Brother Irvin is equally enthusiastic, but his remarks are tinged with care. "Let's face it," says Irvin. "We have problems." But the problems faced by the Fr�res Feld today are happy ones compared to those they wrestled with before the Houston debut. First they had to get their extravaganza into the Astrodome, one of the few U.S. arenas where they could put on a big show and make a profit. Then they had to overcome the Texas law against a man fighting a bull, narrowly squeaking out a favorable decision in a Harris County court. Of course, they had to contend with the wary Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the American Humane Association, assuring these eagle-eyed organizations that no bull or horse would be hurt. (They carefully abjured making any guarantees for the matadors, and no initialed society spoke up in behalf of homo sapiens.)
When they had sweated out their cartel of stars (one would have to attend Plaza M�xico all season in order to see as many excellent matadors as the Texans were to be offered in just one night), Irvin Feld knew he had reached the zenith of his career as an entrepreneur. "I want to tell you that bullfighters are the kind of people you can't negotiate with," he says. "I've presented stars like Danny Kaye and Jerry Lewis, but I never met such inflexible artists as matadors in my life. Their idea of a compromise is to come down from a fee of $105,000 to $100,000."
But people were only part of the problem. International Bullfights, Inc. also had to contend with ridicule, skepticism and uncertainty as to just how a matador could fight (or even exist) with a bull minus any of the teaching aids they employ in Spain, Mexico and Peru. While in the true Portuguese-style fight the bull is not killed, he is nagged quite a bit. In this Portuguese-American version no one dared even scratch el toro—or the SPCA would spank. The Feld presentation was to be minus picadors on vulnerable horses, minus the gory act of breaking down the bull's neck muscles with a lance to make its head drop, minus the prick of the colorful banderillas and, most important, minus the moment of truth.
But, as in the mysteries of algebra, these minuses ended up as pluses. First, for skeptical Texans who came to scoff and stayed to yell "�Ol�!" prompted by the frequent appearance of the word, 30 feet high, on the Dome's electronic scoreboard. Second, for the promoters, who actually hadn't had a clue whether rodeo-oriented Southwesterners would settle for the lesser mayhem of stylized bloodless bullfighting. Third, for Judge Roy Hofheinz, prime mover, creator and hero-villain of the Astrodome, who needs bigger and better events to fill up his sometimes empty "eighth wonder of the world." And last, for the world's millionaire matadors, who never before have been able to add any U.S. dollars to their collections of pesos, pesetas, sols and escudos.
Houston had been properly suspicious of the bullfights at first. Suspicious despite the high-powered publicity job done out of New York to promote the event, despite the signing of some of the world's top matadors, including Spain's Paco Camino and Gabriel Espa�a and Mexico's Jaime Bravo, Jos� Ram�n Tirado and Humberto Moro, plus the picturesque added attraction of such rejoneadores (bullfighters on horseback) as the dashing Mexican brothers Felipe and Evaristo Zambrano, Portugal's Jos� Brilha de Matos and Mexico's Mauricio Izaguirre. Suspicious despite the steam put on by the Hofheinz hustling team in Houston.
Men in expensive Stetsons and Borsalinos rocked back on their walking-boot heels before the blond wood panels imported from the Palais Murat for the $12 million Warwick Hotel and snorted: "Hell, I done seen this fighting where they don't kill the bull before, over in San Antone [ San Antonio], and it don't amount to a hill of beans." Out at the bright, new, orange, fully enclosed pens set up near the Astrodome there was sarcastic good humor quivering in the crisp sunny air. True aficionados first apologized for being there at all and then explained to initiates that the bulls must be kept from seeing people on foot to preserve their ignorance of man's movements for the bullring. So people peered at the bulls through tiny slots in the wall, inhaling the pungent odor of alfalfa and manure and listening to the Mexican and Spanish handlers arguing with the straw boss, a big, friendly Texan named Red Dozier.
Mr. Dozier came equipped with an electric cattle prod, which, he carefully explained, was only a mild DC, not the stronger variety favored in some communities for use on people. He had built the corral and also the 180-foot $15,000 bullring inside the Dome. "Yep, I'm the vice-president in charge of bulls," he said. "Putting them in these boxes makes them mad. Once you pen 'em and let 'em loose, it's Katy bar the door."
It was already understood that these bulls would have to be killed eventually, for no bull can be allowed to live after he has faced a matador. The Kay Packing Company already had bid for them, and after the fights they were to be taken to the slaughter pens and killed, humanely, of course, with sledgehammers, out of sight and mind of the spectators.
A powder-blue pickup truck marked " SPCA Animal Rescue" stood near the corral, evidence of the formidable presence of retired Army Major Jerrol Lowe of the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and his colleague, John O. Marston of the American Humane Association of Denver. They were there to see that the bulls had food and water and to check the pads that would go on the bulls' backs—half an inch of polyurethane foam and half an inch of carpet into which the banderillas could be stuck but which would prevent them from even touching the bull's skin. "Ridiculous," said one aficionado. "They'd do better to try suction cups on the banderillas." Quite a discussion ensued on how to glue the pads onto the bulls with rubber cement and then secure them with baling wire, something like the talk that must have first occurred when those mice decided to bell the cat.
The bulls were slightly undersize (360 to 400 kilos as compared to 500 kilos in Spanish bullfighting), but their handlers took pains to point out that they would not be slowed down or injured by either picador lances or banderillero barbs. As Architect and Bullring Designer Jos� Manuel Gomez explained: "When the matador has to simulate the moment of truth, by touching the bull over the horns symbolically, you must remember that the bull will still be in excellent condition, his head up, his spirit high, his murderous intent the same as ever. This kind of fight is the most dangerous for the matador, because the entire point of the various phases is to bring the bull to a condition where the matador can dominate and then kill him. Here he will only be killed symbolically."