Written Especially for Sundial
For 10 years Patricia Hayes was lauded as one of the best American matadoras in the world. She now lives in El Paso, is married to Richard Franklin, goes to work daily for Quantrol Electronics, pursues hobbies of painting and music in the evening and on weekends. She has given up the drama, danger, and dust of Sunday afternoon fiesta bravas.
“The way I started was not a fast thing,” she recalls. “I did not make up my mind overnight. It’s like a bug that bites and all of a sudden you get the fever.”
On Nov. 19, 1952, a Sunday afternoon, she saw her first bullfight. A shy girl, the youngest of five older sisters, and a brother, she had spent most of her years attracted to music and was at the time playing the bassoon in the symphony orchestra at North Texas State where in one more year she would have won her degree.
As a “vacation lark” she accompanied a group to the Villa Acuna on the Rio Grande border. “It was an exceptionally good bullfight, featuring two matadors who had a contrasting style in the school of fighting,” she mused. “One was known to have very bad fights and then again very inspired fights. His name was Luis Procuna. The other was a valiant bullfighter, extremely daring, named Rafael Rodriguez. Something of the grace of Procuna caught my eye. It was like an art, or a dance. I could not get it out of my system. When I went back to school, I began reading all the books I could find on bullfighting, saw movies, and it wasn’t long before I became convinced that I wanted to be a part of the fiesta excitement.”
Soon afterwards a friend gave her an invitation to a breeding ranch in San Luis Potosi. There she had her first contact with a bull. “When I was invited to the ranch, I told them I wanted to become a bullfighter. Besides seeing the ranch on horseback with the other guest, they arranged to have some little cows put together in a ring. There were no other bullfighters there, just the helpers. I did not even have a cape. I had a skirt of brown and green that was a wrap around. In the beginning they led in some very small calves, and then a very large cow. I was shocked that after all I had read and seen, I found that it was a great struggle, but I became all the more determined to start in at the beginning and go through all the training a beginner needs.”
She wrote a long letter to her father, a retired oil field engineer John Hayes.
“I want to become a torera,” she wrote.
“Pat, now you come home and we’ll thresh this thing out, “ he replied.
She went home. It was threshed out. Two weeks later she returned to Mexico. She threw three years of majoring in music out the window. Only her music appreciation remained.
She next obtained a letter of introduction to Dr. Alfonso Gaona, empresario of Plaza Mexico, the bull ring in Mexico City and the bull fighting headquarters of all Mexico. He suggested Carlos Suarez as her first teacher. Her second trainer was Raul Munoz, the secretary and sword handler or Mozo de estoque, for Luis Procuna. Munor arranged Pat’s first public fight in the small Guanajuato town of Cortazar in the interior of Mexico. It was Oct. 11, 1953.
“You enter professionally when you fight public, whether you receive money or not,” Pat explained. “When I first began in the little country town they did not even have a bull ring. The fence was made with wooden logs and planks.”
Here she cut both ears of her toro. This was awarded by the judges to acknowledge work well done. After only three months of training, they considered her fighting above average in valor and artistry. She also made a tour of the ring.
One of her attributes was being able to met people from other countries. She liked living with a family in order to learn the customs and wherever she went, she learned to speak the language. So the girl who weighed less than three pounds when she was born in San Angelo, Tex., on Jan. 22, 1932, whose mother died when she was small, and who grew up liking to play baseball and be a tomboy, began to make her public appearances in Mexico. About all she could say when she first went there was “muchas gracias.” The Senora with whom she lived soon referred to her as “My little girl who conquered Mexico with muchas gracias.”
Her first corrida, or Las Fiesta Brava was in the Villa Acuna, the first Sunday in April. Her appearance was with two full matadors Luis Solano and Luis Mata, the Spaniard. She was the first female bullfighter in Mexico to fight on foot on the same bill with male matadors.
“I was half scared to death,” she said, but I was determined to go through with this first fight even if it killed me, which it could easily have done.”
The next year (1954) in El Grullo Jaliscco, she had a mano a mano fight January 31. After her triumph there she signed a contract with Raul Zubieta, director of the weekly bullfight magazine EROS to make a six months tour in Central and South America, but difficulties ind rawing up the foreign working papers forced a cancellation of these plans.
Then came the “disgraceful afternoon in Acapulco.”
“I was sort of rsty from not keeping up a rigid schedule of training, and I got careless. It was the worst fight of my career.” The city was crowded with thousands of vacationing American tourist. Many witnessed her fight from both the aristocrats on the shady side to those on the sunny side. Before the day was over she was tossed by horns, trampled under hooves, and finally injured so that she had to be hospitalized. This accident kept her out of the ring for three months. She never forgot that August in Acapulco. “I sustained two broken ribs, bruises, a 12 inch scrape by a horn and a brain concussion, all while killing two bulls.”
In March 1955 she appeared at Acuna. Here she was knocked to the ground dozens of times while battling two successive bulls. She suffered severe blows in the chest while doing battle with the second bull and went into mild hysteria. Attendants tried to help her from the ring but she fought them off, proceeded to kill the animal and for this she was awarded two ears and a tail.
“Then I decided to go to Portugal. Bullfighting is very different there than it is in Mexico or Spain. In Mexico they emphasize art, and in Portugal, where the animals are bigger and purer blood, they empathize skill and domination.”
In July 1956 she appeared in Lisbon as the first American girl to ever face Los toros in Europe. She has three triumphs in Campo Alegre Plaza in Lisbon. In addition to being the only girl to appear in Lisbon she was also the only woman bullfighter to lace her own banderillos, those barbed hooks that go into the animals shoulders to slow it down and make it less frisky. During her stay she was given many ovations and called to take tours of the ring, was thrown hats and flowers by the spectators. Diamantino Viseu, the major Portuguese matador offered to teach her in his spare time and she considers her work with him as her most important training.
Women in the bull fighting profession are subjected to much disapproval. While a woman practicing a dangerous art does draw a crowd, she also began to draw criticism, especially from women writers. Members of the male press in Portugal referred to her as “La Grace Kelly del toro,” because of her blue eyes and blonde hair.
Cornelia Otis Skinner, writing for Life Magazine cited her as an example of a “misguided woman.” Having spent two years in Portugal developing her style. Pat was ready to defend bullfighting as both an art and a science. “A woman can show that it is not necessarily strength but intelligence and delicate control of the cloth that means success for the bullfighter. The size of the bull does not make too much difference, once the fighter has gained that control and judgment.” Bullfighting was not just an attention getter, but an art, and she wanted to express herself through this medium.
On Sept. 7, 1958, she made her debut in the Plaza Mexico. It was a Sunday morning about 11:30. She had the unique honor of being asked to fight and Teresita Andaluz, a Mexican girl who had been fighting bulls for eight years was asked to fight with her on a mano a mano basis.
Pat had reached the climax of her career. “The most thrilling music now was the sound of the trumpet as it began the traditional paso doble announcing the opening parade of another bout with the bulls.”
On the day of the fight she saw no one. She breakfasted at least five hours before the battle and stayed in her room, then began dressing as in a ritual. She appeared in the traditional traje de campo, consisting of a black coat, black and gray striped pants, black cordoves hat, soft suede tan and gray boots. Her blond gold hair was tied behind her neck, and sky blue eyes sparkled. She drank a cup of manzanilla tea before walking to the waiting car.
“There’s a little chapel at all the big rings where we go for prayer just before a fight, she said, “and the tea is supposed to have a calming effect, but when I stood there waiting for them to bring in the bull my hands sweated inside, my mouth got dry, but once you are in there with the bull, there is on time to be nervous. After a few minutes of classic preliminary passes with the cape, the matadora takes the sword from an attendant and from that time she had just 12 minutes to make the kill. “The trick in fighting a bull is to control it with a cape. A good afternoon fight has scientific movement and direction, rhyme, rhythm, technique and expression. I compare bullfighting to the opening of a rose. It has all the elegance and softness of a rose petal unfolding while underneath are the thorns.”
Don Neto, the bullfight columnist, arranged and exhibition corrida for the press in one of Mexico City’s small plazas de toros. The fight was shown on television four times, but that was not her most exciting experience. It was the time she almost got kidnapped.
“It was toward evening. Don Neto was having an interview with an empresario and told me to meet him at the lottery building a few blocks from the station. While I was sitting there waiting, some men sat down and started talking to me. It began to rain. I got up and walked up the steps to the lottery building, then ran back down and tried to get a taxicab. A cab stopped. A man held the door for me. I got in, then realized something was wrong. When I tried to get out, he grabbed me and told a policeman that I was his wife trying to run away. A lady in the crowd who could speak English heard me crying, “Help me!” and said, “I will help you, get into my car.” I did. She took me to another part of the city and put me into another taxi.”
During her South American tour in 1962 she was the first to fight in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where a writer immortalized her with a long poem. In her calm steady ways, she was deeply moved by the excitement and beauty of a good bullfight with only her agility standing between her and death. An artist in Mexico City also was inspired by her charming easy smiling determination placed her in a mural he was painting.
When the critics began asking the question, ‘How long will Patricia Hayes stay in the ring? Perhaps the horn of the bull has the answer,” Patricia began to realize that the fickle public, liking the danger element, must have hoped the “La Princesa Rubia del Toro” would be sadly gored, but in all her career she was never permanently injured. At the height of her career, she suddenly decided to put her costumes and tools away. She had been happy living in foreign lands, traveling around constantly, getting closer to the people and caring for her disciplines. It took her four years to get over the longing to fight more bulls, but she married, began working, painting, and fulfilling her life in other ways. Now she does not have a desire to go back. But she likes to recall a special incident which happened just once during her ten years.
“I had an interesting thing happen in a fight that all the bullfighters teased me about. They said the bull fell in love with me. It was a Matamoros. They didn’t have a fence, just a tall gate through which the bulls marched before it was closed. The first bull kept jumping over this gate and going out to hook the cars until some charros finally killed him outside the ring. The second bull was a beautiful black one with curls in front – strong, energetic. When he came into the ring I did one or two passes with him but he would not charge. I got down on my knees, did the El Telefono, rubbed his head, touched his nose and he would not charge. Finally they jumped down to get him and he chased every one of them out of the ring. He charged everybody but me. I walked up and put my arm around him, and we walked to the corrals together.
“I lived a rather restricted life. Most of my friends were in the musical and literary world. The bullfighters were just like my brothers. I was idealistic about finding the man I could love. I never dreamed I would find him in El Paso.”