Leopoldo Mendoza Andrade (1921-1994):
A Self-made Movie Poster Artist.
© By Rogelio Agrasánchez, Jr.
Visit the Leopoldo Mendoza's movie poster gallery
Someone challenged me on one occasion to name the artist that had contributed more to film publicity in Mexico. With no hesitation, I answered that Leopoldo Mendoza Andrade was the most prolific poster artist in Mexican cinema. In fact, he started at age eleven as an office boy and apprentice in the publicity shop of Antonio Vargas Ocampo, in Mexico City. Emulating his older brother José and other artists in their daily routine, he quickly mastered the art of drawing. In the early 1940s, Leopoldo started to work on his own executing all sorts of movie ads; his amazing career would stretch five decades until his death in 1994.
Leopoldo Mendoza’s earliest movie posters promoted films such as Tierra de pasiones, La barraca, and Adán, Eva y el diablo. He began to do publicity work for important companies like Films Victoria and Filmex. ”Cine Gráfico“, the most prestigious trade publication, carried his splendid drawings for Madres de ahora, El gran Makakikus, La Panchita, etc. Mendoza made it a habit to sign his artwork, thus assuring the identification of the majority of his posters. At a round this time, the Mendoza brothers joined Producciones Raúl de Anda, a successful filmmaking business. Leopoldo’s most dazzling one-sheets were done for this company: Caminos de sangre, Campeón sin corona, Yo maté a Rosita Alvírez, El último Chinaco, and Aquí está Juan Colorado. This last title features an outstanding charro image of Raúl de Anda riding his horse. Producer de Anda himself was an accomplished rider and often played the heroes of his movies.
Because labor unions didn’t allow the Mendoza brothers to work together in the same spot, Leopoldo left Raúl de Anda’s company. He was assigned to several film companies but never worked for them long enough. Most of these small enterprises went out of business in less than a year and Mendoza was unable to get compensation from any of them. Being a member of the labor union (S.T.I.C.) didn’t help much either, as it always sided with the owners of the bankrupt companies. Leopoldo Mendoza, however, continued to work for the film industry using his home as office space. Other producers that were more established hired his services. For example: Producciones Mier y Brooks and also Producciones Sotomayor.
It is impossible to know how many illustrations Leopoldo Mendoza made for Mexican cinema. I have counted 270, so far. When I visited his home in Mexico City, the artist showed me hundreds of sketches for movie posters. He said he had lost track of the exact number of them. But he remembered the details and anecdotes surrounding their creation. Some of his favorites were: Cuba baila, Pueblo en armas, Rosa Blanca, and Los derechos de los hijos. Of this last one, Mendoza said that he enjoyed doing it because he was a devotee of gorgeous Elvira Quintana, the film’s leading actress. He also mentioned that the muralist José Clemente Orozco somehow influenced him when he made the poster for Pueblo en armas. Another great artist that influenced him was Ernesto García Cabral. In fact, Mendoza did several caricature posters based on drawings by Cabral, like Muertos de risa, Locos peligrosos and El signo de la muerte. But Mendoza also drew on his inspiration and humor as a caricaturist. One of the funniest images that I found is the poster for Nosotros los rateros (1949). It ingeniously illustrates how clumsy Manolín and Shilinsky are as burglars trying to lift a massive safe.
Another feat for Mendoza was La hermana blanca (1960), a drama starring Yolanda Varela and Jorge Mistral. When he completed this illustration, producer Felipe Mier congratulated him saying it was the best poster he had seen. It captured the agony and dilemma of a young woman whose heart is split between the love of a man and her vow to become a nun. Felipe Mier was so impressed by the design that he gave Leopoldo Mendoza a gold coin with a note: ”A medal for the finest poster artist“. Peers were quick to recogize him for the excellence of this and other illustrations. Frequently, his posters got the attention of art exhibits, magazines and books.
Mendoza almost completely ceased making movie posters in 1952, the year he got married. He and his wife, Delia, were too busy raising a family of three sons and a daughter. Before long, however, the graphic artist resumed his career with renewed energy. One of the best posters belongs to a film released in 1954: Tehuantepec or Mujeres del paraíso. Mendoza liked it very much because of its simplicity: a bright sun on the horizon spreading to all sides of the quadrant, and in one corner a small sketch of a woman wearing a traditional Tehuantepec costume. He took assignments from a wide array of movie companies, working day and night in his home-studio. In 1959 alone, he created publicity for more than twenty-five movies. Mendoza did a lot of one-sheets for adventure films, excelling in the genre of horror and science fiction. La Llorona, Santo contra los zombies, and La invasión de los vampiros are just some of the most amazing images of this category. He also designed posters for more serious films: Miércoles de ceniza, Nazarín, Macario, Tiburoneros, and La perla. An award-winning movie made in the forties, La perla was re-released in 1962 utilizing an imaginative illustration by Mendoza.
During the sixties and seventies, the artist paid tribute to the masked wrestler heroes ”El Santo“ and ”Blue Demon“ in a series of eye-catching posters. One of the wierdiest was Santo vs. la invasión de los marcianos; it featured the Silver-masked man on a lunar landscape battling flying saucers and assisting a wounded alien. His one-sheet for La isla de los dinosaurios invoked a scene of pre-historic times: a man and a woman try to escape from the dangers of a dinosaur and an erupting volcano. Pop art and oriental patterns are evident in the poster for La mafia amarilla, which featured the Blue Demon encircled by the stylish image of a dragon. In El increíble profesor Zovek, Mendoza added some psychedelia: inside a spiral, a man with supernatural powers travels through space and time giving the impression of movement.
In the fall of 1992, I spent several hours in the home of Leopoldo Mendoza talking about his work and the work of other publicty artists. He had a fragile health by then. A lifelong smoking habit caused him to speak with difficulty. But he declared with pride that he had devoted his energies exclusively to making publicity for Mexican as well as foreign films. Then he took out several 8x10 Black & White pictures of his little-known posters: Ana Karenina (1957), Rebecca (Hitchcock), La pecadora de la isla (a film starring Silvana Pampanini), Aventura en Bagdad (with Carmen Sevilla), etc. I was struck by the quality of the images. I liked in particular the poster showing a sexy image of Silvana Pampanini, who was dubbed as ”the most sensual woman in the world“.
Mendoza created many posters highlighting the voluptuous bodies of women. Examples of this sort are Ambiciosa, Locura pasional, Besos de arena, Senda prohibida, Yambaó, and El cuerpazo del delito. For this last title he made a very simple, sixties-looking drawing representing a woman’s torso wearing a bikini. One can see the evolution of the graphic artist when comparing two posters: El cuerpazo del delito (1968) and Ambiciosa (1952). A far more complex and symbolic composition, Ambiciosa features the full body of dancer Meche Barba. A spider web and the images of several men frame her opulent figure. This type of publicity probably caught the attention of many when the film was released. I recently found a picture of yet another sexy poster by Mendoza, Ángel del infierno. It features an intimidating image of Evangelina Elizondo brandishing two guns and revealing her well-shaped legs. More than the weapons, her luscious panty hoses tantalize the viewer.
Digging for the treasures that Leopoldo Mendoza left behind is an exciting adventure. For film enthusiasts like me, collecting his posters and illustrations has turned into an obsession. There is a profusion of splendid images that are worth preserving for the enjoyment of movie fans, art students, or just plain folks. A number of the poster books that I have edited include samples of Mendoza’s work; it is my intention to familiarize audiences with this and other major graphic artists. Hopefully, one day he will be recognized for his extraordinary career. If only because of the quantity of posters he created, Leopoldo Mendoza deserves a gold medal.
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