Gabriel Figueroa 1907-1997


Gabriel Figueroa was Esperanza Lopez Mateos' best friend. He is a renowned Mexican cinematographer, he made over 200 films, nominated for an Oscar, won Cannes, Golden Globe, Ariel multiple times, worked with top films and directors.

He left two books where he talks about how important Esperanza was in his life. They were cousins and lived in the same house with his brother, her husband, Roberto.


In this book, the journalist author Elena Poniatowska interviews Gabriel Figueroa and family in their home at 39 Zamora in Coyoacan in 1996. (39 Zamora is the same return address Hal Croves used in his letter to Henry Schnautz in Nov. 1951)

Elena Poniatowska, Todo Mexico - Tomo 3, La Mirada Que Limpia, Editorial Diana, 1996

An interview with Gabriel Figueroa, his wife Antonieta, son Gabriel, and daughters Maria and Tolita.



To a certain extent reading this book seems to bring me a step closer to the end of this project. It tells me how Esperanza died. I have never seen it anywhere else, a gunshot to the head. Tragic. This book tells me as much as anything how deep Gabriel Figueroa's affection was for her. It almost becomes a book about her. Another thing it says - Figueroa believed all his life without doubt that Traven's real name was Mauricio Rathenau. Did Traven even know he was lying? Figueroa befriended Traven. This book does not solve the problem of Esperanza's birth. Somebody did not want that story told. Gabriel doesnt know it. Gabriel Jr. says Esperanza's life was as mysterious as B. Traven's.


All the information below, is in the book, is my best effort to translate and paraphrase. I am making no comment on the truthfulness, sometimes not showing which Figueroa family member made the statement. The Figueroa children were all born after the death of Esperanza in Sept 1951. Figueroa and his wife Antonieta were married a few months later. Antonieta was a young woman of 23 or so.

This book is the best source of information i have found so far about the life of Esperanza Lopez Mateos.

p. 24-26

There were 4 children in the Lopez Mateos family, Mariano, Elena, Esperanza and Adolfo. Adolfo was the youngest. Esperanza was not Elena's daughter. A Spanish count had abducted an English lady with bad nerves. His name was don Gonzalo de Murga y Suinaga. Her name was Claire. They had two children, Blue (thats not a translation) and Clara. Claire had mental problems. They divorced. She took the boy with her to England. Clara stayed with the father. Murga became close with Elena Lopez Mateos, and offered to give her the child to raise, as he had a sugar plantation in Oaxaca, and he thought Elena, a teacher, would be a better parent than he. Elena accepted on condition that she have sole parental responsibility and that she not receive a single penny from don Gonzalo. She renamed the girl Esperanza. She had just lost a daughter with that name.

Despite this information, Gabriel says he never knew how or when Esperanza was adopted.

Don Gonzalo was killed June 28, 1934, on his property in Oaxaca. He had been "fractioning" the property. Gabriel accompanied Esperanza to her father's burial. They stayed only a half hour and talked to nobody, as she did not know anyone.

p. 32-39

Esperanza married Roberto Figueroa, Gabriel's brother, sometime in the mid 1930's. Esperanza invited Gabriel to live with them. Gabriel and Roberto up to that time had always lived together. Gabriel's mother had died in childbirth. They had lived with aunts. Their address was 1106 Avenida Coyoacan. Gabriel said Esperanza was like a mother to him, his last mother. Figueroa's children and his wife say they do not understand the marriage between Roberto and Esperanza, that the affection and respect between Esperanza and Gabriel was much stronger. Gabriel's wife says many people think Gabriel and Esperanza were in love.

Gabriel says he never knew Esperanza's age, but guesses she was two years older than he (making her birthyear 1905).

Esperanza gave Roberto the marriage condition that they not have children. She knew her mother, the english lady, had mental problems, and Esperanza was afraid of having inherited it. (Somehow they also know that the little boy "Blue" grew up to become a communist, just like Esperanza.) She complained about not sleeping and being nervous. Gabriel says she had an amazing vitality, working constantly. Esperanza spoke English and French, was a trained nurse, a stenographer. She wrote down the speeches of Vicente Lombardo Toledano, some of them 3 hours long.

Esperanza managed a small publisher with her mother, Editorial Masas, S.C.L. later called Compania General de Ediciones, S.A. in a small house at 30 Donceles.

Traven lived in Acapulco in a place of 30,000 square meters (a little over 7 acres) with over 30 dogs and geese. When he came to Mexico City, he stayed in hotels under false names. Esperanza suggested to Gabriel that he stay with him. Gabriel says he had just bought a house in Coyoacan at this time (I think he means 39 Zamora). Traven accepts and this is the start of the friendship between Traven and Figueroa. Figueroa talks about drinking whisky with Traven while learning his secrets.

Gabriel says that Travens real name was Mauricio Rathenau, son of the German industrial giant Emil Rathenau. His mother was an Irish actress Helen Mareck. (Figueroa still believes this is true when he gives the interview in 1996. Esperanza apparently also believed it.) Traven tells Figueroa a story of living in a castle with a governness, escaping at 12 and sailing around the world as cabinboy and seaman, returning to Germany as Ret Marut. ( I have to point out here that if this story were true, it would be possible for Traven to be in Mexico about the time Esperanza was born, as he first appeared in Germany as Ret Marut around 1907)


p. 89-94

Esperanza fell possibly out of a jeep on a climb up Popocatepetl with Roberto. (Henry has her falling off a horse near Popo, Traven has her falling on skis in Switzerland) She hurt her spine. She was going to have an operation, but other doctors were brought in who stopped it. She was diagnosed and committed to a psychiatric institute, given electroshock treatment. Her original doctor examined her and saw she was in danger of losing her leg. Gabriel and Roberto went in to the institute early one morning to bring her out. They had to fight with two orderlies. Esperanza has the back operation and it is a success. Slowly she regains her mobility, but she experiences great pain and her mood is often dark.

Esperanza and Adolfo do not speak to one another the last years of her life. They were in disagreement over one another's politics. Esperanza was writing for some American magazines, like Life, but that ended as McCarthyism grew.

Esperanza got tired easily, was depressed, and insisted to Gabriel she was no good for anything. One day, Sept 16 or 17, 1951, Gabriel and Esperanza were in the house. Gabriel heard a shot, like someone celebrating, but slept through it. Roberto came in later and found Esperanza dead with a note.

Esperanza used a gun that belonged to either Roberto or Gabriel. Gabriel's daughter says the suicide is a taboo to speak of because of the pain it caused her father.

Pepe Alvarez Amezquita was the original doctor who first said an operation was necessary. He was also the doctor who went to the institute and convinced Gabriel and Roberto she needed to get out. When the Figueroa children, Maria and young Gabriel had meningitis, the same doctor took care of them, and told them, Esperanza did not commit suicide, she was shot in the back of the head. The doctor said Esperanza was involved in union trouble, that was a possible cause. Amezquita was in charge of approving the death certificate. He amended it without telling Gabriel or Roberto. When Gabriel heard this, he was very upset, because he saw Esperanza had been shot in the temple.



p. 94 -98

Gabriel's son said Esperanza committed suicide, because before she died she wrote a letter to Roberto and Gabriel. The letter from Esperanza is in the book. It is addressed to Roberto and Gabriel at their home at Avenida Coyoacan 1106. The letter is not a suicide letter. It is actually a last will and testament, an affectionate but not necessarily imminent good-bye. It is not dated, in the book, but it is signed and evidently written and mailed from New York.

453 W. Nineteen Street, New York
Esperanza Lopez Mateos de Figueroa

This is Henry Schnautz's apartment in New York. Esperanza had flown to New York in November 1947, stayed with Henry, then flew on to Europe, including Switzerland, then returned back to New York in January 1948 before returning home.

The letter was probably written in November 1947.

"To you two, Roberto and Gabriel Figueroa Mateos, I want to dedicate, before undertaking this long trip, all that I possess."

Below is the envelope Henry received from Gabriel later in the summer of '48 to tell him Esperanza was in a sanitarium and could not write.


Gabriel Figueroa is a man of principle. Esperanza nursed him when he was sick. He was devastated all his life by Esperanza's death. His children said he never again entered the house at 1106 Coyoacan.



Señores Roberto y Gabriel Figueroa Mateos, avenida Coyoacán 1106, Colonia del Valle, Esperanza López Mateos. Para abrirse cuando haya yo dejado de ser.

A ustedes dos, Roberto y Gabriel Figueroa Mateos, quiero destinar, antes de emprender este largo viaje, todo cuanto poseo. Mis bienes terrenales, siendo pocos, han constituido para mí un gran tesoro por ser todos ellos regalos de ustedes; vuelvan pues, a sus manos generosas siempre abiertas para dar, siempre dulces y fuertes para tenderse cuando su ayuda era necesaria.

Por serme tan querida esta casa nuestra, nuestros libros y pequeñas porcelanas entre las que se cuentan las teteras que Tito me ha ido trayendo feliz al saber que con ello me complacía, no las conserven como cosas muertas, no las pongan en manos avaras entre las cuales habrían de convertirse en cenizas, sin originar una sonrisa más, ni un nuevo goce pequeño o grande.

En cuanto a nuestra inmensa y común riqueza espiritual la que nos ha seguido en una vida dulce, fecunda, excepcionalmente armoniosa, no vayan a hacer de ella un futuro de limitaciones. Yo me llevo la parte que me corresponde, la que en el eterno devenir cósmico habrá de ser siempre acto manuable; ustedes sigan como hasta ayer el camino en el que por un hecho fortuito tuve yo que detenerme antes.Sigan gozando de todo lo bueno, lo bello, lo positivo que tiene esta etapa del vivir, y luchando noble e inteligentemente contra los obstáculos de las miserias del prójimo, ni hablar a la escupidera. Tú, Gabi, encárgate de todo lo relativo a Mauricio [B. Traven], recuerda que es un tipo bastante singular; que Beto, con el cuidado que pone en todo, haga un inventario cabal de sus cosas, las de Mauricio y envíenselas si así lo quiere; invítenlo a pasar sus últimos años en Coyoacán, tal vez acepte puesto que ya han sido muchos sus años de soledad.

A Pinochilla [Elena, su hermana]protéjanla y vean que nada le falte; tiene una visión extraña y limitada del mundo. Si los deja, ayúdenla a ganar un poco de felicidad, yo no pude. Si a Chijlta y a Avecita les hace falta ayuda y está en sus manos dársela, sé que lo harán. A Mario su hermano díganle que siempre le tuve mucho cariño y que lo aprecio por ser hombre cabalmente honesto y excelente padre. A Fito [Adolfo López Mateos], como a Elena, me fue difícil entenderlo, pero hasta el último momento esperé mirarlo reaccionar y dejar de ser el niño reprobado, que espera fuera de las aulas y pretende demostrar a los maestros necios que por caminos insospechados se puede llegar a obtener un éxito que no es precisamente el logrado en la justa noble.

A Gloria [su amiga] denle mis prendas de uso personal, los trapos que más le gusten. A mis chácharas de adorno repártanlas entre Ave la grande y Chopis [hija de Mariano López Mateos]; todo lo demás, mis cien suéteres, pantalones, etcétera a quien más lo necesite.

A Antonio Rodríguez el joven periodista portugués denle lo que él pida, es hombre noble y de gran talento. Es pobre, tiene mujer e hijos; si no pide nada, como seguramente habrá de hacerlo, regálenle dinero, equivalente más o menos a lo que costaría un entierro con mucho réquiem que no será necesario para mí.

A Vicente Lombardo Toledano díganle que si en alguna discusión fui violenta, lo traté con aspereza y lo envié al diablo que me perdone, que bien sabe él cuánto admiro su talento, su valor y su hombría de bien y cómo diez años de su lucha me ligó a él recio afecto.A Lázaro Cárdenas mi fe en nuestro pueblo. A mis amigos del gran puerto de la cordialidad mi afecto y admiración inquebrantable por su pureza y reciedumbre.

453 W. Nineteen Street, New York.
Esperanza López Mateos de Figueroa.



Gentlemen Roberto and Gabriel Figueroa Mateos, avenue Coyoacán 1106, Colonia del Valle, Esperanza López Mateos. To open when I cease to be.

To you two, Roberto and Gabriel Figueroa Mateos, I want to dedicate, before undertaking this long trip, all that I possess. My worldly goods, while few, have become a great treasure for me, for they are all gifts from you: they return then, to the generous hands always open to give, always sweet and strong to give when their help was needed.

It is so very dear our house, our books and small porcelain among which include teapots that Tito has been bringing me happy to know that this pleased me, not preserved as dead things, do not put in greedy hands among which were to become ashes, without causing a smile, or a new enjoyment small or large.

As for our vast and shared spiritual wealth which has followed us in a sweet life, fruitful, exceptionally harmonious, it will not make a future of limitations. I will take the part that belongs to me, the one that in the eternal cosmic becoming must always be the natural way; you continue like only yesterday the road in which a casualty (? - fortuitous fact) I had to stop earlier. Continue to enjoy all the good, the beautiful, the positive that has this station of of life, and fighting noble and intelligently against the obstacles of the niseries of others, neither talk to the spittoon (maybe means escupidero - disgraceful situation). You, Gabi, take charge of all concerning Mauricio [B. Traven], remember that he is a quite singular type; that Beto, with the care that he puts in everything, make a complete inventory of his things, those of Mauricio and send them if he wants it this way; invite him to pass his last years in Coyoacán, perhaps he will accept since already there has been many years of solitude.

To Pinochilla [Elena, her sister] protect her and see that she lacks nothing; she has a strange and limited vision of the world. If you leave(?), help her to win some happiness, I was not able to. If to Chijlta and Avecita they need help and it is in your hands to give it, I know they will make it. To Mario their brother tell him that I always had so much love and appreciation for being a fully honest mana and an excellent father. To Fito [Adolfo López Mateos], as Elena, he was difficult for me to understand, but until the last moment I hoped to look at it to react and to stop to be the boy not passed in examination that waits outside of the classrooms and seeks to demonstrate to the fatuous teachers that from unsuspected roads you can end up obtaining a success that is not exactly achieved in the noble contest.(?)

To Gloria [her friend] give her my garments of personal use, the ragss that she most likes. To my ornamental junk, divide it between Ave the elder and Chopis [daughter of Mariano López Mateos]; all the rest, my hundred sweaters, pants, etc. to the one who most needs it.

To Antonio Rodríguez the young Portuguese journalist give him what he requests, he is a noble man and of great talent. He is poor, he has woman and children; if he does not ask for anything, as he will surely do, give him money, equivalent more or less to what would cost a funeral réquiem that won't be necessary for me.

To Vicente Lombardo Toledano tell him that if any discussion I was violent, I treated him with roughness and I sent him to the devil that toforgive me, that well he knows how much I admire his talent, his courage and his honesty and how ten years of struggle bound me to him its fight it tied me to him in strong affection. To Lázaro Cárdenas my faith in our people (town?). To my friends in the great port of the cordiality my affection and unyielding admiration for their purity and vigor.

453 W. Nineteen Street, New York.
Esperanza López Mateos de Figueroa