that another time.
Charles S. Cohens award winning Red Building,
the newest edition to the Pacific Design Center. Courtesy
Charles S. Cohen with his
wife Clo attended the Lighthouse International Volunteer Recognition
event. The Cohens donated the funds needed to build a new Lighthouse
Theatre, as the old one had fallen into a state of disrepair.
Let's go back in time. What was the earliest influence
on your love of film?
Cohen: I was a film fanatic from an early age. I use
to go into the city and spend time with my grandparents. When I was
three years old, my grandmother took me to see Walt Disney's
"Cinderella." We sat through it twice and I was never
the same. (Laughter)
When you went to the movies as a kid, what did
Cohen: I would see the coming attractions, cartoons,
newsreels, and a double feature. It was truly an all-day affair. I actually
tried to buy the British Pathé News library, but it was too expensive.
How did you educate yourself about film?
Cohen: When I was growing up, there were no film schools
where I was living. There was no video then. NYU was just starting
the Tisch School of the Arts in 1965. I would go to my
local public library or I would go into Manhattan to the Gotham
Book Mart on West 47th where you could buy publications from
the UK. I watched movies on television like the "Million
Dollar Movie" series or "Saturday Night at the Movies."
When I attended NYU, I wrote film criticism, which I also did
at Tuffs University, where I was an English major. I reviewed
concerts, plays, and movies. When I was in college "The King
Of Hearts" with Alan Bates was the big anti-war film
and I'm excited to say that we've gained the worldwide rights to the
film's restoration. After college, I decided I wanted to be an attorney
and a producer in the film industry, so I went to Brooklyn Law School.
The cast of The King of Hearts, an anti-war
film made in 1967. It starred Alan Bates and has been acquired by the
Cohen Media Group. Courtesy Photo
Why did you choose Brooklyn Law School?
Cohen: I wanted to be in New York and I didn't
get into NYU. (Laughter) It's the one school in
the New York area that really trains you to be well versed in
New York State law. The other schools have more of a federal
and national approach. Also, I couldn't get a job in New York City.
I didn't have the right contacts and I didn't want to leave my family
roots. But, obviously I got to follow my passion for film in a different
way. Maybe that was better and I didn't have to give up my day job.
One of Charles Cohens favorite foreign films
is the tender The Two of Us, which starred Alain Cohen and
Michel Simon. Courtesy Photo
Another film that captured Charles S. Cohen's
young imagination is Truffauts The Bride Wore Black,
which starred Jeanne Moreau. Courtesy Photo
How did you discover French Films?
Cohen: Good question. When I was growing up in Harrison,
New York I would take the bus for sixty cents to a theatre in
White Plains and watch double features. But they didn't run French
films. I found them right in my little town's independent theatre called
the Harrison Cinema. The first French film that I really
loved was "The Two of Us." The story is about an anti-Semitic
older man who takes in a young Jewish boy whose family sent him
during the occupation of Paris. The narrative reveals how this
older man overcomes his anti-Semitism. I had not been to Europe
so to me it was a window on the world. I would see films like "The
Bride Wore Black" and "Fahrenheit 451" and
Renee Clarmont's "Rider on the Rain." I was
very attracted to films by François Truffaut and Roger
Vadim, as well as Federico Fellini and the other great Italian
What qualities did you find in French films that
were missing from American films?
Cohen: That's a great question. What I connect to in
French films is the embrace of universal themes such as family.
Most of the films we have distributed deal with families, and issues
involving family members issues they have to overcome together
"Fahrenheit 451" (left) and "Rider
on the Rain" (right) are two films that led to Charles S. Cohens
fascination with film. Courtesy Photo
What was the genesis of "Frozen River,"
which was the first film you produced?
Cohen: "Frozen River" was originally
a short film that had been developed by the wife of a landlord/tenant
attorney who did work for us. You know occasionally there are people
who don't pay their rent. (Laughter) It played the New
York Film Festival and was well received. Then one day the attorney
showed up at my office and threw the film on my desk saying, "Here's
the film, the prospectus, and the final script. Give us some suggestions
of how to turn it into a full-length feature. My wife and I read it
and made some suggestions and then set about raising two million dollars
to help finance the film. Eventually we licensed it through Sony
Pictures Classics. We went to the Oscars and were nominated
in two major categories and also won some Spirit Awards.
"My Afternoons with Margueritte
starring French actor Gérard Depardieu and Gisèle
Casadesus, was acquired by the Cohen Media Group from the StudioCanal
library. Courtesy Photo
What happened after that?
Cohen: We made a few deals with StudioCanal,
a French film production and distribution company that owns the
third-largest film library in the world, which included a beautiful
movie with French actor Gérard Depardieu called "My
Afternoons with Margueritte." One thing led to another and
at this point we've licensed and released sixty-three films, separate
from the library titles, and at least another thirty to fifty from the
library. We have had over 200 films in circulation and we continue
to grow. I was fortunate to be able to use my real estate work experience
to make a deal to acquire the Merchant Ivory library of twenty-one
films. Using the same idea of restoring and re-releasing films, we had
a very successful launch of "Howard's End." The restoration
premiered at Cannes and Vanessa Redgrave and Jim Ivory
were there. The film has played nationwide and grossed a few hundred
thousand dollars, which we think is great considering the movie is twenty-five
What is the biggest challenge of being a distributor?
Cohen: The biggest challenge a distributor has for limited
release films is finding screens. The highest and best use of real estate
in New York City is not movie theatres. So, there are very few
screens and the real estate for screenings is very tight. We have done
very well with the current screens, but I wanted my own screens so I
could insure that I could play the films that I feel strongly about
that might not otherwise find a home. I tried years ago to buy the Walter
Reed chain, but that didn't work out. So in 2014, I acquired
the Quad Cinema on West 13th Street, in New York City.
It's going through massive renovations. It originally had 570
seats, but will open in April with four state-of-the-art screens,
with 430 seats each.
Cohen: I think youll agree that I have
one of the most dramatic offices a human being can have. Photo:
What words do you associate with France?
Cohen: What does France mean to me? It means
romance. It means perfume. It means fine dining. It means beautiful
architecture. It means beautiful art. It means a beautiful language.
It means beautiful women. I mean that with great respect and admiration
This is off topic, but what was your involvement
with that popular game "Trivial Pursuit?"
Cohen: I had a tenant in one of our buildings who was
a publisher of the largest
mass-market paperback joke books. I had this idea about doing a book
on trivia. He said, "That's a ridiculous idea. Stay in real estate
and leave the rest to me." Six months later, he invited me to his
office to play a new game called "Trivial Pursuit."
We played it and it was a lot of fun. He asked me to write five books
on different subjects like movies, television, sports, history, and
current events. I said, "Wait. I got a job." (Laughter)
I said, "I'll do a book on movies and write 1,000 questions and
1,000 answers." He gave me a $13,000 advance and on Memorial Day
1985, the book was published and subsequently sold 185,000 copies.
He asked if I would do a sequel. I said, "I'm sorry. I don't do
sequels." (Laughter) He told me that I sold more
books than Mark Twain did in his lifetime.
I read you wanted to be a circus attorney. What
was that about?
Cohen: (Laughs) I never wanted to be a
circus attorney. Somebody put that in Wikipedia. (Laughter)
Who would write something like that? How do I get it erased? (Laughter)
I wanted to be an entertainment attorney. Trust me. There's no Jewish
guy who wants to run away and join the circus unless he wants be the
*For a list of these films, see Part
1 of this interview.