The chilly sea breeze fluttered the flimsy curtains covering the windows. Rolando also worked as a podiatrist to supplement his income; Willy had arranged a meeting the next morning at this podiatry office. Showgirls draw crowds by the hundreds to the dazzling Tropicana club. It was like year zero. Why were there no photos of him?
Willy said he had some intel on Superman. Rolando had also told Willy he knew where Superman once lived—a neighborhood called Barrio de los Sitios, next to a church. He thought back to his father as a young man, a lotto-s runner who rose to the mayoralty of the gritty barrio de Los Sitios, in Centro Habana.
Many of the performers fled the country. Americans came in droves looking for release, for glamour, for drink, and in no small part for sex. It was late January, weeks after President Obama announced normalized relations with Cuba. A thin man with a well-groomed peppery goatee and an earring, Willy agreed to act as our fixer.
Inshortly after Castro took power and during the filming of the screen adaption of the book, Greene tried in vain to find Superman, who had by then disappeared.
They were still ashamed, still afraid of the consequences of talking about that period. He lived in barrio de Los Sitios, across from a church. Ernest Hemingway, at the peak of his fame, lives by the water outside town; Tennessee Williams, a regular visitor from his home in the Florida Keys, is a fixture at El Floridita. Those were ominous words, it turned out. After the performance, Brando, who was bisexual, took off with Superman, ditching the dancers.
Gacio suspects the live-sex shows occurred in private settings for wealthy viewers. Roberto Gacio, a Havana theater historian, doubts that there were actual live-sex acts at the Shanghai. During the scene Superman appears onstage wearing a large red cape.
But no one knew for sure if this—or anything else—was true. It was heaving with tourists drinking daiquiris when we arrived after dinner. According to local lore, the Shanghai featured live sex shows. The hotels are booked: the Florida, the Nacional, the Riviera.
The air inside the waiting room was stuffy and smelled of mothballs. Among the many nicknames for Superman, a less expected moniker kept popping up: Enrique la Reina Enrique the Queen. In the late novelist Robert Stone was a year-old radio operator with an amphibious assault force in the U. In the piece, Stone confesses to sleeping through much of the show, so his must have come from others who witnessed it; he never explicitly states whether live sex occurred.
He had an astonishing appetite for women; during our day trip, he frequently slipped away for salty rendezvous back at his apartment.
The mobsters, in bed with dictator Fulgencio Batista, are taking over the city; they envision casinos and resorts stretching from Havana to Varadero, 95 miles down the coast. He knew a guy who knew a guy who knew Superman. Havana, The eve of the revolution.
Rolando told us to wait a little longer; Eduardo would arrive soon. But more revered than all the rest was the man of many names. What better place to start looking than with the legend of Superman? A contact had referred us to a man named Alfredo Prieto, an editor at a publishing house who was working on a book about s Havana, and we paid him a visit on our first day in the city.
Most of it was rumor, hearsay, maybe true, maybe not. Here was a man with a supposedly inch unit who starred in live sex shows celebrated in Cuba and beyond, and yet virtually nothing was known about him. His podiatry office was next door to his home. We had discovered Superman as a brief mention in a Vanity Fair oral history of the Tropicana club.
There were no known photos of him. But inas relations between Cuba and the U. Prieto asked us to fill him in on any le we could find.
Male, forties, handsome, tall, with a penis from here to the corner. His name might have been Enrique. Prieto had been investigating Superman for his forthcoming book.
Superman disappeared like a ghost. Cuba, with profound changes afoot a year after Washington reopened relations with Havana, is having to think about what kind of country it wants to be. According to lore, Superman first had sex with female performers, who were bound to a pole and acting with exaggerated terror, then invited women from the audience to participate.
People came to Havana for many reasons, but one loomed larger—quite literally—than the rest.
How could no one know his true name or what became of him? Not only did Superman perform at the Shanghai and other clubs, but he also did private sex shows for wealthy Americans. They gossiped about the women, the sex. Willy said he thought he knew the block, and he also knew an old lady who lived there.
Havana was unusually cool. Willy was a year-old gourmand and Lothario, a man about town in Havana who seemed to know everyone. It was all an act, all for the entertainment of the audience. A Cuban documentary filmmaker that Mike and I had met in New York introduced us to his uncle, Willy, who showed us around.
Roberto Gacio also believes that Superman was gay and that the rumor about the affair with Brando is true. Follow la pista. Just as he pulls the cape open to reveal himself, the camera cuts to the gasping audience. He told me that after the revolution the regime tried to erase the past.
I had come with photographer Mike Magers to trace the story of Superman—or whatever we could find of it. We were intrigued. It was the same neighborhood Prieto had mentioned. Sitios was a working-class neighborhood located next to Chinatown, where the Teatro Shanghai was based.
El Toro. It was an embarrassment, a stain, and Superman was the human embodiment of that stain. The local boys talked about his gift.
When we met in his office in Vedado, he seemed bemused by our quest. Fidel Castro waits in the Sierra Maestra, while in the city the clubs and cabarets overflow with tourists, gangsters, and movie stars. Why Italy? We walked down bustling commercial streets and through crowded parks until we reached an alley where a group of drunks played checkers with bottle caps on a piece of cardboard. It had begun as a curiosity for us but evolved into a strange obsession. There was a small market selling meat, flowers, and liquor.
He said he would try to set up a meeting, but it would be unlikely that these people would talk to foreign reporters.
The contact was a journalist named Rolando who had written several books on Havana neighborhoods. It was 10 a. Soon we arrived on Via St. Nicolas, across from Judas Tadeo church. After the revolution ofthe Shanghai shuttered. Unfortunately, clues about who Superman was and what happened to him were virtually nonexistent. Prieto was 60 years old, a heavy smoker with black hair and a laid-back demeanor.
Nothing apparently can halt its growth. Did he even really exist, or was he just an urban legend, a myth? La Reina. The Man with the Sleepy Eyes. Superman later became a fascination of Graham Greene, who based a character on him in Our Man in Havana.
There could have been no pleasure derived from the performance. He had a great treasure. Outside, the street was alive with morning activity. Children played outside the church. I also asked Prieto how a man who had once been so famous could completely vanish—not just from the island, but from history itself. He had one of those old-man smiles that completely concealed his front teeth and a bushel of white nose hairs. Afterward it was an entirely new story. No one knew his real name.