Tropicana Nights

History can always be told from more than one point of view. The approach that is taken by Tropicana Nights (Harcourt, 2005), by Rosa Lowinger and Ofelia Fox, looks at a part of Cuban history through the most intoxicating of perspectives.

Lowinger revisits the glory days of Cuba through the stories of Ofelia Fox, the widow of Martín Fox, who was the last owner of the famed Tropicana nightclub in Havana, then known as the Paradise Under the Stars. The work paints a vivid picture of Havana's heyday and transition into a communist economy by combining the recollections of Ofelia Fox with those of numerous others who experienced the success and the decline of the Tropicana.

Sipping a Corona and lime chased with a Tequila shooter today in her hometown of Glendale, California, the 80-year-old Fox recounts anecdotally to Lowinger the cavalcade of Hollywood stars, big-name musicians, international politicians and notorious gangsters that paraded into the glamorous spot next to legions of American tourists. Donning black-tie attire, guests of the club toasted with rum and cokes, smoked cigars, enjoyed decadent stage shows and danced to the mambo.

But the club becomes more than just a fanciful trip down memory lane. It is also a window through which we can see the struggles of the island country as it dealt with poverty and natural disasters, political upheaval and financial booms and burdens. From the club's thriving beginnings as a refuge for Americans seeking escape from Prohibition to its eventual closing when Fidel Castro's regime took power, juxtaposed with the life of Martín and Ofelia Fox and Lowinger's extensive research, the tumultuous history of mid-twentieth century Cuba is told through firsthand accounts. The Foxes' life story is a very interesting lens through which to learn, as every movement they make seems to brush up against some of the most prominent and infamous people in Cuba and United States at the time.

The work features black-and-white photos from the Tropicana, including candid behind-the-scenes shots and such notable faces as Joan Crawford, Nat "King" Cole and Carmen Miranda.

An art conservationist by profession, Rosa Lowinger was born in Havana and grew up in Miami.

Photo by Mary Galligan