Cuba

'My dearest Fidel' film to portray Cold War affair between Castro and U.S. journalist

The North American journalist Lisa Howard interviewed Fidel Castro several times in the 1960s.
The North American journalist Lisa Howard interviewed Fidel Castro several times in the 1960s.

A U.S. journalist interviews a rebellious Cuban leader during a predawn visit to her room at the Riviera Hotel in Havana. Later, she carries his messages to the White House.

Sound like a Hollywood flick? It is.

This Cold War tale, which centers on an affair between Fidel Castro and former TV journalist Lisa Howard, will also feature a cast of other high-profile characters including Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, as well as, Castro's revolutionary sidekick Ernest "Che" Guevara. The movie is being produced by Israeli actress Gal Gadot, who played Wonder Woman in the superhero movie "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice."

Joining Gadot in the production of My Dearest Fidel will be her husband, real estate developer and investor Jaron Varsano, and Sue Kroll, one of the industry's top marketing executives and founder in April of her own production company, Kroll & Co. Entertainment.

Gadot wrote in a May 23 Tweet that she became interested in Howard, a former ABC News correspondent who first interviewed Castro in April of 1963, after reading historian Peter Kornbluh's story about her case, published in the latest issue of Politico magazine.

Kornbluh's report was headlined "My Dearest Fidel: An ABC Journalist’s Secret Liaison With Fidel Castro.”

Gadot, who may also play Howard in the film, said she was captivated by the tale of “this complicated and fascinating woman” and her role at a risky moment in history.

Howard was one of the leading TV news personalities of the 1960s and had interviewed Nikita Khrushchev before she started pursuing an interview with Castro. “It was impossible to film him because he never stayed put,” she wrote in her diary.

Their first meeting at the Riviera Hotel's cabaret lasted until dawn and covered issues like the U.S. constitution and French author Albert Camus. He asked repeatedly about Kennedy, Howard noted in reports she wrote for U.S. government officials after leaving Cuba.

Kornbluh, who runs the Cuba project of the National Security Archives at George Washington University, wrote that Castro, enchanted by the blonde journalist, agreed to an interview. She asked him serious questions, like why so many Cubans were leaving for Florida. He asked her questions, some serious and one about whether she dyed her hair.

Castro sent her a bouquet of flowers the next day, and Howard left him a lengthy letter. “Although I disapprove much of your revolution, I wish you well... Your critics are mistaken. You are not the ruthless, cynical tyrant they have depicted,” she wrote.

On a second trip to Cuba, in February of 1964, Howard and Castro had an intimate encounter. She may have been delivering the Cuban leader's messages, first to Kennedy and then to Johnson.

The journalist was convinced that Castro wanted to improve his relations with the United States and served as a back channel for what Kornbluh's report described as “intimate diplomacy.”

Howard's third trip to Cuba was not as a journalist but to report to Castro that his message had been delivered to Johnson. Castro lodged her in one of the mansions that belonged to Cubans who had fled his rule and took her for a ride on his yacht, which she described as dilapidated.

She also hosted an informal meeting in 1963 at her apartment in the Upper East Side of New York City between U.S. diplomat William Attwood and Cuba's U.N. Ambassador, Carlos Lechuga.

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And when Che Guevara visited New York in 1964, she arranged a meeting with Democratic Sen. Eugene McCarthy. Participants later said Guevara remained largely silent.

Howard was born in Ohio in 1926, the same year as Castro. She was an actress before becoming a journalist, and was known as “The First Lady of Sin” for her roles as the evil protagonist in B-movies and TV programs.

Her widely reported suicide with barbiturate pills while on vacation in the Hamptons July 4, 1965 was the last of her misfortunes.

Howard was on her second marriage and had two children when she met Castro.

She was ultimately fired by ABC because of her involvement with a group that sought to block Bobby Kennedy's rise to the U.S. senate by supporting the reelection of Republican Sen. Kenneth Keating. Conflicts also arose with the station as a result of her controversial reporting from the island, which was referred to withing some circles as the “Cuba show.”

Her lawsuit against ABC for $2 million was rejected.

Follow Sarah Moreno on Twitter: @SarahMorenoENH

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