To adequately fill the shoes of BYU mascot Cosmo in 1955, Peggy Herron Mortensen had to put shoes within shoes.
In 1955, Mortensen became the first woman to play the role of Cosmo. She was encouraged to try out by the first Cosmo character, Danny Gallegos.
"I guess they figured it would be something of a novelty," said Mortensen, who today is a 73-year-old mother of three and grandmother of 10.
"Danny helped me. He spent hours teaching me to walk like a guy. I had to learn to kind of swagger. He put extra padding on me and shoes inside of shoes."
Mortensen shared the role with Ray Pope. After she got the part, she was expected to show up at football and basketball games, rallies and related events full of fun and silliness.
As part of her "job," she flew into the stadium in a helicopter and hopped off the field on a pogo stick. She was chased all over town by University of Utah fans.
"One of the most fun things, they got me up to the catwalk (in the fieldhouse), and I came down from the rafters on a rope landing in the middle of the Cougarettes," Mortensen said.
Another time, as Cosmo, she sneaked into the girls' dorm.
Only three people knew of her secret identity at the time: her roommate, Gallegos and one of the student body vice presidents.
"I had to be real sneaky," Mortensen said.
Gallegos kept track of the costume, gave her ideas and saw to it that Mortensen got to where she needed to be as Cosmo.
She found the costume body very hot to wear but liked that particular version of the mascot.
"I still think the head is one of the best ones Cosmo has ever had," she said. "It had the best features."
It was a challenging time because Mortensen was anonymous, involved in her classes and trying to serve as commandant of the Cougarette squad at the same time."It was hard but it was so much fun," Mortensen said.
Since the 1950s she's had several invitations to return to BYU for various events. So far, she's been unable to attend.
She left BYU to get married and currently lives in Morgan Hill, Calif., with her husband.
There have been several versions of the Cougar mascot. Duff Tittle, BYU's associate director of athletics, said there have been a few live cougars, and BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson even donned the costume. Several women have played the role of Cosmo over the years.
"They used to reveal the Cosmo at the end of the season, and I remember one year, there was a woman," Tittle said.
Today, there are four Cosmo characters making appearances at more than 300 events per year.
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