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Benicio, Bill Murray, Caan And Duvall In Cuba For Awards

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HAVANA — Benicio del Toro accepted a new Cuban government award for international artists at a ceremony in Havana on Thursday, while Bill Murray entertained a small audience by crooning from "As Time Goes By.

Fellow actors Robert Duval and James Caan were also on hand as the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba gave Puerto Rican-born del Toro the first Tomas Gutierrez Alea Prize for his career body of work, including the lead in "Che."

Steven Soderbergh's two-part, 4 1/2-hour biopic on Argentine-born revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, who helped Fidel Castro take power in Cuba in 1959, was a hit on the island, often showing in theaters that had not been refurbished since the 1950s.

Murray wowed union members packed into a room behind the group's main headquarters, grabbing a microphone, singing and then jokingly passing around a baseball cap to collect tips for the piano player.

He said later he was most-taken with another time warp-like aspect of Cuba.

"I sure like the cars. I get excited about the cars," Murray said, referring to the hulking 1950s Chevrolets, Fords and other classic American roadsters that still ply Cuba's potholed streets. While the communist system restricts ownership of new vehicles, it allows Cubans to keep models made before the revolution.

Del Toro was in Havana on an unrelated trip that overlapped with a separate, 4-day visit by Murray, Caan and Duval, who are here on professional research and were invited to the award ceremony.

Cuba is famous for having been a mafia playground before Castro took power, and Duval and Caan both starred in Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 gangster classic "The Godfather."

"Caan, he's my godfather, no pun intended!" de Toro joked.

Duval – who like Murray was making his first trip to the island – said he was looking forward to getting a taste of authentic Cuban music, including Mambo.

"Hopefully we can go out and see some of the guys dance danzon," he said.

The Tomas Gutierrez Alea Prize is named for the late Cuban writer and filmmaker who directed more than 20 features and struck a balance between defending Castro's revolution and using wit to criticize it. He died in 1996.