Conrado W. Massaguer

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Conrado W. Massaguer
(Cárdenas, March, 1889- Havana, October, 1965)

He was born in Cárdenas, on March 3rd, 1889. In 1892, his family moved to Havana but soon, in 1896, they left to Mérida, Yucatan, because of his father’s work. Massaguer remained there until 1902, when he enters the New York Military Academy. He arrives to Havana in 1905, but very soon, in 1906, his family sends him back to Yucatan, where he lived until 1908. He was completely self-taught regarding art matters. It is there where he gets his first caricatures published, in La Campana and La Arcadia magazines, as well as in the local newspaper El Diario Yucateco. At the beginning of 1908 he comes back to Havana, where —through journalist Víctor Muñoz— he begins to work as a baseball caricaturist in the newspaper El Mundo; he also collaborates with El Fígaro, Cuba y América, El Tiempo, El Hogar and Letras.

In 1910, together with Laureano Rodríguez Castells, he founds Mercurio, his first advertising agency. Next year he sets up his first individual exhibition of caricatures in the Havana Athenaeum, the board of directors of which he was part of since the previous year. In 1912 he publishes his first drawings —about Broadway— in New York, in a Sunday edition dominical of the New York American Journal. In 1913, together with his brother Oscar, he founds Gráfico, published until 1918. Later he would publish Social in 1916 and, later on, in January of 1919, Pulgarcito, a children’s magazine. In June of that same year he publishes Carteles, a weekly magazine also created by the Massaguer brothers.

Since the end of 1916, he had established the Graphic Arts Union and the advertising agency Anuncios Kesevén, due to differences of opinion with his partner in Mercurio, resulting in their split up. In 1921 he founds, along with other cartoonists, the First Humor Exhibition and in 1923 he publishes his book Guignol, a collection of his caricatures. In 1924 he marries Elena Menocal and they had two girls. Almost a year later he temporarily moves to New York, from where he runs Social at the same time he collaborates with Life, The New Yorker, Collier’s, Vanity Fair, American Magazine, Red Book, Cosmopolitan, Literary Digest, Sunday World and Town and Country. The Massaguers return to Havana in 1925, where they remain for four years.

In 1929 he exhibits in Paris, in the Jean Charpentier Gallery, and from there he goes to the League of Nations in Geneva as the artistic editor of the King Features Syndicate. Back in Havana in 1930, he meets with the political crisis created by the president Gerardo Machado, the administration of which he opposes until he has no other way out but to leave for the United States as a political exile at the end of 1931.

In New York he publishes his works at Collier’s, Cosmopolitan, Red Book and other regular publications, especially those dealing with theater. In 1933 he illustrates the book People Worth Talking About, by Cosmo Hamilton.

Due to the unstable political situation in Cuba, worsened by the Depression, Social closes en August after publishing what it seems to be its last edition in July. After a break of two years, Massaguer could publish Social again in September of 1935 until December of 1937. Massaguer worked tirelessly for each issue of Social. He used to design its cover, make full page drawings to illustrate literary texts or some particular subject and besides he used to make caricatures of well-known personalities, in events and social meetings.

Moreover, he worked as an editor in important magazines like Gráfico (1913-1918), an illustrated weekly magazine with information from all over the world with pictures, and Carteles (since June of 1919) from which he would become assistant manager first, and artistic director later. In 1925 he participates in the edition of the Libro de Cuba (The Book of Cuba). In 1937, Social is no longer published but Massaguer returns to the attack as an editor with the Desfile magazine ten years later (1947). Times had change, however, and the magazine is closed down within a few months. From that moment on, he would only work in Cuban and international journalism as a caricaturist and illustrator.

Although his work as not exclusively focus in political and social humor, some of his caricatures following this line are quite remarkable. ¡Dios mío! ¡Qué solos se quedan los muertos!, published in Social in 1923, shows the gravestones in a cemetery, in which civic-mindedness, unselfishness, patriotism and Cubanism, among others, have been buried. On the other hand, in the mural of the Cuban pavilion of the 1939 World Fair in New York, he showed Cuba (a rumba dancer) dancing with the music the government of the United States is playing, while the whole world is watching. This mural was destroyed at the request of president Federico Laredo Bru, who considered it an insult to the United States. El doble nueve, a caricature made in 1943, shows a game of dominoes between two partners: Roosevelt-Churchill and Hitler-Mussolini, with their allies watching the game; Churchill has the winning domino. El doble nueve was the most circulated caricature during the World War II.

During this last stage in his life he was a caricaturist in the newspaper Información from 1945 to 1949 and, from that year on, he collaborated with the newspaper El Mundo, with week sections of Massaguericaturas, Massaguerías and his column En esta Habana nuestra.

In 1944 he was decorated with the rank of Knight of the National Order Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, Commander of the National Order of the Red Cross and shortly after with the rank of Knight of the Finlay Order. In 1952 he accepted the position of public relations director of the Cuban Institute of Tourism and in 1956 he published his autobiography.

He died in Havana on October 18th, 1965.