Even though Hemingway wrote "Death in the Afternoon" specifically about Bullfighting and Sidney Franklin (The Jewish American matador) the matador (Pedro Romero) was loosely based on him and was played by a Jew as well (Robert Evans)
Bullfighter from Flatbush (Taken from Jews in Sports)
"Of course I like bullfighting immensely, and feel a kind of voluptuous pleasure in fighting quietly, seeing the danger close at hand. I would not change that for any other sensation in life."
The speaker was Sidney Franklin, a thin, studious Jewish boy from Brooklyn, who became one of the topflight athletes in one of the most dangerous, spectacular and cruel sports in the world - bullfighting.
Always considered a Latin sport, bullfighting is curiously un-American. It is a colorful sport, the national pastime of Spain and Mexico. Champion bullfights in these lands are worshipped by excitable and noisy fans. Men like Juan Belmonte become legends and their feats are related in song and story. They make fortunes. Belmonte used to get $7,000 for a single performance in the bull ring and a smart bullfighter, if he promoted his own shows, sometimes made as much as $40,000 in a single afternoon. For example, Belmonte, about whom lyrical books of praise have been written, made more money in his career than Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney combined. Rodolfo Gaona, the star matador in Mexico, made four million dollars in six years. This is enough to indicate the hold of the sport on millions of people. But bullfighting has fascinated many Americans as well. Ernest Hemingway, the famous novelist, has written a book called Death in the Afternoon, which is actually a handbook of bullfighting. And in many of his novels and short stories his heroes are bullfighters.
Writing in Death in the Afternoon on Sidney Franklin, Hemingway said, "Franklin is brave with a cold, serene and intelligent valor but instead of being awkward and ignorant he is one of the most skillful, graceful and slow manipulators of a cape fighting today . . . He is a better, more scientific, more intelligent, and more finished matador than all but about six of the full matadors in Spain today and the bullfighters know it and have the utmost respect for him."
Why is the sport so fascinating? For one thing it offers sudden death in the ring. It is said that a matador has a six-year career. For two years he is on his way up to the top ranks. For two more years he is at his peak and then he goes downhill. This process also takes about two years, and often the end is death. The bulls are rough and tough and they play for keeps. In America auto racing is the only sport which offers death as one of its possible thrills. And the major races are always jampacked with people. It seems that danger in sport is always attractive to an audience which remains out of peril while watching daring men play for high stakes with their lives in balance.
Sidney Franklin attended Columbia University and studied commercial art. He went to Mexico to study Mayan history and managed to see his first bullfight in the land south of the border. He was drawn to it and the attraction never ceased. He decided to make the sport his life work. His Brooklyn family must have been amazed, but apparently they got used to it, all six brothers and his two sisters. In his own autobiography, Bullfighter from Brooklyn, Franklin wrote, "I have often been asked how I came to be a bullfighter; what there was in my background that led me into such a unique profession. Frankly, when I try to review my early life I am puzzled to find an answer to that riddle."
But this is how Franklin explained it elsewhere:
"Bullfighting is just as dangerous as prize-fighting, but more interesting and more honest. There can be no crooked work in the bull ring, because you can't talk to the bull. You can't tell him to lie down, and you will divide the purse with him. You either get him or he gets you."
Before one can appreciate the feats of Sidney Franklin in the bull ring, one must know something about the sport itself. Here is how Sidney told it to an American correspondent, in the years when he was the sensation of the sports pages of the world:
"Armed only with the capote de brege, or large working cape, made of silk, lined with heavy duck, the matador attracts the attention of the bull, which charges. The matador waits until the bull is only a few feet away. Then he slowly extends the cape to one side and draws the bull by with it. Man and cape have been as one object to the bull at the beginning of the charge, but here is something moving, and that is the thing to be destroyed. So suddenly that the eye can hardly follow the change, the bull's charge is deflected toward the cape.
"Then comes a series of charges back and forth, on either side of the matador. A bull can turn more quickly than a race horse, so the matador must be ready for the reverse attack. But there must be no undue hurry on his part. Misjudgment of the speed of the bull's charge, or of distance
between man and animal, may translate itself into disaster for the matador."
This is only a brief statement. The corrida, or bullfight, is much more complicated. Because the sport is traditional, Latin and full of the breath of death, it is loaded with superstitions and with customs. The critics and writers of the sport indulge in fancy words and write of bullfighting as though it were an art. Some of them consider the corrida a religion. And if you would stop to study all the terms in the sport and were to watch how things were done, with the marching and strutting of the athletes before the huge crowds, you would think that there is a very strong tie-up between religion and bullfighting.
Sidney Franklin, whose background is so different from the background which gave birth to bullfighting, overcame all obstacles and became a top man in the sport, after years of training. He made his big-time debut at Chapultepec, Mexico. This was like starting a baseball game at the Yankee Stadium. The break came to him after tedious years of fighting in small towns throughout Mexico. And then he fought in Spain, the big league of the corrida. He paid a heavy price, for he nearly was killed in his attempt to prove that a Yankee could make good at the Latin sport.
He faced a big, black wicked bull and after a few parries and thrusts, the bull's horn caught his gold-trimmed cape. In a few moments Franklin lay wounded on the sandy floor of the ring. The bull snorted and attempted to finish off the beaten man, but a swarm of men rushed in and saved Sidney. This, however, was only the beginning of the show. A short while later Sidney Franklin reappeared, bandaged up, woozy and hurt, but eager to fight again.
With a new sword and the cheers of the crowd ringing in his ears, he killed a bull and revealed that he had the kind of guts appreciated all over the world.
Although this was a bloody performance, Sidney did better later on, even if he was not cut up and wounded. In his first appearance in Seville, 10,000 fans idolized him and, when the fighting was over, carried him through the main gate. This is the sort of an honor paid only to great matadors and the performance which preceded the honor was indeed a great one.
Sidney knew that he faced a cynical audience, a crowd which had to be shown. After all, you can't easily convince a Spanish crowd at a bullfight that an American, a North American that is, can compete with Latins at an age-old Latin sport. But Sidney dispatched his first bull with a single stroke. That showed courage and skill and the audience sat back in their seats to see what else the young American had to offer. And Sidney showed them. He gave them a real performance with the second bull. He parried and sidestepped and generally displayed enormous knowledge of the game. A critic wrote, after the fight:
"It is astounding the way he tackles the bulls, calling them
with phlegmatic serenity, letting them rush into his cloak
and- pass along his body, without the slightest concern.
This mastery he demonstrated, putting his cape behind his
back when playing with the bulls with an art unequalled."
But this judgment came in the heat of excitement. It took many more years before Sidney Franklin became a real star, a fellow who could rank with the few top bullfighters. After many years of hard fighting all over the bull rings of the world, Franklin made his debut as alternativo, or main attraction, in 1945 in Seville. He killed two bulls with artistry, with coolness and with courage.
The spectators roared their approval in the Spanish manner. They called "Viva tu madre (Long live your mother!). Viva America!"
This must have been music to the ears of the long-legged Brooklyn boy who had come a long way to reach this point in a rough career. For Franklin learned, as all bullfighters must, that killing the bull is not the really important thing: it is that the killing must be done in style. It is not important to the general reader to know the difference between matadors, picadors and banderilleros, except that a picador fights the bull from a seated position on a horse and that banderilleros put harpoon-tipped shafts into a bull's neck to infuriate him and make him a more formidable foe. To Americans the sight of killing a bull, or the sight of seeing an angry bull gore to death a helpless horse is no fun. The fine points of the bullfight (like knowing if a bull favors using its left horn or its right horn, or observing if a bull rushes in a straight line or swerves while rushing at the cape) don't mean much to the North American who knows only that bullfighting is an odd sport which seems not only dangerous but cruel.
The preliminaries, the colorful trappings all seem like part of an ancient ritual which has outlived its day. Sidney Franklin often said that he hoped that the sport would become as popular as baseball in America. But it never will, for its elements are too basic and too cruel to win many Americans. It is interesting, however, that even in such a sport, which is a closed circle insofar as Americans are concerned, a Jew had become outstanding. It is difficult to understand why a Brooklynite who studied at Columbia should become a bullfighter. But he has, and his story is one of the oddest in sports history and certainly one of the most peculiar tales in this book. The Kid from Brooklyn is now the Kid from Spain and the history of the bull ring is enriched with a new and strange legend.