The author of the story beginning on page 26 about the alternativa of 18-year-old Texas matador David Renk was very nearly christened Juan Belmonte Conrad instead of Barnaby Conrad III. "It was nip and tuck," he says. Conrad's father, Barnaby Jr., was then a well-known amateur bullfighter in Spain in the 1940s who has since become the foremost American chronicler of that golden age of bullfighting. The elder Conrad was a friend not only of the great Belmonte, but also of most of the major toreros of the period. He wrote a novel, Matador, that sold 2½ million copies, and among several articles he did for SI during the 1950s and '60s was a memorable profile of the greatest of all Mexican bullfighters, Carlos Arruza (Homage to a Peerless Matador, SI, Aug. 1, 1966).
Though a Californian, Barnaby III, 29, was born to afición. When he was six his father was severely gored and he recalls clearly the look of the wound. At 12 he attended his first bullfight, and at 14 he watched Arruza fight rejoneo, from horseback. When he was 17 his father bought him a calf with five-inch horns and allowed him to cape the animal at a ranch in Mexico. The Conrads had traveled to Mexico by boat from San Francisco, and Barnaby III remembers practicing his capework en route, using his stepbrother, Bill Slater, as the bull.
Although this Mexican adventure didn't make a bullfighter out of the young Conrad, an experience the following year did turn him into a writer. After graduating from the Taft School in Watertown, Conn. and before entering Yale, he traveled to Spain for the first time. While in Pamplona he did, perhaps inevitably, exactly what his father had told him not to do: He "ran before the bulls," that very Spanish exercise in machismo that Hemingway glorified in The Sun Also Rises.
In fact, he did it twice. The first time he was cautious, joining the crowd as it careened through the streets toward the bullring, well ahead of eight thundering bulls and assorted steers. The second day he waited a while longer before jumping into the stream of young men.
July 5, 1981
"Somebody tripped in the tunnel leading into the ring," says Conrad, "and there was an unbelievable chain reaction. I ran into the darkness and immediately pitched forward onto a pile of people, and others fell on top of me. Before I knew it there was a great mess, a jumble of bodies. It was like hell, something out of Goya. The bulls came through the tunnel and climbed right over the mountain of people. One hoof came so close to my head that I could see flakes of manure stuck to it."
One man was gored that day and 38 more were injured, Barnaby Conrad III, former preppy, among them. That night, with two cracked ribs, a bruised elbow and a badly swollen left hand, Conrad took a train back to Madrid. Despite his injured hand, he began on that trip to write about his experience. Eventually he sold his story to the San Francisco Examiner for $100 and he has been writing ever since. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED is pleased to welcome another Barnaby Conrad to its pages.