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July 11: The Jewish Bullfighter

July 11, 2013

bll1Sidney Franklin (Frumkin), the first American Jew to become a renowned bullfighter, was born in Brooklyn on this date in 1903. By 1922 he was in Mexico, working as a matador. He would soon become a celebrity amid the grotesquerie of the bullring, appearing in Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Colombia, and Panama. “Franklin,” wrote Ernest Hemingway in Death in the Afternoon, “is brave with a cold, serene and intelligent valor but instead of being awkward and ignorant he is one of the most skillful, graceful and slow manipulators of a cape fighting today.” Yet Hemingway, like many others, soon rejected his friendship with Franklin — perhaps because of his politics (he was a supporter of the fascist Franco), perhaps because of his homosexuality. Raised in an Orthodox household, Franklin was evasive about his sexual preference as well as his Jewishness. For those interested, the American Jewish Historical Society Center for Jewish History in New York City has a collection of papers about Sidney Franklin.

“I think he was never outwardly gay, as we would think of being out today. As Barnaby Conrad said, if they had known, it would have killed him as a bullfighter in Spain. Not that there weren’t bullfighters who were gay. It was just a culture of machismo.” —Bart Paul (biographer)