Dou­ble-Edged Sword: The Many Lives of Hem­ing­way’s Friend, the Amer­i­can Mata­dor Sid­ney Franklin

by Bart Paul, Uni­ver­sity of Ne­braska Press, 304 pages

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words - — Kevin Can­field

Sid­ney Franklin loved the at­ten­tion that came from be­ing that most un­usual of fig­ures: an Amer­i­can-born mata­dor who counted his coun­try’s best-known writer as a con­fi­dant. But when the truth wasn’t enough, Franklin was as creative with his life story as he was when fac­ing a charg­ing bull.

With lit­tle prod­ding, it seems, Franklin would re­count his trumped-up sex­ual ex­ploits— th­ese in­cluded show­er­ing with in­sa­tiable strangers and bedding en­tire com­mu­ni­ties of women— or spin bizarre tales, like the one that found him help­ing his physi­cian brother with am­a­teur au­top­sies.

As Bart Paul writes in his en­ter­tain­ing new bi­og­ra­phy, “Sid­ney could be ac­cused of be­ing the poster boy of un­re­li­able nar­ra­tors.” Though he of­ten felt the need to pol­ish his own rep­u­ta­tion, Franklin (born Sid­ney Frump­kin) needn’t have both­ered. The truth, as Paul demon­strates in chap­ter af­ter chap­ter, was in­ter­est­ing enough.

Raised in a Brook­lyn house­hold dom­i­nated by his fa­ther, a New York City cop, Sid­ney was im­pa­tient, artis­tic, and en­tre­pre­neur­ial. He quit high school to open a shop that pro­duced silk-screen art. The elder Frump­kin wasn’t im­pressed, nor was he thrilled to sense that his son pre­ferred men over women. Af­ter his dad knocked him un­con­scious with a punch, the 18-year-old, who had adopted the last name Franklin, headed for more in­ter­est­ing places.

In Mex­ico he started mak­ing ad­ver­tis­ing posters, “and, in­evitably bull­fight posters, or car­tels,” Paul writes. “Sid­ney’s artist’s eye in­stinc­tively caught the in­her­ent drama of the cor­rida. His styl­ized posters em­pha­sized the size and dan­ger of the an­i­mal, the cool brav­ery of the man. Soon a ‘Sid­ney Franklin’ car­tel be­came quite pop­u­lar in its own right.”

Sid­ney was taken with the blood sport, all the more so when true afi­ciona­dos told him that he and his north-ofthe-bor­der com­pa­tri­ots couldn’t cut it as bull­fight­ers. He was a proud young man, and he wanted to prove them wrong. Which he did, in a sense, by im­mers­ing him­self in train­ing and tra­di­tion, ready­ing to take to the ring as a pro­fes­sional in early 1924, a few months be­fore his 21st birth­day.

Half a decade of mata­do­rial ex­pe­ri­ence in Mex­ico en­cour­aged him to try the rel­a­tive big leagues of bull­fight­ing in Spain. This was the era of Hem­ing­way’s Span­ish ad­ven­ture. In the years be­fore he would write about the coun­try’s civil war, the nov­el­ist was de­vel­op­ing his bona fides as a bull­fight­ing con­nois­seur. And so it was that the Amer­i­can writer and Amer­i­can fighter of bulls came to meet.

The men were fast friends, Paul writes— so close that Hem­ing­way paid close at­ten­tion to Franklin’s phys­i­cal en­dow­ments. The nov­el­ist “cri­tiqued Sid­ney’s physique with the eye of a box­ing trainer,” Paul writes, “fo­cus­ing on what he felt was his prom­i­nent rump. ‘ Sid­ney has no grace be­cause he has a ter­rific be­hind,’ he said. ‘I used to make him do spe­cial ex­er­cises to re­duce his be­hind.’ ”

Hem­ing­way de­scribed his friend in glow­ing terms in Death in the Af­ter­noon. Sid­ney, Hem­ing­way wrote, was “a bet­ter, more sci­en­tific, more in­tel­li­gent and more fin­ished mata­dor than all but six of the full matadors in Spain to­day”— but their kin­ship cooled as Hem­ing­way be­gan to fo­cus on other manly en­deav­ors, such as his fish­ing ex­pe­di­tions.

Health and money con­cerns de­railed Sid­ney for sev­eral years, but by the sec­ond half of the 1930s, he and his old friend were side by side once again — Hem­ing­way in the role of cor­re­spon­dent cov­er­ing the Span­ish CivilWar, and Sid­ney his right-hand man. They were of­ten ter­ri­fy­ingly close to the action. Get­ting dressed one morn­ing, Paul writes, Sid­ney “heard the scream and ex­plo­sion of an ar­tillery shell as it landed down in the street be­low.… The con­cus­sion shat­tered all the glass in Sid­ney’s room.”

Hem­ing­way and Franklin split ir­re­vo­ca­bly when the antsy nov­el­ist moved on from his sec­ond wife, Pauline Pfeif­fer, a close friend of Sid­ney’s, to wife No. 3, Martha Gell­horn. Sid­ney was bit­ter; he would tell un­flat­ter­ing sto­ries about his ex-pal, go­ing so far as to sug­gest that Hem­ing­way’s os­ten­ta­tious mas­culin­ity was in re­sponse to his hav­ing less-than-im­pres­sive male at­tributes. Sid­ney also de­scribed Hem­ing­way as a ho­mo­phobe who as­saulted an ef­fem­i­nate “Nancy-boy” just for the fun of it.

Paul per­cep­tively ar­gues that Sid­ney’s “sex­ual anx­i­ety”— he was gay in an era and a pro­fes­sion that did not tol­er­ate same-sex re­la­tion­ships— was one of many things that played into his anger with Hem­ing­way. “Sex, ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, courage, mas­culin­ity, mar­i­tal be­trayal, and re­spect all seem to have reared their heads to com­pli­cate and even­tu­ally cor­rode the once-solid bond.”

Never one of the bull­fight­ing greats, Sid­ney sought to bur­nish his rep­u­ta­tion with an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy that came af­ter his re­tire­ment. Bull­fighter From Brook­lyn con­tained more than a few fic­tional sto­ries. As one of Franklin’s friends told Paul many years later, “Of course it’s all bull­shit.” Some of it prob­a­bly was, but the rest was the true stuff of a thrilling life story.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.