CUBA: SUGAR, SEX, AND SLAUGHTER, the latest book in the Men’s Adventure Library series I co-edit with New Texture’s head honcho Wyatt Doyle, is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Those of you in other countries can buy copies with free shipping worldwide on the Book Depository site.
This one is a collection of stories and full-color artwork from men’s adventure magazines about Cuba, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, the Cuban Revolution and its aftermath.
The title is taken from one of the stories included in the book.
The wild painting we used for the cover was created by Norm Eastman. It was first used on the cover of MEN IN CONFLICT, February 1962, then reused on the cover of BATTLE CRY, May 1965.
Like several other books in our Men’s Adventure Library series, the CUBA book comes in two editions: a trade paperback and an expanded hardcover edition that includes an additional story and more artwork. (In fact, there are 20 additional pages of exclusive content in the hardcover edition, some of which is shown in this post.)
I started thinking about doing an anthology of Cuba-related stories more than ten years ago, when I first got serious about collecting and writing about men’s adventure magazines.
As my collection grew, I realized that hundreds of stories about Cuba and Fidel Castro were published in the men’s adventure magazines that flourished in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
As I read those stories, I realized that they provide a unique written and visual archive that reveals some intriguing things about Cuba and Castro, about how Cuba and Castro were viewed in the United States, and about how men’s adventure magazine publishers capitalized on current events.
In fact, I think they chronicle, illuminate, and dramatize what was happening in Cuba from the ‘50s to the ‘70s in ways no other American print or electronic media did at the time—or since.
Many MAM stories display a gut-level appreciation of why the people of Cuba passionately supported the revolution Fidel Castro led against dictator Fulgencio Batista. They also show an understanding of why there was equally passionate opposition to Castro, after he became an iron-fisted dictator himself.
The progression of events in Cuba during the Cold War era and the evolution of American views toward Cuba and Fidel Castro are traced in our book through a selection of stories written before, during and after the Cuban Revolution.
The covers of the magazines the stories come from and the interior artwork and photographs used for them are shown, along with dozens of other Cuba-related MAM covers and illustrations.
There’s also a special section about Eva Lynd, the actress, pinup model and artists’ model who I met several years ago and have since talked with many times and written posts about on this blog.
If you are a regular reader, you know that Eva was one of the favorite models for top men’s adventure magazine artists Norm Eastman and Al Rossi — and for many top pinup photographers whose photos appeared in men’s magazines during the ‘50s and ‘60.
She’s featured in some of the Cuba covers done by Eastman shown in our CUBA book. I also found out in conversations with Eva that in 1958, just before Fidel Castro took control of the country, she worked as a showgirl at the famed Riviera hotel and casino in Havana. And, while there, she was photographed by LIFE magazine and the famous artist, jewelry maker, photographer and bon vivant Sepy Dobronyi.
In the “Viva Eva!” section of our book, we feature some of those illustrations and photos, accompanied by a reminiscence Eva shared with us about her career and her time in Cuba.
Early MAM stories about Cuba tended to focus on the “fun in the sun” aspects that made the island one of the hottest Caribbean destinations for American tourists from the late ’40s through the late ’50s. In addition to great beaches and water sports, the glitzy casinos and night clubs in Havana, mostly run by American mobsters, were a big draw.
Another draw was what would now be called “sex tourism.”
That “attraction” is described in the first story in our book—“Havana’s Amazing Flesh Market” from SIR!, June 1958. It puts a harsh light on the realities of the brothels that “lure thousands of sex-starved Americans each year to Havana, the hottest capital in the world.”
The writer of the “Flesh Market” article, journalist J.L. Pimsleur, doesn’t mention that Fidel Castro and his guerilla army were currently waging a revolution from their base in the Sierra Maestra Mountains. But he does hint at coming storm, saying: “Cuba’s political system demands and depends on corruption, vice and violence. Until the police force is purged, social services organized and an intensive educational program for women instituted, vice will continue to prosper.”
As explained by the second story—“Sugar, Sex, and Slaughter,” from MALE, September 1959—Cuba suffered through many bloody dictatorships and revolutions during the past 500 years. This mini-history of the island, done men’s adventure magazine style, is both eye-opening and fascinating.
That overview only briefly mentions Fidel Castro. But there are scores of other fiction and non-stories about Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution in men’s adventure magazines published between 1956, when Castro’s ragtag band of rebels began to gain worldwide notice, and New Year’s Day 1959, when those rebels marched triumphantly into Havana.
Most of those stories portray Fulgencio Batista and his army-backed regime as extraordinarily corrupt and cruel, even by Cuba’s standards. Typically, they portray Fidel Castro and his followers as brave freedom fighters. Many compare Batista and the military and police forces he controlled to Hitler and the Nazi Third Reich.
One example reprinted in our book is “Bayamo’s Night of Terror” from MAN’S MAGAZINE, May 1958. Though embellished, it’s a generally true account of how the Batistiano army leader Col. Fermin Cowley killed and tortured civilians in the rural town of Bayamo—and eventually paid for it with his own life. The subhead under the title reads: “Taking a page from Hitler’s book, the ‘Bayamo butcher’s’ soldiers pillaged the city, raped the women and systematically destroyed every rebel sympathizer they found…This is the shocking, shameful picture of life today in Cuba’s hinterland.”
Another story in the book, “Brotherhood of the Scar” from ADVENTURES FOR MEN, July 1959, is even more gut-wrenching. It’s portrayed as a true account “told to” writer Jack Barrows by the main character. In fact, it’s a work of fiction. Though it, too, is based on real incidents of extreme torture and cruelty committed by the Batista regime. (“Brotherhood of the Scar” is also notable for featuring a series of illustrations by the great men’s adventure mag and paperback cover artist Bruce Minney, “The Man Who Painted Everything.”)
Both of these stories are well-written, graphic and moving. Nobody but a saint could read them—and other MAM stories about the Cuban Revolution—without feeling a sense of hatred for the Batista regime and a sense of righteous satisfaction when the rebels take their revenge.
There are many other MAM stories from the mid-’50s to the early ‘60s that are sympathetic to Castro and the Revolution. In addition to having the elements of action, adventure and violence, the Cuban Revolution offered another element of special interest to male readers: fierce, young, often attractive guerilla girls!
Sexy female freedom fighters are a common trope in all types of MAM stories set in various places and wars. Typically, they are mistreated former prostitutes, or “joy girls.” In stories set during the Cuban Revolution, they are fierce, loyal Fidelistas who suffered various types of abuse under the Batista regime.
In stories written after Castro turned from liberator to dictator, the joy girl freedom fighters are fighting to overthrow Castro, and Castro and his followers are compared to Hitler and the Nazis. They are often still former prostitutes, but they are women who were abused by Castro’s Barbudos (“bearded ones”).
The evil Barbudos are usually Fidel Castro lookalikes, wearing khaki uniforms. Often they are wearing black armbands that look similar to those worn by Nazis. But instead of a swastika, their armbands are imprinted with “26 JULIO,” showing that the wearers are loyal members of Castro’s “26th of July” movement—a name chosen in honor of Fidel’s first failed attempt to spark a revolution by leading an attack on the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953.
There are a few stories in MAMs that maintained a pro-Castro viewpoint during his first year in power. Some even rationalized not only the Revolution, but also the Castro regime’s execution and imprisonment of thousands of real or suspected Batista sympathizers and counter-revolutionaries.
An example is the story “I Kill for Castro” in CHAMPION, June 1959, which is purportedly an account by a Lieutenant in 26th of July Army who is heading up one of Castro’s firing squads. “At least 20,000 Cubans—20,000 men, women and children—died under Batista’s regime,” he explains. “This is why I kill. This is why I, a peaceful man, can hold the pistol to the heads of condemned prisoners and send their souls to hell. To those who question the ways of our justice, the justice of the Castro government, I say that it is a true justice.”
During the next two years, the depiction of Castro and his regime in MAMs—and in American media in general—became increasingly negative, and grew steadily worse.
During those years, Castro removed moderate Socialists from top positions in the government. He declared Cuba to be a Communist state and allied himself with Nikita Khrushchev’s USSR, America’s biggest Cold War nemesis. He had his brother Raul Castro and Che Guevara oversee the forced “nationalization” of most businesses and farms.
He also ordered the execution, imprisonment, or forced exile of thousands of potential political rivals, intellectuals, businessmen, farmers, and other people who opposed his policies or complained too loudly about the unkept promises he made during the revolution—promises to create a truly democratic Cuba.
Cubans forced into exile in the US soon joined with an underground movement of former Castro supporters on the island to try to find ways to overthrow Fidel. Their most visible effort was the Bay of Pigs fiasco in April 1961. That failed invasion, doomed to failure by the lack of military support from the Kennedy administration, gave Castro a PR victory and an excuse to round up and imprison more than 100,000 additional potential political opponents.
In 1962, American U-2 spy planes discovered evidence of Russian nuclear missiles in Cuba, precipitating the Cuban Missile Crisis. This brought the US and USSR to the brink of nuclear war. Luckily—against the wishes of Fidel Castro—Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev blinked and withdrew the missiles.
Meanwhile, Castro began sponsoring socialist rebellions in various countries throughout the Caribbean and South America, under the guiding hand of Che Guevara. In our book, those efforts are described in the story “Castro’s Commie Blueprint to Take Over Latin America,” from the men’s adventure mag CAVALCADE, October 1961.
People who have romanticized views of Castro and Che and bought Che Guevara t-shirts in their college days may want to dismiss that story as “Red Scare” propaganda, but it’s basically true. Castro and Che did want to turn countries in Central America, South America and the Caribbean into the Western Hemisphere’s version of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, with Cuba in the position Russia played in the USSR. Moreover, his revolutionary efforts in Latin America did more harm than good to the people of those countries. Instead of leading to more glorious revolutions, they led to even more iron-fisted, right-wing dictatorships.
Meanwhile, although it can be argued that Castro was better than Batista in some ways, there’s no getting around the fact that he was a totalitarian dictator who killed, imprisoned and exiled thousands of Cubans. That fact, combined with his obvious anti-American, anti-capitalist, pro-Communist politics, made him and his followers anathema in MAM stories published from 1961 until the genre’s demise in the late ’70s.
The final stories in this book are a few of our favorite examples of fiction stories about Cuba and Castro from those years. One was written by the great Robert F. Dorr, whose MAM war and adventure stories are showcased in our book, A HANDFUL OF HELL.
Bob was a former State Department official who wrote hundreds of war and adventure stories for men’s adventure magazines, thousands of articles for military and history publications, and 80 aviation history books. His 1971 story for MAN’S ILLUSTRATED, about a mission to bring “Castro’s Bacterial Warfare Chief,” is a classic Dorr action yarn.
It’s somewhat similar in setup to the Paul Newman espionage thriller THE PRIZE. In fact, many of Bob Dorr’s best stories share themes with classic movies, where a a normal man finds himself in extraordinary circumstances when he gets caught up in larger conspiracies—a la Alfred Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, and THE WRONG MAN.
Others stories in the book are the type of over-the-top pulp fantasies that gave the most lurid, low-budget sub-genre of MAMs the nickname “sweat magazines.”
They are similar to the stories featuring sadistic Nazis that are most closely associated with sweat mags. But instead of Hitler and the Nazis, the villains are Fidel Castro and his followers. These stories and the artwork that goes with them—often done by MAM fan fave Norm Eastman—definitely do earn the adjective lurid.
A classic example included in our book is “Squirm in Hell, My Lovely Muchacha!.” The artwork for that one was done by Eastman, and Eva Lynd was the model for the hapless, scantily-clad senorita being tortured with a Cuban cigar by a sadistic Fidelista.
Other great artists whose work is shown in CUBA: SUGAR, SEX, AND SLAUGHTER include Mel Crair, Doug Rosa, George Gross, Mort Kunstler, Rafael DeSoto, Earl Norem, and Samson Pollen. Examples of Pollen’s original MAM artwork are showcased in our other recently-published book POLLEN’S WOMEN: THE ART OF SAMSON POLLEN.
You can see extensive flip-page previews of our CUBA and POLLEN books on the New Texture page on Issuu.com, along with other books published by Wyatt Doyle’s New Texture imprint.
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Click this link or the image below get copies of CUBA: SUGAR, SEX, AND SLAUGHTER
and other books in our Men’s Adventure Library series on Amazon —
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