MARCH / APRIL 1965
THE BULLFIGHTS IN LAS VEGAS
by Billie Heller
March / April 1965
It was impossible to predict what the results of three days of "bloodless" bullfights in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA would be, but whatever the outcome, I wanted to be there to see it!
The corridas were being presented by a group of enterprising and (in view of the odds) audacious young men from the city of Guadalajara, Mexico organized under the name of International Bullfights, Inc. Headed by twenty-five year old Ignacio Garcia, Jr., son of the impresario of the Guadalajara Plaza, the organization had the blessings and complete cooperation of the Mexican Tourism Council and the City of Guadalajara for the actual purpose of the Las Vegas bullfights was to promote tourism to Guadalajara and its neighboring resort of Puerta Vallarta. Also lending the group specific support with lodging and transportation were the Guadalajara Hilton Hotel, Posada Vallarta Inn, Compania Mexicana de Aviacion (CMA) and Hertz Rent-A-Car of Mexico.
They chose the hectic Washington Birthday weekend, Feb. 19th, 20th, and 21st, to present Mexican matadores Manuel Capetillo and Jaime Bravo in tandem with Americans John Fulton and Novillero Diego O'Bolger plus the Rejoneadores Mauricia Locken Izagurre and the Portuguese, Joao Brillha de Matos at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
As an added attraction, a group of eighteen youngsters, members of the Guadalajara Folklore Ballet, and a ten-piece Mariachi orchestra were flown in to perform before the fights.
The bulls, announced originally as Valparaiso and Santo Domingo, were to be auctioned off in Las Vegas after the corridas. The animals turned out to be a major problem encountering innumerable difficulties at the border (primarily, too many ticks). Eight bulls from Golondrinas were finally flown in early Friday morning, personally deticked by Tito Palacios, who accompanied them in the plane. Four more were trucked in from the same ranch on Sunday from Laredo, accompanied by Jaime Bravo's manager, Fernando Elizondo. The magnificent and costly horses for the Rejoneadores Locken Izaguirre and Brillha de Matos had arrived early in the week after passing inspection at Juarez, but Locken had to put up a $4,000.00 bond for them. He was understandably upset over the inexplicable death of one of the six and was awaiting lab reports form Albuquerque to determine the cause.
Letters, pro and con, appeared in both the local news-papers, which also carried daily news stories on the progress of corrida arrangements. John Fulton and I made a promotional tour of local radio and TV stations on Thursday afternoon and discovered them to be as cooperative as the press, well-informed and gracious about giving their time. One station had done a two-hour documentary on Bullfighting the week before. On Friday, at the airport, an attractive girl, dressed as a matador, handed out colorful printed cartels to incoming plane-loads of weekend tourists.
At noon Thursday, the metamorphosis from Convention Center to Plaza de Toros was well underway. A plywood bullring, complete with estribo and callejon, had been constructed inside the arena and a dump-truck and caterpillar were alternately dumping and spreading reddish dirt-dust on the immense expanse of floor. There were a few goofs in construction, i.e., there was enough space between the four burladeros and the wall for a freight train to pass through; there was a foot of clear space beneath the burladeros which could permit a bull to poke his horns under and hoist a burladero, and the unfortunates behind it, skyward; and all walls were wobbly and required extra bracing. By 3:30 the entire floor was a foot deep in loose dirt and by 8:30 that night it had been steamrolled flat and firm and all construction errors had been corrected.
Friday morning found the estribo and burladeros painted white, the ring a traditional red. The knotty problem of ushering the bulls in and out had been solved by a simple arrangement of placing the shipping boxes in a straight line forming a natural entrance chute when the flap of each was raised. Using the boxes as a natural wall and a temporary wall of risers, an exit chute had been fashioned leading to a makeshift corral outside the Center. Late Friday the transformation was complete and the only incongruous note remaining in the Plaza de Las Vegas was the electric scoreboard, visible overhead, reading VISITORS - HOME.
At post time, 8:00 p.m. Friday night, the oceans of legal red tape and permits had been successfully navigated by Sr. Garcia and crew, the seemingly insurmountable technical and physical problems had been solved and the city inundated with publicity, but the turnout was disappointingly small, about 1,500 people in the 4,500 seat arena. Various explanations were advanced, the most popular being that the house had been scaled too high -- from $3.00 to $25.00. Though desperate efforts were made to dispel it, the idea persisted over town that the tickets were $25.00. In reality the $25.00 seats were only a six-row section on a special platform for the Mayor, who acted as Judge, and other VIP's. It was also suggested that perhaps the Friday night corrida was a little too ambitious for it split an unpredictable gate three ways and pitted an untried attraction against such sure things as Frank Sinatra and Joe E. Lewis at the Sands, Debbie Reynolds at the Riviera, Donald O'Conner at the Sahara and the semi-nude ladies of the Dunes, Tropicana and Stardust spectacles.
Whatever the reasons, the $3.00 seats had been sold out, and most of the $5.00 and $7.00 seats, but the $10.00 and $15.00 seats were conspicuously empty.
Those who did attend got their money's worth. For them it was an unmistakably thrilling evening and they responded eagerly and enthusiastically to everything presented.
The Folklore Ballet, accompanied by the Mariachis, opened with a delightful selection of traditional dances from the various regions of Mexico and they were warmly received. As they left the ring, the trumpets sounded and the crowd waited expectantly. The gate swung open to admit two fork lifts that rolled in to remove the dancers' platform. The crowd howled with laughter and settled down to listen, receptively, to Constantine, the regular announcer from the Tijuana Plaza, who gave a brief but informative speech about bullfighting.
When the trumpets blared again, the gate swung open to reveal a truly impressive sight. Rejoneadores Locken Izaguierre and Brillha de Matos, resplendent in bright satin coats, white ruffled shirts and three-cornered hats, entered astride their gorgeously groomed and beribboned horses. The matadores and toreros, equally resplendent in their trajes de luces, followed on foot. As they crossed the ring to salute the Mayor, the ovation was deafening. The Mayor, Oran K. Gragson, rose and gave permission for Las Vegas' first bullfight to begin.
Jaime Bravo fought first. No rules of seniority applied here for, in Jaime's own words, it was a matter of "cho beesness," and Jaime is a showman! The bull was small, with obviously blunted horns, but no one minded as Jaime spun through graceful chicuelinas and gaoneras with it. Banderillas were placed, symbolically, that is sticks were used with no hooks on them, and Jaime dedicated, also symbolically, to President Lyndon B. Johnson. Informed of what was transpiring by Constantine, the crowd thrilled and cheered as Jaime treated them to a superb exhibition of faroles de rodillas, trincherazos, lasernistas and manoletinas. True to form, Jaime was tossed spectacularly a couple of times, recovering himself dramatically each time and providing great material for the photographers. Jaime did a desplante, profiled and simulated a kill hitting the bull with his bare hand on the appropriate spot for sword entry. The gate opened and the bull dutifully exited. it had been agreed beforehand that the Mayor would present a "Key to the City" instead of the usual awards, but from somewhere appeared two ears and a tail, which Jaime carried triumphantly around the ring. The Mariachis, now seated up in the stands, struck up the music and the crowd loved every minute.
John Fulton fought next and his bull was also small, but with horns apparently untouched. He opened with some nice veronicas and chicuelinas and finished off with a showy rebolera. The audience loved it and said so. Fulton's animal was not as cooperative as Jaime's and, when he got kicked and fell backward trying a gaonera, the public concern (perhaps though identification) was clearly audible. He recovered quickly and dedicated to the crowd, a popular decision. He did some trincherazos, lasernistas, molinete and manoletinas. His bull had begun to stop short and hook in so Fulton, too, did a desplante on one knee, profiled and executed a perfect, simulated kill with his hand. Again the bull followed the peons' capes out on cue and John took vueltas with two ears. The people applauded and threw coats and shoes to him.
As anticipated the rejoneadores were a smash. Bravo and Capetillo made an impressive ceremony of crossing the ring and presenting Locken Izaquirre and Brillha de Matos with the first rejones. The bull appeared with shaved horns, which is usual , and T-shaped piece of foam rubber secured to his back with spirit gum. Both riders gave a dazzling display of horsemanship, planting a rejon apiece, two banderillas each (Locken a short one) and then the "suerte of the Rose." The crowd applauded wildly for them as the bull stubbornly refused to leave the ring. The others had left as if trained. Each banderillero made an attempt to coax it out, but to no avail. After a long delay, Jaime Bravo crossed the ring, and , with his muleta, caped the bull out. This made a terrific hit with the public who gave him a thunderous ovation and then another generous one for the other toreros, who were busy exchanging congratulatory abrazos now that Las Vegas' first corrida was over.
Saturday and Sunday's corridas began at the traditional 4:00 p.m. and brought a slight increase at the gate, about 2,000 on Saturday and 2,500 on Sunday. Both days' performances met with equally enthusiastic receptions.
Saturday Diego O'Bolger fought instead of John Fulton and, although his debut was inauspicious, the crowd encourage and applauded him at every opportunity. Sunday he and Fulton both fought, O'Bolger fighting the same bull the rejoneadores had worked with because of the shortage of animals. he dedicated it to Jim Fergus of TOROS Magazine and performed admirably with a difficult assignment.
Capetillo provided a light moment on Sunday when another animal was unwilling to leave. Manuel, also an accomplished charro, lassoed the animal on one horn and pulled him into the exit chute. Manuel was a huge success for three days, before the roping incident, facing the largest bulls and working in superb form with each.
For Jaime Bravo the weekend was an unqualified personal triumph. he sensed his audience and gave them exactly what they wanted. The audience rewarded him with their unrestrained affection.
Fulton, by general consensus, had drawn the two worst bulls and still managed to perform credibly and honorably. His work was received with special interest and enthusiasm.
The rejoneadores, apparently an unexpected treat for the public, created a sensation and they and their horses were the talk of this usually sophisticated town.
And the aftermath - the Mayor told me he was withholding answers to some 500 complaint letters until after the fights. now he felt secure in responding that he had seen nothing objectionable in three days and, if anything, the Rodeo was more cruel. There was talk of trying the whole thing again in Madison Square Garden with the addition of some charros. I heard the Mayor tell Garcia's associates, Sr. Lorenzo Landeros and Sr. Guillermo Salcedo, he would be happy to write a letter to both Governor and Mayor of New York on their behalf.
The SPCA, whose representatives attended all three corridas, grudgingly admitted they had seen no cruelty, but felt a continuation of the fights would be a "foot in the door toward the real thing."
There was never any element of tragedy present at the Convention Center during the weekend and that, after all, is what a true bullfight is - a tragedy.