The latest book in the Men’s Adventure Library series I co-edit with New Texture’s Wyatt Doyle collects classic stories and artwork from vintage men’s adventure magazine that feature Cuba, Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution. It’s title, CUBA: SUGAR, SEX, AND SLAUGHTER, comes from one of the wild stories that’s included.
From the late 1950s to the 1970s, Eva was a popular model for men’s adventure magazine and paperback artists, a pinup photo model and an actress.
For a brief time in 1958, shortly before Fidel Castro overthrew the government of dictator Fulgencio Batista, Eva also performed as a showgirl at the legendary Havana Riviera hotel and casino, originally owned by American mobster Meyer Lansky.
While there, she appeared in an article in LIFE magazine about Havana’s casinos, was photographed by the world-famous Hungarian playboy, sculptor and photographer Sepy Dobronyi, and had other memorable experiences that she shared with me and Wyatt.
Here’s some of what Eva told my co-editor Wyatt Doyle for the chapter in our CUBA book we called “VIVA EVA! MEN’S ADVENTURE SUPERMODEL IN CUBA”…
* * * * *
“There were six of us from the US who went to Havana as showgirls.
We were in the newest hotel, the Riviera, right on the Malecón (the esplanade/seawall along the Havana coast). Very fancy.
We did at least two shows a night for two months. And we had fun.
I didn’t speak Spanish; we didn’t need to. The person who put the shows together spoke English, so we knew what to do.
It was basically showgirl semi-dancing; dance moves, but not dancing. We were more or less walking through and swaying and moving…that sort of thing. Nothing really difficult.
I only had two costumes. Judging by today’s standards, they were rather modest, I think. Just a bit of glamour, I guess.
We were there in March and April, only months before Castro came in. It was marvelous, absolutely marvelous. It was fun. It was warm. Everybody was happy, having a good time. It was people and music and performing and being happy.
It was a playground, really. People playing music in the streets…. There was one group who happened to be working in the hotel and they played “La Barca” for me every time I came into the casino, because they knew I loved that song. (I think the lead singer had a crush on me.)
Photographer Sepy Dobronyi was a Baron something-something, and very famous. I only realized how famous after the fact, after Cuba, when I looked him up.
He famously created a gold statue of a nude Anita Ekberg—which was semi-scandalous at the time. And he wanted to do one of me, too; but I said no, I don’t think so! In a way, I’m sorry, because that would be fun to have now.
In Havana, he took me on rooftops and places and photographed me.
I had a contract for two months and I knew I’d be in New York after that. But while I was there, it was absolutely fabulous. One of the times in my life that I remember with great fondness.
The Riviera’s owners asked us to spend some time in the casino. I think because they wanted to show us off, so people would come and see the shows.
We’d be gambling a bit here and there…only blackjack, because I loved playing blackjack. I would sit and play for a few hours after one of the shows. But I never lost any money, which was nice.
So I made $30–$40 a night at the table! I was a pretty girl playing, so men would come and sit and play.
I was told that they wanted me to pose because it was going to be in a magazine; maybe because I was the only blonde of the showgirls.
I wasn’t sure it was LIFE, I found that out later. I don’t think I saw it at the time. Magazines I appeared in never sent me copies of anything.
My uncle actually made a scrapbook for me; he’s the one who found my picture in LIFE magazine, and a lot of the other stuff—which I never would have had if not for him. The first time I saw myself in LIFE, I saw it in the scrapbook, later. Since then, I’ve found a copy of the magazine.
The thing is, I never saw any of the magazines I was in, or the covers, or anything like that. It was just a job that I was doing.
Of course, now I think, ‘I was in LIFE magazine!’ But at the time, I didn’t realize the importance of that.
There was a lot in the magazine about the life and times of Havana. I never knew the underbelly of the city at that time…only the fun.
I was not political, I didn’t really know what was going on, except what I heard. And then there was an undertone of uncertainty; everybody was getting frightened that something was going to happen.
I dated a guy when I was there who was part of the Batista regime. I remember we were in a limousine, and as I looked around, I realized there were guns on the floor, rifles. There was a security detail following us, surrounding us wherever we went. It was a strange feeling.
They did ask all Americans to leave the country because they knew Castro was coming; which, of course, he did.
He arrived in January of 1959 and everything changed…. When I saw in the news there were chickens in the hotel where I had performed, it was a bit of a horrifying thought. What has he done? What is he going to do? Chickens, running around in the hotels! It was very sad.
Somebody recently asked me, ‘Now that you can go to Cuba, do you want to go back to Havana and see what it’s like now?’
I said, ‘Absolutely not!’
That’s one memory I’d like to keep intact. You go there now, and, well, I don’t know what’s happening now. Nor do I want to know, really. But my time there in 1958 is one of my happiest memories.”
Thanks to Eva Lynd for sharing those memories with us. Watch for more about her in an upcoming book about her career that Wyatt Doyle and I will be publishing later this year.