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Great Moments: Kennedy, Cuba and Cigars

Pierre Salinger
From the Print Edition:
Premier Issue, Autumn 92

Cigars have been a part of my life. My smoking habit began in my youth, helped me write my own adult history, and now, cigars are in my dreams. Even though the world is rising against smoking, and particularly against cigars, I still feel they are part of my daily world and I have no incentive to stop smoking them.

My cigar smoking started when I was young. I entered the United States Navy in the early days of World War II and when I reached the age of 19 I became commanding officer of a submarine chaser in the Pacific Ocean. But to run a ship that had 25 sailors and two other officers, all older than me, posed a deep psychological problem . How could I convince them that I was a man of authority? Even if the quality of those big cigars was mediocre, they accomplished their purpose--they made a 19-year-old boy really look like the commander of the ship.

When I returned to San Francisco after the war, I went back to a job at a daily newspaper where I had briefly worked before entering the Navy. I kept on smoking my cigars while I wrote articles. But the cigars were still bad cigars, and they obviously smelled bad. There was a wonderful woman journalist working for the newspaper who hated the smell. She decided to take up a collection among my fellow workers. She handed me $19.32 and told me it was her contribution for a better quality of cigars. Better cigars, better smell.

Despite the self-interested largess of my colleagues, I still did not advance to the cream of available cigars in those days, the imports from Cuba. Actually, I would have to wait until I was almost 35 years old before I started to work for a rising young American politician named John Kennedy, who liked to smoke Petit Upmann Cuban cigars. Working around him, I felt I had no choice but to upgrade my smoke of choice to a Cuban. I've smoked them ever since.

Shortly after I entered the White House in 1961, a series of dramatic events occurred. In April, 1961, the United States went through the disastrous error of the Bay of Pigs, where Cuban exiles with the help of the United States government tried to overthrow the government of Fidel Castro. Several months later, the President called me into his office in the early evening.

"Pierre, I need some help," he said solemnly.

"I'll be glad to do anything I can Mr. President," I replied.

"I need a lot of cigars."

"How many, Mr. President?"

"About 1,000 Petit Upmanns."


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Comments   2 comment(s)

John LaPorta — port charlotte, florida, usa,  —  February 3, 2012 11:06pm ET

wow


RT Elkin — Coram, NY, 11727,  —  April 1, 2012 8:43am ET

Funny thing is, Salinger wrote an article for the New Yorker denying the event ever occurred....


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