June 9, 2006

Bullfight World
By Lyn Sherwood

Hollywood’s Love Affair With Bullfighting

Prior to 1932, with the publishing of Ernest Heming-way’s Death In The Afternoon, only a small handful of Americans could speak knowledgeably of the national passion of so many countries. Most of them had been influenced by the first Blood and Sand film, starring Rudolph Valentino.

In the years that followed, Hollywood’s glamorous upper echelon discovered that becoming involved in bullfighting was another way to demonstrate one’s own celebrity. Randolph Scott, Rita Hay-worth, Ava Gardner, Gilbert Roland, Lana Turner, John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Peter Graves, Debra Paget, Andy Williams, Herbie Alpert, Sam-my Davis Jr., Peter Brown, Frank Sinatra, Richard Boone, Lee Marvin, Joseph Cotton, Rock Hudson, Anthony Quinn, Glen Ford, and Orson Welles frequently occupied expensive, front row, shady side seats in plazas de toros from Madrid to Tijuana.

In more contemporary times, those Hollywood figures have been replaced by Robert Redford and Charlie Sheen, among many others. Being photographed with a well-known matador is a status symbol. Before becoming a sweetheart of the animal rightists’ set, Stephanie Powers was an avid bullfight fan, and even performed as an aficionada práctica (amateur torera). It is said that she still enjoys the bullfight, although she is, apparently, not anxious to publicize that reality.

But, the Hollywood set couldn’t forever hold an exclusive on attending bullfights. Tremendous public interest was ignited in 1941, with the remake of Blood and Sand, this one with Tyrone Power. It won an Oscar. Then, in 1947, international headlines proclaimed that the great Manolete had been killed by a bull, in Linares, Spain. That tragedy, which would eventually be chronicled by Barnaby Conrad in his book, The Death of Manolete, and a Playhouse 90 television production, which, although a truly awful production, opened the gates to a veritable tidal wave of American curiosity about the romantic taurine drama.

As an interesting footnote, somebody in the Lambhorgini automobile family was/is, obviously, an aficionado. Among the Lambhorgini automobiles have been the Espada, the Islero, and the Miura. Espada translates to the swordsman or the sword. And, Islero, from the Miura ranch, was the name of the bull that killed Manolete

In 1950, Tom Lea’s book, The Brave Bulls, was put to film. Although it was a disaster of a movie, it attracted huge crowds. That otherwise excellent novel has since enjoyed 16 re-prints.

Shortly thereafter—with John Wayne as producer—famed director and renowned aficionado Budd Boetticher, who had been technical director on the remake of Blood and Sand, directed The Bullfighter & The Lady, the film that launched Robert Stack to stardom. That film provided the catalyst for intensified American interest in bullfighting, not just in Hollywood, but throughout the nation.  Even today, The Bullfighter and The Lady holds the record for being the most frequently-run movie on television.

All yankee aficionados owe a great deal to Boetticher, who has been involved in practically every major bullfight film produced in the United States. In 1955, Boetticher, himself a fine amateur torero, on foot, and well as an amateur rejoneador (horseback, Portuguese-style torero), followed up with The Magnificent Matador. It wasn’t a great movie, but it was very successful at the box office.

In the mid-60s, at approximately the same time that Spain’s “El Cordobés” was dominating the bullfight world, Budd Boetticher was completing his cinematic masterpiece, Arruza, which would, as it turned out, become the final chapter in the life of one of the world’s greatest toreros. The “Mexican Cyclone,” Carlos Arruza, had retired as a matador, then returned to the rings, but in the role of a rejoneador. Boetticher had invested many years and a small fortune in the film, which was almost completed, when disaster struck. Carlos Arruza was killed, May 20, 1966, in an auto accident.

In spite of having invested all of his money, wrecking his marriage to Debra Paget, nearly destroying his health and his career, and ending up in jail and finally, in a Mexican insane asylum, Boetticher still managed to complete Arruza. It attracted international accolades and became a cult film for American aficionados.

This author interviewed Boetticher at the Equestrian Center of San Diego Country Estates, where, prior to his death, he and his wife, Mary, bred and trained rejoneo (Portuguese-style bullfighting) horses.

(Next week, the interview with Boetticher)

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