History of Cosmo: The coolest cat in town

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Three male BYU students play with Cleo and Tarbo. BYU initially had two real cougars as mascots. (L. Tom Perry Special Collection)
Three male BYU students play with Cleo and Tarbo. BYU initially had two real cougars as mascots. (L. Tom Perry Special Collections)

The coolest cat in town is rightfully Cosmo the Cougar. He is beloved in the eyes of Cougar fans and has been an icon of the university since the 1920s.

“You just walk into a room and (the kids) see you and you literally made their year,” recent Cosmo Nick Gonzalves (2010-13) said. “The reaction from the kids was stellar every single time, so memorable.”

Cosmo first began making appearances in 1924 when BYU owned two live cougars. A 1928 article reported that BYU Athletic Director Eugene L. Roberts “look(ed) upon the Cougar as being a thoroughly western and even Utah product noted for its litheness, its charm of movement and its wisdom and power.”

A press release in 1925 said some cougars had been caught in the Kaibab Forest in Arizona and the 3- to 4-month-old cougar kittens were “lively and ferocious.” BYU heard the report and sent a telegram directing an agent to purchase a pair of cubs. “Cleo” and “Tarbo” came to BYU’s campus a little later and started making appearances at the basketball games.

Cleo and Tarbo were housed in cages in the heating plant for the upper campus. The two cougars escaped one day and people were heard yelling, “The cougars are out,” according to an article in the L. Tom Perry Special Collections “BYU 75 Years Ago.” Cleo and Tarbo were donated to the Salt Lake City Zoo once they were fully grown.

BYU elected not to have a live cougar again for safety reasons. BYU pep chairman Dwayne Stevenson introduced Cosmo to the world on October 15, 1953, to the tune of $73. Stevenson convinced his roommate Daniel T. Gallego to be the first Cosmo.

BYU marketing coordinator and Cosmo coach Dave Eberhart said the name “Cosmo” was chosen because it “had to do with with being ‘cosmopolitan’ and new.”

The idea stuck, with 60 individuals playing the part of Cosmo since. Even some BYU greats like Ernest L. Wilkinson, LaVell Edwards and then-BYU president Dallin H. Oaks have donned the Cosmo costume over the years.

Cosmo takes a half-court shot during a game in the 1980-81 basketball season. Cosmo is an entertainer at any appearance he makes. (L. Tom Perry Special Collection)
Cosmo takes a half-court shot during a game in the 1980-1981 basketball season. Cosmo is an entertainer at any appearance he makes. (L. Tom Perry Special Collections)

Wilkinson wore the costume at a pep rally and acted so much like Gallego that people were surprised it wasn’t him when he took the costume head off.

The 1990s were a big change for Cosmo. The Cosmo Kids Club was founded and then later in 1997, Cosmo underwent some “cosmetic” surgery. He was redesigned to have a smaller head to make him more athletic and acrobatic— a return to the original reason why Roberts liked cougars.

In 2001 Cosmo received a sweet new ride. Brick Oven donated the “Cosmobile,” a Cosmo hallmark ever since.

“It’s just a marketing piece, if you will, but it is also something fun for people to engage with at tailgates and parties and different things and listening to music,” Eberhard said. “It kind of adds to the James Bond effect, if you will. You know, James Bond has his own car, and so does Cosmo.”

Cosmo received his own caricature in 2012. BYU had logos of cougars in the past, but this time BYU reached out to Torch Creative to design a logo for Cosmo himself.

Torch Creative made logos for Cosmo in 2012. The reputation and fame of Cosmo has continued to grow and spread throughout Cougar Nation. (BYU Licensing and Trademark Division)
Torch Creative made logos for Cosmo in 2012. The reputation and fame of Cosmo has continued to grow and spread throughout Cougar Nation. (BYU Licensing and Trademark Division)

“We were trying to represent the costume the best we could — where fans looked at it and knew it was Cosmo,” said Brad Bishop, co-owner of Torch Creative.

Cosmo received another upgrade just a couple years later. The 2001 Cosmobile was replaced with a 2014 version that had a modernized look and feel featuring a flat black exterior and new stereo.

Cosmo now cruises around town going from event to event and brightening all the paths he crosses as a beloved figure of Cougar Nation.