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Ofelia Fox, 82; Operated Havana's Hot Tropicana

January 07, 2006|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Ofelia Fox, once known as the first lady of Havana's Tropicana nightclub, a Cuban show palace in the 1950s, has died. She was 82.

Fox died Monday of cancer and complications from diabetes at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, according to Rosa Sanchez, her companion of more than 40 years.

In her memoir, "Tropicana Nights, The Life and Times of the Legendary Cuban Nightclub," co-written with Rosa Lowinger and published last fall, Fox recounted life at the casino and dance club owned by Martin Fox, whom she married in 1952.

The famous gathered at the club, including actors Ava Gardner and Tyrone Power and writer Ernest Hemingway. Performers included Nat King Cole and Josephine Baker. Showgirls, lavish productions, congas and domino tournaments added to the air of a "Paradise Under the Stars," as the club was called.

The building itself, the Arcos de Cristal, was a landmark composed of soaring arches, with fruit trees growing in the interior. It was included in an exhibition of mid-century Latin American architecture at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1954.

Fox worked with her husband at the club seven nights a week during the nine years he owned the Tropicana. She was fluent in English and moved easily among the U.S. celebrities who frequented the casino. Her skill in English was important because her husband spoke only Spanish.

After the Cuban revolution of 1959, Fidel Castro took possession of the club and Fox and her husband fled to Miami. There, she became a close friend of Sanchez.

Fox's husband, Martin, suffered a stroke and died in the mid-1960s. She had no children and decided to move with Sanchez to Los Angeles to start a new life. Sanchez worked in radio and had been offered a job here.

Her house in Glendale became a gathering place for Cuban American neighbors and other friends, where domino tournaments and avid socializing were common.

Born Ofelia Suarez in Havana, the youngest of four, she graduated from the Havana Business Academy and became an English teacher.

She published several books of poetry while she lived in Cuba and self-published "Patria en Lagrima" (Tears in the Homeland) while she lived in Florida.

In Los Angeles, several of her bilingual plays were staged by the Cuban Cultural Club in Monterey Park.

A prayer service will be held at 6 p.m. Sunday at the Little Church of the Flowers, Forest Lawn Memorial-Park in Glendale. A gravesite ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at the cemetery.

Donations in Fox's name can be made to Providence St. Joseph Foundation, 501 S. Buena Vista St., Burbank, CA 91505.

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