Margaret Helgeson changed her name to Elaine Townsend while residing in Hawaii during the 1940’s. She was there when Pearl Harbor was attacked and throughout WWII.
In early 1947 she became the license holder for craps and chemin de fer (baccarat) at the only legal casino in Havana: Gran Casino Nacional. By late 1949 she had an interest in the Jockey Club at Oriental Park and the Montmarte Casino. After 1950 I don’t know what, if any, interest she had in Cuban gambling.
The story of how she got into the gambling business in Havana reads like a Hollywood script. I guess that’s why Hollywood screenwriter Virginia Kellogg wrote a screenplay about her life after visiting her in Cuba in the late 40’s.
Hollywood producer Wolfgang Reinhardt wanted to make the movie and have Rita Hayworth play the role of Elaine.
This didn’t happen and Reinhardt was going to make the film with Lucille Ball as Elaine and her Cuban native hubby Desi Arnaz. But this never happened either—not sure what happened. The movie was to be a comedy and was initially entitled “Hotbed in Cuba” then “The Elaine Townsend Story” and then “That Townsend Girl.”
Elaine Townsend died at Miami Beach, FL and was interred Mount View Cemetery in Billings, Montana on August 11, 1965 (although she had never lived in Billings, that’s where her family had moved from Wyoming).
I’ve attached an article in PDF from the Sept.9, 1948 issue of “The American Weekly” (it was a Sunday supplement similar to Parade Magazine today). Has a nice pic of Elaine sitting in front on a lot of chips. The article says that, since Elaine knew nothing about gambling, she hired a former New York nightclub owner named Connie Immerman to manage her games. Immerman was an associate of Lucky Luciano in Cuba (Frank Sinatra said that Luciano was first introduced to him by Immerman). Luciano was deported from Cuba about the same time Elaine get’s there.
How she managed to get into the thick of the gambling world in Cuba with no experience whatsoever, while some of the most experienced, big time gamblers and underworld figures on the planet are all around—it’s strange.
By Richard Hanover
Thanks for your interest in Gambling Ladies. To learn more about this mysterious lady and the historic time and place in which she lived, read The Elaine Townsend Story.
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