Juan Emilio Viguié

Juan Emilio Viguié Cajas[1] (July 11, 1891 – September 1966),[2] was a movie and documentary producer. A pioneer in the film industry of Puerto Rico, he was the first Puerto Rican to produce commercially successful films in the island. In 1934, he produced and directed Romance Tropical, the first Puerto Rican film with sound.[3]

Juan Emilio Viguié
Pioneer in Puerto Rico's film industry He produced and directed the first Puerto Rican film with sound
Pioneer in Puerto Rico's film industry
He produced and directed the first Puerto Rican film with sound
BornJuan Emilio Viguié Cajas
11 July 1891
Ponce, Puerto Rico
DiedSeptember 1966 (1966-10) (aged 75)
San Juan, Puerto Rico
OccupationMovie and documentary producer
NationalityPuerto Rican
Notable worksRomance Tropical
ChildrenJuan Emilio Viguié Jr.

Viguié produced films for Pathé, Fox Film Corporation, Movietone and MGM. He also produced many documentaries for the Puerto Rican and U.S. governments, and private industries.

Early yearsEdit

Viguié's ( birth name: Juan Emilio Viguié Cajas [note 1]) parents were headed to Panama where his father, a French national, was to work on the construction of the Panama Canal. The couple had to make an emergency stop in Ponce, Puerto Rico, where his mother, a native of Ecuador, gave birth to Viguié. His father continued on his journey, leaving his wife behind. His mother died shortly after giving birth to Viguié and his father died in a construction accident while working on the canal.[4][5] Viguié was adopted by a Ponce municipal judge surnamed Caballer. Caballer raised Viguié and sent him to the Miguel Pou Academy in Ponce where he studied visual arts and painting under the guidance of Puerto Rican artist Miguel Pou.[4][5]

Viguié's first silent filmEdit

Pathé silent movie projector, probably from the 1920s.

Viguié's interest in the motion picture industry came about in 1901, after viewing the first silent film, an Eduardo Hervet presentation, exhibited in Teatro La Perla in Ponce. During a trip to Paris, France, he witnessed Auguste and Louis Lumière's first public motion picture exhibition at the Caf-Les Capucinos. Upon his return to Puerto Rico he found a job as a movie projectionist at the Teatro Habana in his hometown. Viguié was inspired by what he saw and decided that he would like to make movies himself. In 1911, he sent one of his friends to France to purchase a Pathe camera with the money that he had earned.[4][5]

The Puerto Rican motion picture industry was born in 1912, when Rafael Colorado D'Assoy recorded the first non-documentary film titled Un Drama en Puerto Rico (A Drama in Puerto Rico). After Viguié's friend returned with the camera, Viguié purchased two movie projectors from a French circus visiting Ponce and established a movie house in the town of Adjuntas.[4][5]

Viguié filmed his first documentary Escenas de Ponce (Scenes of Ponce) which consisted of various scenes of Ponce. He also included a scene of a hurricane and exhibited his work at Teatro Habana. The public became interested in his work and soon the Teatro Habana and his movie house in Adjuntas became popular public reunion centers. The hurricane scene in his documentary was shown in the United States by the American (U.S.) news media.[4][5][6]

In 1916, Colorado and Antonio Capella Martínez created the Film Industrial Society of Puerto Rico, producing their first silent film titled Por la Hembra y el Gallo (For the Girl and the Rooster). That same year Viguié traveled to New York City, where he took a course at the New York Institute of Photography at Columbia University. During his stay there, he joined the United States Army and served in World War I. After his discharge, he went to work for Universal and later for Paramount. He made many connections in the film industry in the years that he worked for the movie studios in the United States. He also invested most of his earnings in filming equipment.[4][5]

Pioneer in the film industry of Puerto RicoEdit

In 1919, Viguié returned to Puerto Rico, and in his native Ponce began work on a film based on the life of Puerto Rican pirate Roberto Cofresi. The film was to be titled El Tesoro de Roberto Cofresi (Roberto Cofresi's Treasure), however the project did not proceed because of the lack of funds.[4][5]

Viguié then went to work as a cameraman for "Porto Rico Photoplays," a film company established in Hato Rey. Even though the company was financed by local Puerto Rican businessmen, none of its members, with the exception of Viguié, was Puerto Rican or Hispanic. Amongst the main staff of the company were Reginald Denny, Ralph Ince and Ruth Clifford, who were involved in constant quarrels.

In 1921, the company produced a film for Paramount titled "Tropical Love." The movie was filmed in Loiza and San Juan, but without any participation from, or outreach to, any of the local residents. The film was conceived and executed exclusively by, and for, the U.S. Anglo population. This myopic production philosophy, and the chronic bickering amongst the directors, led to the company's closure.[4][5]

Noticieros Viguié (Viguié News)Edit

Viguié made use of the situation and purchased the company's film equipment. In 1922, he then founded his own company Noticieros Viguié (Viguié News). He collaborated as a cinematographer for various U.S. film companies that went to Puerto Rico to film their movies.[4][5]

"Viguié News" made a positive impression on the public with a documentary Viguié filmed, regarding the elaboration of tobacco. As a result, he was offered numerous contracts to make documentaries for the Puerto Rico Department of Health, the government of the Dominican Republic and the Rockefeller Foundation. In 1924, Viguié experimented with a new technique called Technicolor which yielded vivid, highly saturated levels of color to his film images. He used this technique in a documentary about the Malaria disease, and it gained him worldwide recognition.

In 1926, Viguié was hired by the producers of the movie Aloma of the South Seas to film the movie scenes in the location of Piñones[7]

Viguié's international fame continued to grow, with his documentaries about Charles Lindbergh's 1928 visit to Puerto Rico, and the devastation caused that same year by "Hurricane San Felipe Segundo" (known in the U.S. as "Okeechobee Hurricane"). Fox News paid him well for the use of both documentaries, Viguié signed contracts with both MGM and
Fox News, and both networks served as international outlets for his work.[4]

Synchronized film dialogue became possible in the late 1920s, with the perfection of the audion amplifier tube and the introduction of the Vitaphone system. Thus, the era of the silent movie came to an end. Viguié incorporated the new sound technology into his documentaries, and in the interviews he conducted with political and entertainment celebrities.[4][5]

Romance TropicalEdit

Romance Tropical was the first Puerto Rican film with sound and the world's second Hispanic film with sound.[6]

In 1931, Viguié together with his son Juan Viguié, Jr. and journalist Manuel R. Navas, founded "Viguié Film Productions."[4][5]

That same year, Santa, a Mexican production and the first Spanish movie with sound, was presented in theaters throughout the island. After viewing Santa., Viguié was inspired to make his own movie with sound.[4][5]

With a loan of $10,000 and a screenplay written by Luis Pales Matos, Viguié produced and directed in 1934, Romance Tropical the first Puerto Rican movie with sound and the second Spanish movie with sound in the world. The movies' theme dealt with the romance between a poor boy and a rich girl. The cast of actors included Jorge Rodríguez, Raquel and Ernestina Canino (daughters of San Juan lawyer and film investor Manuel Canino), Sixto Chevremont, Cándido de Lorenzo and Lotty Tischer. Viguié's wife María was in charge of the costumes and the musical score was under the direction of composer Rafael Muñoz.[4][5]

Romance Tropical, which was distributed in theaters throughout Puerto Rico and New York by MGM, was an astounding success. MGM was ready to sign Viguié with a contract for four more movies and Frank Z. Clemente, MGM's Director of Latin productions, was going to establish his central offices in Puerto Rico. However, a copyright dispute over the movie erupted between the Canino family and Viguié.[4][6] One of the results of the disputes was that MGM canceled its contracts with Viguié. The whereabouts of the original reels of the film is a mystery.[6]

In 2017, eighty-three years after its release, a copy of the film was found at the UCLA, Film & Television Archive, where its director Jan-Cristopher Horak, in conjunction with the Puerto Rico Culture Institute, confirmed its authenticity.[8] [9]

Disillusioned, Viguié discontinued making commercial films. Instead he directed all his energies to "Viguié News" and continued to make news documentaries.[4][5] In September 1966, Viguié died in his home in San Juan.[4]


By 1951, Viguié Film Productions, presided by his son, Juan Viguié, Jr. had become the largest film producing company in Puerto Rico. The company was renamed "Guastella Film Producers" in 1971.[4][6]

Viguié was also a pioneer in the transmission of news via television. In 1954, television arrived in Puerto Rico. WAPA-TV, together with Telemundo and "WKBM" (Channel 11), was one of the first television stations in Puerto Rico. That same year WAPA-TV began to transmit the news via the airwaves in a Viguié News production called "El Observador" (The Observer) which lasted only 15 minutes.[10] Today, Viguié's historical news documentaries are conserved in the Puerto Rico Archives and in the Carnegie Library.[4]

For his pioneering work in the theatrical arts, he is recognized at Ponce's Parque del Tricentenario.[11]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ This article uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Viguié and the second or maternal family name is Cajas.


  1. ^ Historia del Cine en Puerto Rico: La Llegada del Cine Puertorriqueño, Primera Parte Eduardo Rosado. CineMovida.net. No publication date given. Retrieved 6 April 2016.
  2. ^ Social Security Records
  3. ^ 40 Aňos de Cine Puertoriqueňo Archived 2007-10-23 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Historia del Cine en Puerto Rico
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Biographies
  6. ^ a b c d e "Hispanic Firsts"; by Nicolas Kanellos; Publisher: Visible Ink Press; ISBN 978-0-7876-0519-3
  7. ^ Manual Para El Productor de Cine Local
  8. ^ Aparece La Primera Pelicula Puertorriquena
  9. ^ “How to Find a Lost Film”
  10. ^ Television in Puerto Rico
  11. ^ Dance and Theater. TravelPonce.com Retrieved 14 April 2012.