It was in the Spring of 1962 when my pal Nat who worked with me at an aerospace plant in Los Angeles told me of a fabulous opportunity. We were both armchair bullfight aficionados. Nat knew more about the time-honored Spanish sport than anyone I knew. We agreed to get up a party and go down to Tijuana to see “Numero Uno” (Antonio Ordonez) in a once in a lifetime appearance at a benefit bullfight in the new Monumental Plaza built by the sea. Ordonez was big news in the bullfight game. He’d been featured in a lavish, full-color, two-part LIFE magazine article called “THE DANGEROUS SUMMER” by Ernest Hemingway. The two-parter was to be a large section of a new book by Hemingway, and it described an epic series of duels between the world’s two foremost matadors of the time—Luis Dominguin and Antonio Ordonez.
So off we went. Three couples headed for south of the border. It was going to be a blast. It started out a bit rough and that could have been a omen of what was to come. Our deranged Mexican cabbie managed to hit every pothole from the border to the plaza. We spent most of the ride plastered to the roof of our speeding cab. And with six in the back, to save on the fare, it got pretty dicey.
Before the fight, we hung out at a local watering hole called the SIERRA MOTEL. Nat steered us to it. It was a rocking, jumping joint with hot and cold senoritas in leather pants and flat-brimmed sombreros, and movie stars like Gilbert Roland, Stephanie Powers and Mike Conners from the MANNIX TV show. A crazed mariachi band kept blasting away with their trumpets. No one was feeling any pain. That came later in the arena.
Then the big moment arrived at the plaza. Ordonez stepped out into the sun to face the crowd dressed in an ornately decorated suit of lights with a black capote draped over one shoulder. He didn’t have that somber appearance of an Andalusian like Manolete. He looked like Alec Baldwin with a pigtail. When he grinned the crowd went wild. Unfortunately, that was about the last time they had anything to cheer about.
Good old Antonio got himself gored in the privates by his very first bull. That beast apparently had not read numero uno’s press clipping. Gilbert Roland leaped out of the stands and pulled the matador to safety while his seconds distracted the bull. Those wounds proved to be pretty serious, and even though Antonio laughed it off and limped away, he was never quite the same again in the ring.
So it wasn’t death in the afternoon. More like a bullfight bummer. I got cheated out of seeing the world’s best matador do his stuff that day. But I kept my two copies of his exploits in LIFE magazine and a few of my fanciful illusions about bullfighting.