MAGAZINES

Bravo the Torero's Secret of Success: Always Leave Them Shouting; Houston Star Aims for the Spectacular in Bullfighting

By Robert Lipsyte

February 6, 1966

Houston, February 5 - "I conceive the bullfight a spectacle," said Jaime Bravo, arching his eyebrows, shooting his cuffs.  "You want to have fun, to shout, to scream, to weep, not to be bored by the classical.  That is why I am the most spectacular.  I am not the great artist, although all my friends say I could be."

Last night a crown of 40,321 shouted and screamed and twice prepared to weep for Bravo.  Twice, the 33-year-old Mexican, a former trapeze artist, was hooked by his bull and hurled to the soft dirt surface of the Astrodome.

And twice Bravo leaped to his feet "A mere nothing, my loved ones," he said with a toss of his cosseted auburn hair) in the most spectacular moments of America's first large-scale bullfight.  The three-day stand continued tonight in the world's largest air-conditioned room, and was to end tomorrow with an afternoon performance.

More circus than traditional bullfight, the show may go on the road to the major cities of the country, including Shea Stadium in New York.

Legally, this is not a bullfight, which is prohibited by Texas law.  It is, according to the judge who ruled against the state's Attorney General's petition for injunction, "an exhibition of skill and grace and daring."

BULL MUST NOT BLEED

Not one drop of bull's blood may be spilled, until after the show closes and the animals are sold to a local packing-house at 20 cents a pound.

"Killing the damn bull," says Bravo, who has a reputation for sloppy bull-killing, "can be very messy and unpleasant.  The Americans, not seeing it, will not know what they are missing."

Bravo, although the most spectacular, is not considered the most accomplished of the nine toreros in the show, which has been promoted here, like a heavyweight championship.

The star is the 25-year-old Spaniard, Paco Camino, small, dark and boyish, who has been guaranteed a reported $100,000 for his three-day appearance, more than the other eight guarantees together.

But last night, the Greek-born public-address commentator ("I hope you enjoy this spectacle as much as we from Latin America do") had to remind the crowd to wave their handkerchiefs and respond to the flickering OLE! on the scoreboard after each of Camino's graceful, classical, flowing passes.

BULLS COST $2,000 EACH

The bulls and the toreros have been in Houston all week.  The 22 bulls, 1,000 pounders purchased at a reported $2,000 each from Mexican ranchers, have been living in uneasy harmony in three open-top pens in an Astrodome parking lot.  Twenty-one of them are black.  The brown is scarred along the flanks, from shoulder to stern, by the discriminating horns of those who want to keep him in his corner.

The toreros are less physical about their differences.  The five matadors, who meet the bulls on foot, concede cordially that the four rejoneadors, who fight from horseback, have a difficult problem in correlating the various mentalities -- horse, bull and man -- in their act, but, of course, when you are alone and on your knees facing a brave, roaring beast...

And the rejoneadors, who have only nice things to say about the infantry, are quick to remind anyone that their specialty is not for the poor boy -- the Andalusian horses cost more than $20,000 each and one does not arrive at a corrida with less than four of them, two trucks, grooms, a blacksmith and the finest feed.

The Mexicans say that Camino is a prima donna, that he is overrated, that Humberto Moro and the sad-faced Gabriel Espana are in his class.  The Europeans smile and wonder if Camino, who earns $500,000 a year and lives in a mansion in Madrid, is not wasted on the Americans.

They also tend to sneer just a bit at Bravo, who has been appearing on television and in downtown department stores for the promotion.  Jaime is brave, of course, they say, but his fame is less from the ring than from the movies he has appeared in, and the countless love affairs he talks so much about.

"Love affairs," snorts Bravo, noticing a pretty girl and rolling his slim shoulder beneath a cashmere turtleneck sweater.  "I am bad luck to girls;  I should advertise to them all, please, please, stay away from Jaime Bravo.  And I tell Paco all the time, be a showman to the Americans, Paco, but, ah, he is too professional for that.

Jose Ramon Tirado, who like Bravo, is a spectacular performer, although more subdued outside the ring, agrees that American-style bullfighting (a modification of the Portuguese style) is more difficult for the showman than for the master like Camino, who dominates his animal with this skill.

Tirado, who is said to be the holder of the Mexico City - Acapulco pleasure-car driving record (3 hours 20 minutes, including stops for speeding tickets), is not used to facing a bull who has not already been weakened by the picador's lance (the picadors have been dispensed with entirely here), and the banderillas (two-foot sticks with two-inch barbs) are thrush into a styrofoam pad attached to the bull's withers.

In Portugal, the banderillas are thrust into the bull.  The lances, in a Mexican bullfight, weaken the bull's shoulder muscles, so his head hangs and he is more likely to follow the cape.

The banderillas are supposed to enrage the bull, because a placid, non-charging bull makes a matador look foolish.  Last night, without the benefit of a little enraging bloodletting, several of the bulls were less than brave.

SHOW IS BRAVE INDEED

But the two-hour show, a $300,000 package delivered by a Mexican syndicate called International Bullfights, Inc. and promoted here by Super Enterprises, Inc., a Washington concern, was very brave indeed beneath the 280-foot-hight, 10-month-old dome, in a 180-foot bullring, on ground hallowed by major league baseball, Judy Garland, the National Baptist Musicale, the Boy Scouts and the Billy Graham Crusade.

It began with a procession of open carriages bearing local girls in Spanish costume.  They tossed roses into the crowd.  Those in the $5 seats, the most expensive, got roses; the $2, $3, and $4 ticket holders were too far back.  Then came the traditional procession of toreros, while a brass band blared the march from "Carmen".

Two rejoneadors faced the first bull together.  The bull's horns were covered with two leather cups, to protect the horses, as in Portugal.  Although the promoters said nothing had been done to the horns of the matadors' bulls, they seemed something less than "needle sharp."