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Book asks if Gardner had fling with Castro

Dictator impressed actress despite mismatched socks
/ Source: Reuters

What exactly did screen legend Ava Gardner and Cuban leader Fidel Castro get up to in Havana in the early days of the revolution? And what did she do to annoy ex-Argentine dictator Juan Peron?

A new biography of Gardner, “Love is Nothing” by Lee Server, details some funny encounters between the tempestuous actress and the two iconic Latin American strongmen.

Gardner had visited pre-revolutionary Cuba, sometimes staying with writer Ernest Hemingway at his house outside Havana and famously swimming naked in his pool. She went again to Havana in the summer of 1959 after Castro came to power.

“Ava had been fascinated by the stories and pictures of Cuba’s charismatic bearded liberator. And the comandante, as it turned out, had a similar interest in the Yanqui movie star,” Server writes.

The pair met, and Castro took her on a tour of his headquarters at the Havana Hilton. They drank Cuba Libres sitting on the balcony overlooking the city. Castro told her about the revolution and his dreams for Cuba’s future.

Castro impressed the actress greatly, even though he wore mismatched socks. Gardner asked him if he hated Americans, and he replied: only Richard Nixon.

“What more occurred between the two is unclear,” the book says.

Gardner, who was known for her enthusiastic love life, apparently annoyed Castro’s translator, 19-year-old Ilona Marita Lorenz. She believed Gardner was pursuing Castro and claimed to have intercepted notes sent to him.

The two women had an argument in the lobby of the Hotel Nacional. Gardner slapped Lorenz in an elevator, and a Cuban security agent pulled out his pistol to restore order.

Ultimately, Castro ended his contact with Gardner, and she found consolation in the arms of one of his aides, the book says.

Empañadas with the Perons
Her acquaintance with the Perons also was stormy.

Exiled from Argentina after a 1955 coup, Juan Peron moved to Madrid in 1960 with his soon-to-be third wife, Isabel. Gardner, a long-time Madrid resident, had the apartment above them in a block off Plaza Argentina in the Spanish capital.

According to Server, Peron had long admired the actress. She disliked his politics but tried to be friendly.

“Isabel made empañadas that were out of this world, and Ava would sometimes go downstairs and eat them in the Peron’s kitchen while Isabel would sit and chat, speaking without jealousy about how the late Evita remained the most important woman in her husband’s life.”

The relationship turned sour when the Perons complained about Gardner’s noisy all-night flamenco parties.

On one such night, Gardner’s dogs attacked the Peron dogs. Peron called the Guardia Civil, who went to the apartment intending to arrest the merry-makers. They backed off, however, when they found that the other guests were officers from the nearby U.S. air base.

“Ava claimed that the ex-dictator often stood on his balcony and made speeches to an imaginary crowd of supporters and that she and her maid would would go out on their balcony as genuine hecklers shouting: ’Peron is a faggot,”’ the book says.

Gardner, who starred in such films as “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” and “The Night of the Iguana,” died in London in 1990 at age 67. Peron died in 1974 aged 78. Castro will celebrate his 80th birthday in August.