It was during the presidency of Gerardo Machado in the ’20s that Cuba’s tourist trade really took off. Hotels, restaurants, night clubs, golf clubs and casinos sprung up in Havana catering to the rich jet-setters seeking luxury. Socialites, debutantes, celebrities like Ava Gardner and Frank Sinatra, and American mobsters came to play in the Cuban paradise.
Tourism, and the growing and selling of sugar, was making some Cubans rich, but not all Cubans. What the tourists didn’t see, or didn’t want to, was the underclass, people of poverty like the macheteros — sugarcane cutters — who worked only during the four month season, and the rest of the year were unemployed, and angry.
That degree of income inequality as well as accusations of corruption within the government of President Fulgencio Batista laid the groundwork for the Cuban Revolution, prompting an enduring economic embargo by the United States and the rapid end of Havana’s high-life.
Aileen Johnson Menocal eating breakfast in bed. Painting above her is supposedly her Mother painted as Madonna? Havana, Cuba 1946. Photographer: Nina Leen/Time Inc Owned.
Cuban socialite Aline Johnson de Menocal with friends posing by a swimming pool. Havana, Cuba 1946. Photographer- Nina Leen/Time Inc Owned.
Cuban Socialite Aline Johnson and friend Nina Gomez de Freyre receiving manicures. Havana, Cuba 1946. Photographer- Nina Leen.
Aline Johnson de Menocal meeting with her personal staff to plan a party. Havana, Cuba 1946. Photographer: Nina Leen/Time Inc Owned.
Outdoor party with silk canopies for socialites attending parties of Cuba’s first lady La condesa de Comargo. Havan, Cuba 1950. Photographer: Eliot Elisofon/Time Inc Owned.
Cuban Socialite party where the Mothers chaperone their unmarried daughters. Party of socialite La Condesa de Comargo. Havana, Cuba 1950. Photographer: Eliot Elisofon/Time Inc Owned.
A bartender mixes an exotic tropical cocktail at a bar in 1946 in Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Earl leaf/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)
Dealer Roulette at National Casino, 1958 (Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
September 1958: American cars parked in front of President Batista’s palace at Havana. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
Cheaper gambling casino in Havana, 1958. (Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
All forms of gambling such as: roulette, craps, and slot-machines at Riviera Hotel, 1958. (Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
A view of people dancing at a Cuban club, 1937. (Photo by Wallace Kirkland/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)
A Cuban rhumba dancer named Zulema performs on stage with a band at the Zombie Club on Zulueta Street, Havana, Cuba, February 16, 1946. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Three women perched on the bar at the Cabaret Kursal nightclub in Havana, Cuba, circa 1950. (Photo by Herbert C. Lanks/FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Guests enjoying a buffet supper at the Havana Yacht Club, circa 1950. (Photo by Herbert C. Lanks/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)