Category: Cuba

Flynn Meets Fidel

Flynn biographer Thomas McNulty (Errol Flynn: The Life and Career) discusses the improbable meeting between Flynn and Fidel Castro in late 1958. Flynn was in Cuba to cover the revolution for the Hearst newspapers and joined Castro just as the rebels were preparing their final push toward Havana. In this excerpt from his interview, McNulty recounts a particularly memorable moment between the two men, when Flynn must have felt he was looking at a real-life version of his younger swashbuckling self. The encounter between Flynn and Castro has inspired at least one novel (Boyd Anderson’s Errol, Fidel, and the Cuban Rebel Girls) and serves as a backdrop in the upcoming narrative film The Last of Robin Hood (starring Kevin Kline as Flynn). While we look forward to the latter, we don’t need fictional license. The real story is unbelievable enough.  

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Cuban Tinseltown

A Cuban rebel fighter and confidante of Fidel Castro in the 1950s, today Max Lesnik is a radio commentator and the director of Alianza Martiana, an organization dedicated to the principle of Latin American sovereignty. Lesnik is also a lover of Classical Hollywood and a master storyteller. In this clip, he describes the regular presence of Hollywood movie stars in Havana in the 1940s and 1950. Lesnik, it turns out, had a personal brush with one of them: Errol Flynn. As Lesnik recalls, Flynn was in Havana with a camera crew (shooting footage for what would eventually become the semi-documentary Cuba Story) during the first weeks of 1959, around the time the rebels rode in. “There’s a shot of some rebels standing in front of a building, and I’m in that group,” Lesnik told us, adding, “I always wanted to thank Flynn for introducing me to the American public.” But we’re saving that part of the interview for the finished film.

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Cine Envy

As historian Megan Feeney explains, mid-20th century Havana may not only have had more movie theatre seats per capita than any major city in the hemisphere, it also had some of the most elaborate movie palaces anywhere. The greatest of them all might have been the Blanquita, which Feeney discusses in detail here. Opened by Senator Alfredo Hornedo in 1949 in the Havana suburb of Miramar, the Blanquita was billed as “the world’s largest and most modern theater,” seating nearly 7,000 patrons in air-conditioned comfort and equipped with the latest film projection technology. Little wonder that, following the revolution, the theatre was rechristened the Karl Marx. Megan Feeney holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Minnesota and is the author of the forthcoming Hollywood in Havana: Film Reception and Revolutionary Nationalism in Cuba Before 1959.

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La Yuma

Nat Chediak is a Havana native, Grammy Award-winning music producer, and founding director of the Miami International Film Festival. In this clip, he reflects on the ubiquitous nickname Cubans on the island have given to the United States: “La Yuma.” The name is derived from the 1957 western 3:10 to Yuma, about a struggling Arizona rancher (Van Heflin) who volunteers to escort a captured outlaw (Glenn Ford) to the jail in Yuma. The 3:10 of the title refers to the train that will take them there and, indirectly, to the impending showdown with the outlaw’s gang. The film, directed by Delmer Daves, was based on a short story by Elmore Leonard. Interestingly, “La Yuma” does not appear to have become a common term for the United States until decades later and, as Chediak points out, is likely a product of the film’s extended life on Cuban state television.  

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Print the Legend

Print the Legend

El Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográficos (ICAIC), the Cuban film institute, was formed soon after the revolution in 1959. As part of its mission, ICAIC presents numerous screenings of Cuban and international films every year. For each film, a unique poster by a Cuban graphic artist is commissioned. The three featured here — for Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid (1921), Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) — demonstrate not only the visual inventiveness of the artists, but the enduring popularity of Hollywood films on the island.

These posters were part of the 2011 exhibit “Cuban Film Posters: From Havana to the World” at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, California.

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A Foreign Affair

Noted author and Hollywood historian Scott Eyman explains just how important foreign distribution was to the Classical Hollywood studio system in the mid-20th century, comprising as much as 40 percent of its revenue. This interview was shot in Eyman’s West Palm Beach writing den, which contains one of the greatest collections of Hollywood literature and memorabilia we’ve ever stumbled across. (Luckily, we were able to keep our balance, and the cameras rolling.) Scott Eyman is the author of numerous best-selling books, including John Wayne: The Life and Legend, Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, and Empire of Dreams: The Epic Life of Cecil B. DeMille.

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Screen City

Screen City

In the 1940s and ’50s, Havana was a movie-mad city, reportedly boasting more movie theatres than even New York. These included countless neighborhood houses, as well as some of the most elaborate movie palaces anywhere, ranging in architectural style from the classical (the Payret; 1,800 seats) to Art Deco (the Fausto; 1,669 seats), to modernist (the Karl Marx, formerly the Blanquita: 7,000 seats). Overwhelmingly, they showed Hollywood films.

Errol Flynn’s Ghost will offer a rare glimpse of Havana’s historic movie theatres, and the fascination with American culture they once embodied.

Among our stops will be the Cine Yara (above). Originally part of the Radio Centro complex, the Yara opened in 1947 as one the earliest examples of midcentury modernist architecture on the island. The theatre was operated by Warner Bros. and known for showing films in the Cinerama widescreen format. It is still considered one of Havana’s principal movie venues.

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Flynn’s Last Fling

Flynn’s Last Fling

Errol Flynn’s Ghost is inspired in part by a story that writer-producer Gaspar González penned for Cigar Aficionado magazine in 2007. Titled “Flynn’s Last Fling,” it chronicled Flynn’s Cuban exploits, from filming the noir crime thriller The Big Boodle in Havana in 1956 to his real-life role as the only American correspondent with Fidel Castro when the revolution triumphed on New Year’s Day 1959.

Read  “Flynn’s Last Fling.”

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An Unlikely Observer

An Unlikely Observer

In 1958, Errol Flynn, his screen career mostly behind him, traveled to Cuba as a war correspondent to cover the advance of Fidel Castro’s rebels on Havana. As he always had in the movies, he ended up in the middle of the action — side by side with Castro, as dictator Fulgencio Batista fled the country.

Errol Flynn’s Ghost will chronicle this little-known episode in the life of Hollywood’s most famous swashbuckler, while delving into a related, equally overlooked phenomenon: the proliferation and cultural impact of Hollywood movies in Cuba from the earliest decades of the 20th century.

Weaving together film history, cultural analysis, and the real-life adventures of this legendary leading man, Errol Flynn’s Ghost will make an important contribution to our understanding of U.S.-Cuba cultural relations.

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Errol Flynn’s Ghost

Errol Flynn’s Ghost

Errol Flynn’s Ghost: Hollywood in Havana is a new documentary film examining the cultural impact of American movies in mid-20th century Cuba. As Errol Flynn’s Ghost will show, to be Cuban in the mid-20th century required active engagement with — and negotiation of — American westerns, gangster films, and swashbuckling epics. This project is funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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