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Talking Tiger

Truman has a sit-down with MU’s original mascot
Monday, October 20, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:15 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In 1958, Susie Cohen became MU’s first mascot and began a tradition that continues to this day. Though just a self-proclaimed, “girl from Kansas City,” her role led her to paper mache, Miami and marriage.

After graduating from the School of Journalism in 1961, Cohen married, and became Susan Bierman. After stops in Olathe, Kan. and New Haven, Conn., she eventually settled in Orlando. Recently, she talked on the phone to one of the few people who could really relate to her: MU’s current mascot, Truman the Tiger.

Truman the Tiger: How did you become the first mascot?

Susan Bierman: The mascot was an afterthought. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be neat if we had a mascot?” And there was a guy in the fraternity next to my sorority who was the head of the boosters, and it just so happened the booster club was thinking the same thing at the same time. They said, “Would you like to be a mascot?” And I said, “Sure.”

TT: Where did they find a tiger suit?

SB: They took me to the second floor (of the sorority house) and then made my little costume, which was actually a piece of yellow cloth. They painted the stripes on afterward. I wore white gloves and a pair of white shoes. Then they made me a paper mache head. There was no fur on the head. It was just strictly yellow paint over the chicken wire, and painted black stripes.

TT: Paper mache? That’s not exactly a light-weight breathable fabric, is it? Weren’t you just about to die in the heat?

SB: You know, the heat wasn’t so bad. The only time I remember, it almost knocked me out was when we went marching in the Orange Bowl parade. It was a nighttime parade. We had two mascots that year, me and Jo Fenton, and when those heads came off it was like somebody had washed out our hair and not dried it. Miami’s very, very humid.

TT: I know the feeling; it was 105-degrees at convocation this year. I thought my stripes were going to melt.

SB: You know, I just don’t remember getting that hot at Missouri; I was just having so much fun, I didn’t dwell on that. I was blind and deaf, but otherwise it was fine. Of course, my head came down over my shoulders, so when I jumped I had to be very careful I didn’t kill myself. My head used to pop up against my chin.

TT: Other than almost killing yourself, do you ever remember anyone ever trying to do it for you? For instance, people seem to think a mascot’s head would be a good drum.

SB: I don’t remember having anyone beat on my head. Nothing like that ever happened. I don’t remember anything detrimental really happening. Maybe I just wiped it out of my memory.

TT: That’s true for me, too, though I think it might just be amnesia from hitting myself in the head a lot with my tail. Now, what were we talking about? Oh, yeah, so you basically got through your mascot years injury-free?

SB: Well, the chicken wire in the head was not fun; it poked me. My senior year it poked me in the eye and I had to go have someone look at it.

TT: OK, another thing I’ve been wondering: When you were the mascot, you didn’t have a name, other than, “The Tiger.” What did you sign for an autograph?

SB: Nobody ever asked me for autographs. You have a name; I didn’t have a name. I don’t know what I would have signed. Now that I think about it, I’m really upset.

TT: Let’s talk about something happier. One of the things I enjoy most about being the mascot is the chance to travel: Glasgow, Mexico, California. And sometimes I even get to leave Missouri. Where was the best place you ever got to go?

SB: I got two trips to the Orange Bowl. That was the thrill of the lifetime for me. I’d never been out of the state of Missouri at the time. Originally they didn’t want me to go to the first Orange Bowl. But Dean of Students Jack “Blackjack” Matthews decided he liked the mascot, and he wanted me to go. He got some alum to put up the money to pay for my train and my hotel room. He was very good to me and he was very nice, and he sent me to the Orange Bowl when no one else wanted to have anything to do with it.

TT: Once you got to Florida, did you ever have a chance to be in the spotlight?

SB: We (the cheerleaders and I) were on a local Saturday morning TV program. They took us over there together, and of course I had been put all the way in the back of the bus. But there weren’t so many mascots around at that time, and the guy who was doing the television program, he wanted to interview me.

TT: Did you have any other brushes with fame in your career?

SB: When I was at the second Orange Bowl in ’61, we were playing Navy. So, they took me across the field — they used to lead me a lot of places because I couldn’t see — and they took a picture of me holding on to the Navy billy goat’s horns. When the press saw me do that they all ran over and took pictures, but I never saw them. So I have a feeling the Navy said you can’t do that.

TT: Lots of different types of people seem to be attracted to mascots. Did you ever meet anyone as The Tiger that you wouldn’t have otherwise?

SB: When I was a senior it was the first game in September and it was very hot, and I took my head off, the mascot wasn’t a big secret then. My husband was sitting up in the stands — though he didn’t know me yet. He sent someone down to find out who I was. Later he came to the SPG house, met me, and that’s the tale.

TT: One last question: can I call you Mom?

SB: Sure, I feel like a mother because I was there at the beginning. I’m glad it’s become a tradition.


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