Francisco de Assis Chateaubriand Bandeira de Melo was born in Umbuzeiro, Paraíba, on 4 October 1892, to the law graduate José Chateaubriand Bandeira de Melo and Carmem Chateaubriand Bandeira de Melo.
It is important to note that Chateaubriand is a middle name and not the family name. His paternal grandfather, Francisco Aprígio de Vasconcelos Brandão, was fascinated by the work of the French writer François Chateaubriand, and registered all his children with the middle name Chateaubriand.
Assis Chateaubriand had a difficult childhood, marred by deprivation and psychological problems caused by an uncontrollable stutter and an overwhelming shyness. He was a skinny, stuttering and ugly child, without the vitality of his three brothers, Ganot, Jorge and Osvaldo.
His father went to live in Belém, Pará, leaving the care of his children to their maternal grandfather, Urbano Gondim, who lived in Timbaúba, Pernambuco, where he had property. The experience was positive. Chateaubriand improved his stutter and became less timid.
At the age of nine, he went back to live with his family, who had returned to Recife, but as yet could not read. He was taught to read and write by an uncle and two friends of his father, Antônio Feliciano Guedes Gondim, Manoel Távora Cavalcanti and Álvaro Rodrigues Santos, at the age of ten. Old editions of the newspaper Diario de Pernambuco were used as his learning material.
At the end of 1903 he lived for a while with his uncle and godfather Chateaubriand Bandeira de Melo, in Campina Grande, Paraíba, where he underwent an intensive study programme to make up for lost time.
In November 1904 he returned to Recife and sat the admission exam to the Naval School. He completed his secondary education at the Ginásio Pernambucano and began studying German with the friars of the St Francis convent, becoming a compulsive reader.
His first job was at the Gazeta do Norte cutting classifieds.
In 1908, he enrolled in the Faculdade de Direito do Recife (Recife Law Faculty) while working as a reporter for the newspaper A Pátria. He also worked for the newspapers Jornal do Recife, Diario de Pernambuco and Jornal Pequeno, in which most of his stories were about Recife.
In 1913, aged 21, he graduated in law. At this time, he was already the editor-in-chief of the Diario de Pernambuco, which at the time belonged to Counsellor Rosa e Silva and had Arthur Orlando as director.
In 1915, looking to broaden his horizons, he moved to Rio de Janeiro, which was then the capital of Brazil. He made many friendships in his new home, including with influential people. He worked for the Rio de Janeiro-based newspapers A Época, Jornal do Commercio, Correio da Manhã, and also for the evening edition of O Estado de São Paulo.
His dream was “to acquire a newspaper, as the first link in the chain”. In order to get the money he needed to do so, he set up a law practice, and with his ties to influential people he was able to pick up various clients and cases.
He was a consultant on the laws of warfare at the Ministry of Foreign Relations in the Nilo Peçanha government, but resigned the post to become editor-in-chief of the Jornal do Brasil.
In 1919, after leaving the Jornal do Brasil, he was invited to be a European foreign correspondent for the Rio-based Correio da Manhã. He travelled to Switzerland, England, France, the Netherlands, Italy and Germany, gaining journalistic and personal success.
In September 1924, he bought O Jornal, based in Rio de Janeiro, which was the beginning of national newspaper, radio and television empire called Diários Associados (Associated Dailies), which would revolutionise Brazilian journalism, innovating the press, modernising staff, processes and means.
Chatô, as he was known, became a well-know personality in Brazil and abroad, respected and feared by the powerful. He was a part of all the great public opinion campaigns of his time.
In 1934, he acquired the Diario de Pernambuco, Latin America’s oldest newspaper in circulation and where he had started his career as a journalist, for his media empire.
Besides Diários Associados, he also owned farming properties and pharmaceutical companies.
Apart from being a successful businessman, he was a patron of Brazilian art and culture. He created the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) and held chair nº 37, at the Brazilian Academy of Letters.
In politics, he was elected as senator of Paraíba in 1951 and of Maranhão in 1955.
In 1960 he suffered a stroke that left him totally paralysed. Even in this state he travelled within the country and abroad, keeping himself informed of everything and running his businesses and newspapers.
Assis Chateaubriand died in São Paulo, on 6 April 1968.
Recife, 10 August 2004.
Updated on 20 August 2009.
Translated by Peter Leamy, February 2011.
CARNEIRO, Glauco. Brasil, primeiro: história dos Diários Associados. Brasília, D.F: Fundação Assis Chateaubriand, 1999. 698 p.
MORAIS, Fernando. Chatô, o rei do Brasil.2. ed. São Paulo:Companhia das Letras, 1996.
SILVA, Jorge Fernandes de. Vidas que não morrem. Recife: Governo do Estado de Pernambuco. Departamento de Cultura, 1982. v. 1, p.77-79.
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Source: GASPAR, Lúcia. Assis Chateaubriand. Pesquisa Escolar On-Line, Joaquim Nabuco Foundation, Recife. Available at: <http://basilio.fundaj.gov.br/pesquisaescolar/>. Accessed: day month year. Exemple: 6 Aug. 2009.