In all the years that men have fought and killed bulls in Spain, only one North American has ever taken the degree of Doctor of Tauromachia and had it confirmed in that country. He is John Fulton, a tall, intense and talented bachelor who was born Fulton John Sciocchetti on May 25, 1932 in Philadelphia, of all places. His father was Italian, his mother Hungarian. The father, a painting contractor, changed the last name to Short in the interest of brevity and intelligibility. Fulton dropped it altogether after he came to Spain because there is no sh sound in the Spanish language and transposed his given names.
That was the least of the sacrifices he made to become a bullfighter. The odds against anyone becoming a full matador de toros are, as Fulton once said, something on the order of those against Muhammad Ali being elected mayor of Birmingham. Until 1963, in the recorded history of the bullfight in Spain, only 671 matadors had taken their alternativas there. Of these, 537 were Spaniards, 78 Mexicans and 41 South Americans. The list trails off with two North Africans, one Puerto Rican, and one North American, Sidney Franklin, who was born in Brooklyn as Sidney Frumkin. Franklin actually took his alternativa in Mexico, but he did confirm it in Madrid in 1945, in his last professional fight there, at the ripe age of 40. One other American, a Texan, Harper Lee, took his alternativa in Mexico in 1910. But Fulton took his alternativa in Spain on July 18, 1963 in the most revered of Spanish bullrings—the Maestranza in Seville.
Fulton got hooked on the bulls when he was a student at North East High School in Philadelphia. He knew nothing of bulls and cared less until he saw Tyrone Power in Blood and Sand, then read Ernest Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon. "I liked the book," he says. "Then I met a Spanish dance teacher who was helping put on a play with a flamenco theme, and I went to that and fooled around with a cape she had. Later she introduced me to a guitar-playing Spanish barber who owned one of Chicuelo's old capes and knew bullfighters who came to see him on their way from Spain to Mexico. I met some of them, too."
By the time he was 19, studying art on a scholarship at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art, Fulton had decided to become a bullfighter himself. The barber taught him some passes, and Fulton sold some early bullfight paintings to a Philadelphia restaurateur, Victor Tarello, to get enough money for a frugal month in Mexico City. There he spent the mornings at the Plaza de Toros, watching apprentices at practice.
"After a while, the kids asked me if I'd like to try it," he says. "I did a couple of ver�nicas the barber had taught me and didn't fall over myself, and they were really surprised. 'Mira! The Yanqui is not bad!' "
Fulton saw his first real fight in the Plaza M�xico in Mexico City. "I liked everything I saw," he said. "I decided to return to Mexico the next summer."
On his second visit he discovered that the Instituto del Arte de Allende, an art school in San Miguel de Allende, offered scholarships for American artists, and he applied for one when he returned to Philadelphia. He received a year's scholarship and in 1953 went to San Miguel, ostensibly to study art but actually to study bullfighting. "My parents weren't exactly enthusiastic about my bullfighting ambitions," he said. "I needed a cover-up and the art school was just right."
In San Miguel, Fulton killed his first bull. He had worked with Luis Procuna, a Mexican matador who traded Fulton bullfighting lessons for instructions in fencing, and with Pepe Ortiz, an ex-matador who owned a bull ranch near San Miguel and let Fulton practice there. Ortiz, during his career as a matador, had invented several passes and had one named after him.
"The bulls were reject stock from the Santa Cecilia ranch," he recalls. "My problem was I didn't have the 50 bucks to pay for the bull. The scholarship only paid tuition and I was scratching out the rest selling drawings to turistas. Finally, the other students took up a collection and made up the money."
He fought in the traje corte (a short jacket, high-waist-ed trousers, boots and a broad-brimmed hat used on ranches and in informal fights), and on the first pass the bull knocked him flat. "It made me mad and I got up and did some good things," he said. "If I hadn't messed up the kill, I might have cut an ear."