Martin FoxBlame It on The Tropicana – Part II
When Martin Fox replaced Victor de Correa as owner of the Tropicana in 1951, a series of unlikely changes occurred that had the world’s most glamorous cabaret linked to organized crime and some of the biggest names in Mafia history. At the same time, the greatest performers and most regal names from around the world were flocking to shows and the spectacular casino where rules of fair play were few and far between.
As it turned out, Fox knew what people wanted to see and his union with Alberto Ardura and Oscar Echemendia allowed him to present great cuisine, dynamic stage performances and a casino rigged to benefit the house at the expense of the establishment’s famous guests. Even today, Hollywood has never been able to properly duplicate the largesse, character or mystique of the Tropicana.
It was Fox’s genius that led the Tropicana, Cuba and Havana to new tourism heights. The combination of casino gambling, gorgeous scantily clad women and the greatest rum cocktails in the world pulled the rich and famous from every corner of the globe. When Fox and his management team took over, the Tropicana glory years began.
One of Ardura’s first acts was to hire away Roderico “Rodney” Neyra from the Club San Souci, the biggest competitor on Cuba’s cabaret scene. At the same time, Fox retained the services of Max Borges-Recio, a rising star in Cuban architecture circles. Borges-Recio designed and oversaw construction of the famous Arcos de Cristal, which featured glass walls and a protected indoor stage.
The Arcos de Cristal received numerous architectural awards around the world. Fox hired interior designer Charles Eames to furnish and decorate the room which sat 1,700 inside and out. The Arcos de Cristal was one of six Cuban structures featured in the 1954 Museum of Modern Art exhibit entitled “Latin American Architecture since 1945.”
The showgirls from the Tropicana were voluptuous and unabashed about touting their wares. The sequin and feather musical theater was perfect for the lavish shows staged by Neyra. Although nobody ever quite duplicated the ambiance, Neyra’s style would be copied from Las Vegas to Paris and beyond.
Great performers like Xavier Cugat, Nat King Cole, controversial but heralded Josephine Baker, Yma Sumac, Carmen Miranda and other stars headlined at the cabaret. The Tropicana’s house band consisted of 540 of the most talented musicians in the world. These musicians put Cuban music and the map where it has remained ever since.
To better understand the splendor and largesse of the Tropicana, this review was posted in a 1956 Cabaret Guide: “the largest and most beautiful night club in the world. Located on what was once a 36,000-square-meter estate, Tropicana has ample room for two complete sets of stages, table areas and dance floors, in addition to well-tended grounds extending beyond the night club proper. Tall trees rising over the tables and through the roof in some spots lend the proper tropical atmosphere which blends well with the ultra-modern architecture of the night club. Shows include a chorus line of 50 and the dancers often perform on catwalks among the trees. Rhythms and costumes are colorfully native, with “voodooism” a frequent theme. Top talent is imported from abroad. Minimum at tables is $4.50 per person, but this can be avoided by sitting at central bar which has a good view of both stages.”
Given Fox’s history and meteoric rise and the infatuation with Cuba, Havana and the Tropicana by Tampa godfather Santo Trafficante, Sr. it would not be long before the casino and cabaret would change yet again.
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