December 31, 1959
Posted September 5, 2014on:
By Margia Dean, guest blogger
George Raft was a friend of mine, and I worked with him in the film, “Loan Shark” (Lippert/1952).
On December 30, 1959 my date and I flew to Havana and gambled at Capri Casino in Havana where George was a part-owner. (I still have a $1.00 chip from there.) I mentioned to George that we heard there was unrest and trouble in Cuba. He pooh-poohed it and said that it was the tourist people in Florida spreading that rumor to discourage anyone from going to Cuba. George said he would be the first to know if anything was going on.
The next night my date and I travelled to the Isle of Pines to attend a New Year’s Eve party at the invitation of the Cuban dictator, President Fulgéncio Batista. It was a lavish affair, with many prominent people there, including the dictator of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, his associate (and ultimate playboy) Porfírio Rubirosa, plus the owners of Saks Fifth Ave., and many wealthy sugar plantation owners, with their ladies, lavished in diamonds.
All of a sudden young men from Fidel and Raúl Castro’s revolutionary forces appeared with machine guns. Chaos ensued, and all the workers fled.
We were there for about three days. Others weren’t so fortunate and stayed for a few weeks. Food ran short, and the men fished for food. Many of us were outside and soon covered by mosquito bites because no one knew how to operate the DDT machines. The prisoners were freed from the prison, and we were afraid they would come after us, but I guess they just wanted to escape from confinement. The daughter of the commandant came hysterically to us and said they murdered her father.
I heard that Batista fled to the Dominican Republic during the night on Trujillo’s yacht.
George Skagel (father of Ethel Kennedy) had a private plane and offered us a ride along with Aileen Mehle, who wrote society columns, most notably in the New York Daily News as “Suzy.” We headed down to the beach and flew off. It was a daring escape, we could have been shot down as there were young men with guns all around us.
We were the first ones to leave. I heard that everyone else was trapped there for many days. The Cuban guests, who wanted to get home, were trapped on rat infested freighters for weeks in the bay outside of Havana.
Louella Parsons called and asked me not to speak with any other news reporters, and to give her an exclusive about the adventure. She didn’t want me to talk to any other news reporters, and I agreed.
What really annoys me is that many years later Aileen Mehle told a different, and untrue, story to Vanity Fair, and didn’t even mention me. Why? I don’t know. (Maybe she didn’t want anyone to know she was Batista’s guest.) She said Skagel flew her to Miami from the airport, which was impossible, because it was totally sandbagged…no one could fly from there.
I never saw George Raft again after that December night when he was so happy because my date, and others lost a lot of money on his tables! He was forced to leave Havana, penniless.
“Loan Shark” available on DVD from http://www.vcient.com
© 2014 Kit Parker Films