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Spectator Sports in Cuba

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Our Man in Havana

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Korda and the making of an icon

Graham Greene’s first visit to Cuba was in 1957 to research his book Our Man in Havana.

He was originally going to set it in Lisbon, but decided on a more exotic location; he planned to sell the film rights to the novel before it was even written. He immediately took a liking to the unlimited decadence Havana had to offer, and spent much of his time at the Shanghai Theatre, a club which featured live sex shows. 

Greene’s former connections with the British SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) gave him access to political society. He based some of the characters in ‘Our Man’ on Batista’s soldiers: Captain Segura, with his cigarette case made of human skin, was based on the real-life Capitán Ventura. The plot of the novel involves a vacuum cleaner salesman being mistaken for a secret agent, who for fear of being discovered as a fraud, tries to carry out the orders given to him by providing diagrams of vacuum cleaner parts, pretending they are in fact the plans for an arsenal of nuclear weapons. 

Greene’s training as a secret agent allowed him to infiltrate all levels of political life: he made contact with Castro’s rebel forces in the Sierra, offering them any help they needed. He was asked to smuggle a suitcase of warm clothes, to help them survive the freezing night-time temperatures of the Sierra Maestra, through customs on a Havana–Santiago flight.

In 1959, when Greene arrived for the second time in Havana to assist director Carol Reed in the filming of his novel, the Revolution had already triumphed. Greene’s small act of support in 1957 had not been forgotten, and Castro gave his personal seal of approval to the film, although he felt it didn’t capture the full extent of Batista’s evil.

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