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JUAN BELMONTE (1892 – 1962) Spanish Bullfighter

In Biography, Bullfighting, Matadors, Spanish History, Sports, Uncategorized on August 24, 2010 at 9:55 PM

 

Juan Belmonte

The legs Juan Belmonte was born with were weak and deformed, not at all appropriate for a sport where you come face to face with an angry beast.  But instead of backing away from his one dream in life, to be a bullfighter, he invented a new technique for a torero* and was considered by many to be the “greatest matador of all time.” 

Belmonte was a rambunctious child who hung out with a gang of mischief makers.  On a dare, he climbed a wall in order to touch the exposed breasts of a statue, and fell off, cracking his head open.  His punishment was to have to go to school, which he did from ages four to eight.  In that short time he became literate, but it was a struggle.  

The young boy’s education continued outside the classroom.  As the oldest of eleven children, Belmonte was expected to help his father in the shop, but his shy, insecure personality was no match for the hagglers who bargained down the prices. His dad berated him for losing money the family desperately needed, but he also took some responsibility for his son’s maturity.  Every day until he was eleven, Belmonte went with his dad to the café and observed the other men, learning from them how a man with self esteem behaves.  From hanging out in the streets with his buddies he learned to smoke, drink, play cards and be with women.  

One group of Belmonte’s friends owned a printing press, and their love of cheap detective novels rubbed off on him.  He could read well enough to keep up with them, and the group would dramatically act out the stories.  This began his life-long passion for reading.  

GETTING AN EARLY START          Belmonte’s fascination with bulls started when he was a toddler.  While his family was dining in a restaurant, he wandered outside to a pen that had several calves.  He tried get a stubborn one to charge and was disappointed when the animal didn’t respond.   As he got a little older, he started playing around with a cape and found that it gave him the confidence that he lacked naturally.    

Bullfighting soon became a way to avoid working. He was easily tempted by his pals to go out to the country and find bulls to practice with.  After a while they had to go out on moonless nights so they wouldn’t be caught by the Guardia Civil patrolling the pastures and corrals.  The first time he found himself at the mercy of a bull, Belmonte was sporting the new suit his family bought him for Holy Week.    There was a lone bull in a ring, and Belmonte jumped in with it, even though he couldn’t see where it was.  He managed to lead the animal through two successful passes, but on the third one the bull hit him and threw him into the air.  The rookie tried to find the fence to escape, but the bull sent him airborne again.  The third time the bull made contact, Belmonte was sent flying, and he hit the fence on the way down, managing to crawl away.  For him, being knocked around by the bull was not nearly as bad as ruining his new suit. 

TURNING PRO                                           Belmonte’s first contract to fight was as a last minute substitute under a different name.  The posters were already printed with the name Montes II.  By the time he rented his costume and paid his banderillero, there was no money left for him.    

The technique Belmonte developed was contrary to every other torero, and to common sense. Because of his weak legs, he planted himself and forced the bull to go around him instead of moving away from the bull as it made its pass.  The bulls would go by so close that there would be hairs  stuck on Belmonte’s jacket.  

HIS FIRST KILL                                       In July 1910, Belmonte made his first kill.  All was going well, and he was ready for the final moment.  With the muleta in his left hand and the sword in his right, the torero cited the bull.  It passed so close that the horn went into the fighter’s forehead and ripped his eyebrow.  With blood blinding his vision, Belmonte reacted with a frenzied anger.  He pulled the dangling flap up skin back up to his forehead, instinctively got into position and thrust the sword into the animal’s neck.  When the bull started sinking to the ground, he knew he had made a perfect hit, and the crowd exploded with their approval.  Since he was the only bullfighter on the program that day, he was taken to the infirmary for some slap-dash surgery.  The doctor sterilized the wound by drinking some mineral water, mixing it with saliva and spitting it onto the fighter’s face.  After a few rough stitches, Belmonte took to the ring for his second bull, with considerably less luck.  

Belmonte could finally call himself a matador, the term for the bullfighter who kills the bull. His star was rising until an affair with a married woman became a total distraction.  He was used to casual relationships with fawning ladies, but now a lack of sleep and improper diet left him emotionally and physically unfit to face a bull. During a corrida before a demanding crowd in his native Seville, he got two warnings for a bad performance with the first bull.  When he tried to kill the second bull he couldn’t make contact, and in a fit of exhaustion screamed at the bull to just kill him.  Belmonte was removed from the ring in humiliation which led to his first retirement.  He worked as a day laborer until he could regain his passion practicing at night in the moonlit pastures, naked. 

By 1917, Belmonte’s reputation was firmly rooted in his success, although his career was not without injuries.  He was gored in the thigh numerous times and wounded in the chest at least once.  He often defied the odds and physical pain, always fighting two or three bulls during every corrida, and sometimes fighting every day, leaving little time to recover. But to Belmonte bullfighting was a spiritual practice, and strength of spirit was more important than physical strength.   He got invitations to fight in Mexico, Cuba and South America, and whenever he traveled he brought a trunk full of books with him. 

In Lima, Peru he met a woman at a party and fell in love.  He brought her back to Spain with him, where they were to get married.  Belmonte never stopped being shy and hated any kind of ceremony.  While he was fighting in Venezuela he arranged to be married by proxy.  

NEVER GONNA GIVE IT UP             In 1919 Belmonte was at his peak.  He was in 109 corridas and killed 234 bulls, a record he held until 1965.  He earned about $9,000 for an afternoon of battling two bulls. The following year he could feel his passion waning, and he took some time off when his professional rival and close friend, Joselito, died in the ring.  After ten years of his career, he could finally buy a ranch he called La Capitana.  He spent some down time there but got bored and started fighting again.  

During the season of 1927 he was forced to seriously consider retirement after spending a month in the hospital.   He lived on the ranch full time, farming, reading and fighting in a few charity events.  He came out of retirement again in 1934 and was gored 14 times.  In 1935, a bull split his collarbone, but he pulled himself together to fulfill his contractual obligations.  

Back at La Capitana, Belmonte enjoyed years of sparing with his own bulls, teaching future bullfighters and hanging out at the local bars.  In 1961 his weak health turned into a severe heart condition.  The following spring, the doctor told him to stop all his activities including riding his beloved horse.  He decided he would rather die.  In April 1962, he took one last ride around the property then locked himself in his study and shot himself in the head. 

 Videos of Juan Belmonte fighting bulls:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QJ681LYgcOE 

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bZZFDQYC-8Y 

torero – a bullfighter 

    matador – a bullfighter who has killed a bull 

    corrida – a bullfight where one or two matadors each fight two or three bulls in an afternoon 

    muleta – a oval cape on a stick used in the last part of the bullfight leading up to the killing of the bull 

    banderillero – a matador’s assistant who places colorful darts in the bull 

 QUESTION:  What’s something that you have become good at because you didn’t give up? 

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Right Reserved 

Sources: 

Belmonte, Juan and Nogales, Manuel Chaves, Juan Belmonte, Killer of Bulls. New York: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1937. 

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,873563,00.html 

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1073716/index.htm 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juan_Belmonte 

http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19250105,00.html

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JOAN WESTON (1935 – 1997) Roller Derby Queen

In 1960s, Biography, Female Athletes, People, Roller Derby, Roller Skating, Sports, women on June 1, 2010 at 10:39 AM

Joan Weston

In 1935 Joan Weston and Roller Derby were both born.  When they finally met, it was a match made in heaven.

Weston’s parents divorced when she was a baby, and she was raised by her maternal grandparents.  They worked six days a week at the restaurant and gas station they owned in Southern California.  Despite their preoccupation with earning a living, they created a strict but loving environment. 

Weston idolized her father who had movie star good looks, and she fondly remembers a summer spent with him before he was killed in a car accident.  Not knowing how to channel her grief, she blamed her mother for her parents’ divorce.  This compounded the emotional distance between them. 

Even though they weren’t Catholics, her grandfather insisted on a Mount St. Mary’s College education. Her grandmother was amenable to that until Weston decided she wanted to become a nun.  Weston then appeased her by directing all her energy into sports.  A natural athlete, Weston excelled in every sport she tried, but that didn’t mean her grandmother would let her try anything.  She balked when Weston wanted to take up trick horseback riding as being too dangerous.  Softball seemed like a good compromise, and Weston played school and league ball.  This proved to be a good match, and in one college game Weston hit eight home runs. 

Upon graduation, there weren’t many options for female athletes.  When Weston watched the Roller Derby she saw her future, and she couldn’t wait to take her skating from the sidewalk to the indoor banked track.  Her five feet ten inch, 150 pound frame and bleached blonde hair were the perfect body and image.  She moved to northern California to learn the sport and join a team. 

Weston’s sheltered upbringing hadn’t prepared her for the unrefined behavior and profanity of the skaters.  She felt so intimidated and out of place that she almost quit.  Knowing that her mother, a truck stop waitress, would understand that life a lot better, Weston called her for encouragement.  Her mother’s advice was that Roller Derby people were no different than anybody else. “People and sex are like franks and beans,” she said. “They go together.”1

It wasn’t the Roller Derby people or the lifestyle that attracted Weston.  She simply loved to skate, and skating at 30 miles an hour gave her a sense of freedom.  At the beginning she had to overcome some clumsiness, however.  In her first outing she tripped and fell in front of nine skaters, all of whom fell over her. 

After playing on various teams for several years, Weston gained her Roller Derby Queen reputation on the San Francisco Bay Bombers.  She started wearing the orange and black in 1963 when she was 28 years old.  Her fans called her the Blonde Bomber, Blonde Amazon and Golden Girl.  

Skating was so much her life that she skated full time (over 250 games each year) for 18 years and part time for another 24 years.  She played the Pivot position which gave her an opportunity to play defense and offense as necessary. Even though the Roller Derby was not a mainstream sport, Weston was the highest paid female athlete in the 1960s.  She earned less than her male counterparts, however, by nearly $20,000.

Derby teams toured the country to compete at local arenas, traveling by Greyhound bus or car.  One year Weston put 60,000 miles on her car.  The players stayed in Holiday Inns that dotted the trail.  Each night her best friend was waiting in the room for Weston to return.  Malia, a spotted mutt who was born in a box on a Greyhound bus, knew when Weston should be arriving and was peering out the window when her car pulled into the parking lot. 

It wasn’t easy to maintain romantic relationships while on the road.  When she was 20 she got engaged to another skater who was drop dead handsome.  The Roller Derby publicity department milked the relationship for all it was worth, but after 18 months it ended.  There were two other engagements that ended badly.  One suitor insisted Weston stop skating, but she sacrificed the relationship instead of her career.  With so much heart break, when she was 37 years old, Weston declared she would never marry.   

In 1965 the Roller Derby management promoted her to captain of the acclaimed Bay Bombers supplanting Annis (Big Red) Jensen.  On tour, Weston wore the white shirt of the home team. 

About that time a rivalry blossomed between Weston and Ann Calvello, another super star skater who wrote the red shirt of the rival teams. Weston vs. Calvello became the biggest rivalry in the history of the sport, and it was personal.  Games turned into good vs. evil slug fests, and Calvello never missed an opportunity to provoke and punish Weston’s teammates with illegal kicks and punches.  This fueled Weston to seek revenge.  Calvello’s cheap shots incensed audiences who would throw things at her and occasionally even damage her car.  Each skater played her part to perfection, but in the end, the audience demanded that good triumph over evil.  Even though Weston was the predictable victor, audiences packed the arenas the next night to see what would happen.

Injuries are a fact of life in Roller Derby, and Weston, like all players, suffered her share of debilitating ones.  In an interview she recounted knee cartilage surgery and a dislocated collar bone. Trips to the dentist were frequent as dentures replaced missing teeth.  In one game she got into such a heated argument with the referee that two of her teeth flew out of her mouth right past the ref’s ear.

Because of the violence, Weston’s mom could never accept her daughter’s career choice, or even watch a Roller Derby game.  Her grandmother had the courage to watch only one.  The star athlete found her support within the ranks of the sport.  Eventually she married skater Nick Scopas, and their relationship lasted until death parted them. 

If they weren’t proud of her job, Weston’s family could be proud of what she accomplished.  The Blond Bomber was voted Roller Derby Queen four times, received the Most Valuable Player award in 1968 and was inducted into the National Roller Derby Hall of Fame.   

In the 1970s a skaters’ strike, the gas crisis and increasing costs made managing the Roller Derby too expensive for Jerry Seltzer, son of founder Leo Seltzer. The original Roller Derby league skated their last game on December 3, 1973.  Seltzer sold everything Roller Derby to other promoters. 

Weston and Roller Derby started life and ended together.  She was 38 years old and her body didn’t bounce back from injuries as quickly, so this was the perfect time to retire.  It was not the end of skating for Weston, however.  She channeled her experience and expertise into training young skaters and staging exhibition games. 

Weston’s life wasn’t all skating all the time.  She loved Hawaii and won the 1962 outrigger championship on a canoe called Malia, the name sake for her dog.  Her love of softball exceeded her tenure skating and she played in leagues in northern California.

Weston contracted Creutzfeldt – Jakob disease, a rare degenerative brain disorder.  She died at age 62 in Hayward, California, survived by her husband.  Twenty-five years earlier she was asked if she had any regrets.  She said she did, but that there was one thing that compensated: stardom.  “Stardom is recognition, approval, power. Do you know what it’s like to be able to bring 20,000 people to their feet–to make them hate or love you? That’s where it’s at. Power!”2

QUESTION:  Who are your sports idols?  What is it about what they do that you respect?

 ©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

 Video:

Weston’s last interview:   http://rollergames.ning.com/video/joan-westons-last-sit-down

Interviews with Ann Calvello & Joan Weston: http://myspace.vtap.com/video/Ann+Calvello%252C+Joan+Weston%253A+Is+Roller+Derby+Real/CL0125573612_477e96dc8_V0lLSTQ4NDI1OTZ-aW46MX5xOmJyfmJ3OldJS0k0ODQyNTk2

 Sources:

1, 2http://astroworf.tripod.com/fw1.html

http://www.nytimes.com/1997/05/18/us/joanie-weston-62-a-big-star-in-the-world-of-roller-derbies.html

http://derbymemoirs.bankedtrack.info/mem_Weston_Joan.html

http://rollergames.ning.com/video/joan-westons-last-sit-down

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Weston

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/frank_deford/05/19/roller.derby.revival/index.html

http://articles.sfgate.com/2006-03-16/bay-area/17285386_1_roller-skated-san-francisco-bay-bombers/2

http://baycitybombers.com/Stories/calvello.html

http://www.ktvu.com/station/1854287/detail.html

http://www.rollerderbyhalloffame.com/id5.html

http://www.rollerderbyhalloffame.com/id3.html