’70s Halloween Masks Almost Killed Us, But We Loved Them Anyway: A Love Letter to Ben Cooper Inc.

Photos by Tonya Kehoe

Jimmy Hoenshell (I hope you are reading this wherever you are) lived on D Ave in 1977. When we were in first grade, his dad worked at the Wonder Bread factory in town and Jimmie’s mom gave out miniature loaves of Wonder Bread (AGGH MINI LOAVES IN POLKA-DOTTED TINY BAGS!) to all of the trick-or-treaters. I wanted like a million of them. I didn’t eat them (my sister did) but I loved how cute they were. Their neighbors gave out pennies (which SUCKED). But that is the spirit of Halloween; some houses are good ones and some are terrible, you never know ’til you ring the bell.

Since the whole premise of Halloween in the ’70s was GETTINGTHECANDYINTHEBAG, the costume was kind of just the vehicle for the transaction. Enter the era of cheap, thin, molded character masks.



Above are some of my old character masks, all of the thin rubber strings have broken (probably broken by all of the times they snapped and stung me or tangled in my hair). Even though the poorly cut eye-holes would lacerate my orbital areas, and the too-small mouth holes created instant condensation inside and restricted our oxygen intake…I loved them! PS: The first rule of molded plastic mask club? You don’t talk about molded plastic mask club and you keep the mask on as long as humanly possible. Only QUITTERS wore them atop the head like a hat back then.

Sold at KMart and drugstores everywhere, these little Ben Cooper masks were usually packaged with a thin plastic (basically an OFFGASSING FUME FACTORY!) tie-at-the-neck vinyl screenprinted coverall smock. For $5 you could be any cartoon character or archetype you wanted. Here is how simple it was back then:

Kid: “Mom, I want to be C-3PO for Halloween.”

Mom: “Fine.”

Trip to KMart ensues, Mom tosses a $4.99 C-3PO costume box that included a thin golden molded plastic mask and vinyl smock in the cart. Halloween arrives, kid puts the toxic mess on and leaves the house with a big sister who ignores her for three hours with no parental supervision in the dark. Kid arrives back home with a pillowcase FULL of candy. Ahhhhhh, the ’70s.

You guys, this is how Halloween used to be. And it was awesome. No competition for the best costume. No Facebooking. NOTHING. Nowadays we would be tweeting the address of the house where they were giving away MINI WONDER BREADS! (disclaimer: I would totally tweet that). What was your favorite Halloween costume? Tell me all about it in the comments!

Category: Style Points


  1. I did NOT ignore you for three hours. Hello. You were well within my eyesight. Plus, who was going to miss that shiny GOLD CP30 or C3PO or whatever that thing practically glowed. Plus, I had to keep track of you so I could make sure you got the mini loaf of bread, that you weren’t going to eat, but I was.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


A collaboration between The Englert Theatre and FilmScene


Help us build the greatest small city for the arts in America—right here in Iowa City. Learn more »

Donate Today

Strengthen • Grow • Evolve is a collaborative campaign led by two Iowa City-based arts nonprofits, The Englert Theatre and FilmScene that seeks a major reinvestment to strengthen the arts through modern and historic venues, innovative programming, and new models of collaboration.

For 18 years...

Little Village has been telling the truth and changing our little corner of the world.

If you can, help us head into the next 18 years even stronger with a one-time or monthly contribution of $18, or any amount you choose.

Little Village
2019 Give Guide

Get to know some of the nonprofits helping to make the CRANDIC a better place to live.