Cuba When I Was a Child and Some Changes

By Eduardo N. Cordovi Hernandez

HAVANA TIMES – As soon as I learned to read, I started reading Comics. Those magazines that we called muñequitos here in Cuba.

Going to the drugstore with my mother was a party. They sold new ones there for 50 cents.

They had that smell of ink… She’d buy Select Editions of Reader’s Digest. They smelled better, but I preferred comics because of the drawings, colors, and shiny covers.

The variety of characters was incredible! The Donald Duck Series and his girlfriend Daisy, his cousin Gladstone Gander, the inventor; Scrooge McDuck, and his three nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Comics about Felix the Cat, Sylvester and Tweetie, Andy Pandy, Mickey Mouse, his girlfriend Minnie and their dog Pluto. It was interesting that in Mickey’s crew, Goofy – who was also a dog – would walk on two legs, speak and dress like a person, while Pluto only barked. Other characters were: Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny, Mighty Mouse, Heckle and Jeckle, Woody Woodpecker. Porky and Friends, Tom and Jerry, Little Lulu, the chubby Toby, Archie and Friends. Casper…

Once I’d read them, they didn’t interest me anymore and I’d swap them for another two, sometimes, three, even if they were old.

That’s how I discovered other genres. Cowboy comics: The Lone Ranger, Red Ryder, Roy Rogers, Cisko Kid, Hopalong Cassidy, Green Arrow and Flash… Tarzan, The Phantom. Blackhawk, an adventure series about pilots, which were later called Gold Hawks, I don’t know why, because they had the same names and the same Chinese accomplice. Warfront, Frontline Combat.  Horror comics: Black Cat, Tales of Horror and Mystery. Adventure comics: Red Mask, Dick Tracy, Batman and Robin, Superman, Marvila, Aquaman. Royal Canadian Mounted Police…

Then, I found other more interesting ones: Vidas Ilustres, Exemplary Lives and American Legends.

Then they began to run out. New ones disappeared. Old ones got more expensive. I managed to buy comics without covers, with missing pages for five pesos. Then, ten…

When I had children, only one comic came out. Just one: Zunzun. The cover was the only one in color, but it wasn’t shiny. Plus, it was too educational, too much information… Hard to devour. Later, Pioneer magazine appeared, but there were only a few and the cover was faded.

I watched TV for the first time in 1956. My mother used to take me to watch an evening show for kids every Sunday: Disneylandia, at a neighbor’s house. In black and white. I don’t remember anything else… I don’t know how to explain it… It was wonderful!

We left the farm in 1957.

The owner, a guy called Papo, a son of Fulgencio Batista – the president of the Republic – sold it. People who leased plots of land, such as the dairy store owner, had to shut down their businesses.

We moved closeby.

My parents rented out a small apartment in the building on 4th Street, built in the owner Carmen’s backyard. She didn’t allow children, animals and she didn’t rent out to black people.

We were the exception. She was a hermit-like old woman. But her son, who was ten or twelve years older than me, would invite me over to watch TV.

That’s where I discovered the series – with actors! – Cassidy, The Roy Rogers Show, Bat Masterson, Superman. Others like Tucstown Arizona, Gunstone, Highway Patrol, Rescue 8, Tales of the 77th Bengal Lancers, The Rough Riders, Ramona, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Fury, Investigación Submarina. Also, Perry Mason, Mike Malone, Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy… Not to mention the movies!

And I discovered the cinema. 

My mother took me to the neighborhood one called The Lawton, where we watched a Tarzan movie. I got scared and we didn’t finish it.

Seventy-seven years later, the place… is in ruins. It has been a warehouse for many different things, while it fell into ruin. This happened with other movie theaters, such as the Tosca, where famous artists used to appear. The Victoria, Moderna, Norma, Dora, Apolo, Luyano, Continental movie theaters also slowly fell into disrepair… The following movie theaters are now closed in Havana: Bayamo, Fénix, Actualidades, Rialto, Jigüe, Gran Cinema, Reina, Cuatro Caminos, Capitolio, Pionero, Rex Cinema and Dúplex, and there are more.

By the end of 1959, I was already going alone to neighborhood movie theaters on my own or with some friends. The ticket only cost 40 cents and they’d give you a printed weekly program. They’d put on two movies and the weekly program. The program changed every day. They also screened short documentaries, cartoons and the ICAIC Latin American news.

Few movie theaters had a cafe, but you could go out and buy crackers, sugared peanuts or popcorn and go back to your seat showing the torn half of your paper ticket.

Later, the movie theater cost 1 peso. They showed the same thing every week, without a printed program and without a cafe within the movie theater. If you went out to eat anything, you’d have to pay to get back in.

Today, it costs a lot more and the situation is worse: the air-conditioning doesn’t work, or there are blackouts, the bathrooms aren’t clean, or the seats are broken.

A few years ago, an official from the Havana Film Festival made a speech and said that Cuba had 207 movie theaters. I rummaged through old newspapers and could count that there were 320 in the province of Havana alone! This commissioner proudly said that there were 207 left in the country.

Read more from the diary of Eduardo N. Cordovi here on Havana Times.

Eduardo N. Cordovi

I was born and live in Lawton, Havana, on October 29, 1950. A potter, painter and woodcarver. I have published in newspapers and magazines in the country and in the Peruvian magazine with continental circulation Menú Journal. Editorial Oriente published my book, Bebidas notables in 1989, also published by along with my novel Conspiracy in Havana.

3 thoughts on “Cuba When I Was a Child and Some Changes

  • Born in 1947 and left Cuba as a Pedro Pan in 1961. I well remember the muñequitos, but the new ones were only “un real” (ten centavos.) Every once in a while, a guy would come around to our neighborhood and buy them for two cents. He would then sell the used comics one for “un medio” (five centavos)

    We got our first TV set in 1953. This TV, in addition to excellent Cuban shows (live TV!) would have American episodes of The Lone Rance, Rin-Tin-Tin, Lassie, The Highway Patrol, I Love Lucy, and so many more. These episodes were dubbed into Spanish. We would also watch cartoons with Popeye, Superman and, of course, Mickey Mouse and his gang. We had Channel 2, 4, 6 and 10. And then, WE WERE THE SECOND COUNTRY TO HAVE COLOR TV IN THE WORLD! A very astute businessman by the name of Pumarejo set up the facility.

    We had movie theaters all over like you indicate. We also had Cinerama at the CMQ building in La Rampa avenue.

    Like you indicate, this all came to a crashing halt in 1959-60 when Fidel took over. I was there long enough to see the disaster that the country was becoming. I never went back, but I have fond memories of those carefree days of my childhood.

  • Amigo, me has remitido a la infancia. Nací en 1951 y en 1952 ya había televisión en mi casa. En ese sentido fuí privilegiada.
    Recuerdo todos los programas que mencionas y otros como I love Lucy que se transmitía con otro título y doblado al español.
    En 1959 habían 358 salas de cine en La Habana, superando a New York y Paris que ocupaban el segundo y tercer lugar respectivamente. Sin palabras.

  • Way back in the day there used to be a great many cinemas all over everywhere. Every single neighborhood in every country I’ve ever visited used to have s**tloads of cinemas all over the place. There were more cinemas than rats.

    These days there are far fewer.



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