Cowboys and Kings by
(87 Stories)

Prompted By Halloween

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Packin’ heat and ready to punch some cows, around 1953.

Though I liked Halloween, I rarely spent much time planning for it. About a week prior, my mom would ask what I wanted to go as this year. I would think about it, but no ideas would come, and usually I’d say, Why don’t I go as Superman again? Superman was easy, because the costume was readily available—tee shirt with the Superman logo, blue cape tied around my neck, no need for mask or makeup. I suppose I must have worn tights, though I have no memory of that. But I liked Superman. Superman was cool. With superpowers and all. And nobody ever asked who I was supposed to be.

Superman was cool. With superpowers and all. And nobody ever asked who I was supposed to be.

I had another go-to costume as well: king. That was easy too—a purple robe trimmed with white fluff, a foil crown, and some kind of scepter. My mom actually made that one for our Purim costume party at Sunday School, but I repurposed it and wore it for Halloween too.

As King Arthur, Halloween 1955. That's my 2-year-old sister crawling up the stairs behind me.

As King Arthur, Halloween 1955. That’s my 2-year-old sister crawling up the stairs behind me.

Unfortunately, I don’t have photos of either of those, but I did find one of another king costume. I don’t remember this one at all, but from an inscription on the shield, it’s supposed to be King Arthur. Presumably, that’s Excalibur in my right hand, which I had only recently extracted from a rock. I knew nothing of these legends. I was five.

The other costume photo I found was in full cowboy drag. It looks like I’m three or four. That’s our old DeSoto in the driveway. I don’t remember this one either. Later, I was more likely to dress up as an Indian, with a fringed vest, headdress, and tomahawk.

My most creative costume was when I was about ten. My best friend Bud and I decided to personify a popular commercial at the time. We got some cartons, painted them white, and cut them out to fit around our torsos. We then decorated mine to look like a box of New Blue Cheer, and Bud’s to be a box of Brand X detergent. We even took along dirty tee shirts for a demo—I’d drop one into my box and pull out another, pristine, while Bud’s would still come out soiled. We got a lot of candy that year.

A few years later, Bud and our friend Jonathan decided to dress up as girls, with wigs, dresses, stockings, and full makeup. They invited me to join them, but I declined. I guess I wasn’t secure enough in my boy identity at that point to risk endangering it, even for a night. No doubt I went as Superman again that year.

It would take me twenty more years to take the plunge and dress in drag for Halloween. But that’s a topic for another story.

Profile photo of John Zussman John Zussman
John Unger Zussman is a creative and corporate storyteller and a co-founder of Retrospect.


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Love the old photos and your creative year with Bud and the ad campaign. Very clever. Guess we all had our “go to” costumes.

    I have my old Purim photos. That was before we moved from Detroit to Huntington Woods and I skipped a grade. I was always Queen Esther, but Marcy already showed signs of the creativity that would launch a career in advertising. She went as a hamentashen!

  2. rosie says:

    I delighted in your story. It reminded me of my favorite costume, one was as a pilgrim when I was about 4 or 5. Did your synagogue ever ask you to collect money to feed hungry children for the United Nations? I used to really like doing that. Most people gave something and I usually got a treat as well. We also had a little Italian Store nearby, and they always gave of our choice of our favorite candies. Best place to trick or treat in our neighborhood.

    • John Zussman says:

      Thanks, Rosie. I’d love to see a picture of you dressed as a pilgrim!

      I remember each year getting a small carton to collect money for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and people would donate as well as give us candy. In my case, the cartons were distributed at school, not at synagogue.

  3. Suzy says:

    Wonderful story, John, and adorable photos. I’m very impressed with the detergent ad campaign. Did you do your demo at every house? Can’t wait to see your story about dressing in drag 20 years later!

  4. I hear ya, John. I was in it for the candy. I think I went for the bandana, eye-patch, burnt-cork pirate thing more than once in the scary season. Great detail in your costume descriptions — a thousand words is worth a picture. I’m guessing that DeSoto was a ’53 or ’54 que no?

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