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British in Iberia

British history and stories in Spain and Portugal.

Sidney Franklin, “the boy from the synagogue”
15 June 2010 @ 13:23

Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1903, he was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants which, in some circles, gave rise to the tongue-in-cheek name of The Bullfighter of the Torah.  His original surname was Frumkin.

In 1929 Sidney Franklin was a tall, blonde young man with blue eyes who had that exceptional physical quality that made it impossible to tell his age.  He could have been 20 or 30 years old.  With an inexpressive, childlike face, when he spoke he moved his arms a lot, just like a Spaniard or an Italian, as if he were born in Malaga or Naples.   This made him quite an ungainly, lively bullfighter, with an incomparable charm.  When anyone asked him, “Do you speak Spanish, Mr. Franklin?”, he always replied asking, “and you, do you blag in English?”

The whole of Spain was amazed that there was a North American bullfighter as everything was missing there for such a thing to exist – interest and the right atmosphere, but if the USA allowed it, bullfighting would have had just as much success as in Mexico.

Sidney Franklin’s interest started when he was working in Mexico and he attended “tientas” (trials where young bulls’ strength is tested with lances) where he began to take part, realizing that “bullfighter’s blood” was in his veins.  One day he took up a cape and discovered that it wasn’t as difficult as he had imagined.   He learned the art of bullfighting officially in Mexico and Peru before coming to Spain where he fought as an apprentice matador in the main bullrings of Seville, Madrid and San Sebastian.  His favourite bullfighter was Cagancho.

As is the case with all celebrities, Franklin was surrounded by a cloud of freeloaders: the friend who would give up his life for him, his contacts in the press, his manager, instant “close” friends.  However, with regard to these others, he displayed another great quality: he knew how to smile at them all and knew how to step away from them when he needed to be alone.  In this respect he was very much a New Yorker.

In his autobiography, A Bullfighter from Brooklyn, Franklin stated that he learnt the art of bullfighting on the cattle ranch at Xajay and his mentor was none other than El Califa de León, Rodolfo Gaona.

Later on Franklin came to Spain where a media campaign began and thus, from the end of 1928 brief announcements appeared in the press informing that the New York bullfighter would be appearing in the bullrings of Spain.

Sidney Franklin was the first North American to take the rites of initiation to become a matador and during this they sent two bulls into the ring as he was not capable of killing them.  He was a close friend of Lorca and Hemingway.

Franklin was essentially an adventurer, belonging to a certain group of North Americans at the beginning of the last century.  He was Hemingway’s assistant during his correspondence in Spain during the civil way and abandoned an enviable position and his studies in his home country and began to travel the world.  He was a bullfighter, journalist, television presenter and wrote one autobiography, The Bullfighter of Brooklyn.  He travelled and lived out adventures in Mexico, Spain and Cuba with Hemingway until a misunderstanding came between them.   He died in anonymity in an institution in New York in 1976.  To the whole of that generation lost through wars and adventures he left the Aristotelian and laconic quote with which he began his book, “living honorably is worth more than just living”.
 

Written by Jesús Castro

Translated by Rachael Harrison

Sponsored by www.costaluzlawyers.es



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