The Genteel Bullfights
Behorned Ballet Proves A Financial,
If Not Artistic, Success In Astrodome
By Robert Lipsyte
February 7, 1966
Houston, February 6 - The behorned ballet arrived at its moment of truth today, and triumphed. A crowd of 25, 257 watched the third program of bloodless bullfighting at the Astrodome this afternoon, bringing the total attendance to 107, 257, and the total gate receipts to $409,185.
"It proves," said the Dome official carper, from the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, "that people are just a bunch of sheep."
But even the A.S.P.C.A. man, Jerroll P. Lowe -- though still violently opposed to bullfighting in this country -- said he was satisfied that no bull or horse had been unduly harmed. He warned, however, that bullfighting had to be stopped now, before it became a nationally scheduled event.
His fears were well grounded. Irvin Feld of Washington, the promoter, announced today that bullfighting would become "a great new spectator attraction for this country," and that he would soon enter into negotiations for touring the major metropolitan areas. Judge Roy M. Hofheinz, whose organization controls the Astrodome, said that bullfighting would be at least an annual event here, in the world's largest air-conditioned room.
Although bullfighters and informed spectators agreed the 21 bullfights here would have produced a rain of cushions by outraged fans in, say, Mexico city, there were generally delighted with the audience reaction.
The crown was directed, in best mass hysteria technique, by a 14-piece band that swung between Carmen and Tijuana brass; a play-by-play commentator who felt beauty and death in every vagrant snort, and the exploding scoreboard in center field that flickered ole on and off as a cue to scream and wave handkerchiefs. Everybody screamed and waived.
The fights were conducted in a modified Portuguese style. The bull's shoulder muscles were not weakened by the picador's lances and there was no final thrust of the crooked sword -- the real test of a matador's skill, and often the messiest and least satisfying part of the Mexican or Spanish bullfight. Here the banderillas were placed into a black styrofoam girdle over the bull's withers. In Portugal, the 2-inch barbs of the banderillas are thrust into the bull. The bull's horns were covered by leather cups when they faced the bullfighters on horseback.
But there was no denying the moment's of excitement, chiefly provoked by Jaime Bravo, the 33-year-old Mexican star of arena and screen, who faced the bull on his knees, who worked him along the circular red berrera, who patted him, taunted him, and was dumped and flung three times. The more classical maneuvers of the Spanish star, Paco Camino, and the Mexicans, Gabriel Espana and Humberto Moro, needed the announcer and the scoreboard for proper crown appreciation.
By no means was this sport. Spectacle, drama, perhaps even choreography, certainly circus with the lagniappe that lures -- the possibility of pending violence. And certainly stirring. At Saturday night's performance, when the last bull, after his symbolic death beneath an aluminum practice sword, refused to leave the arena, a baldish young man leaped the barrera and began waving his suit jacket. An official of International Bullfights, Inc., the Mexican syndicate packaging this $300,000 extravaganza, ran in and trundled the man off.