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Sidney Franklin, American Jewish Bullfighter

Sidney Franklin Photo
Sidney Franklin. Photo courtesy
of Amazon.com.
As I learned via a recent tweet from @JewsnSports, September 20, 1923 marked the ring debut of American Jewish matador Sidney Franklin.
Franklin is a fascinating, and controversial, sports figure -- and that's no bull!

Born Sidney Fromkin to Orthodox parents in Brooklyn, New York in 1903, Sidney ran away from home at age 18 to escape his abusive father, according to this biography in Great Jews In Sports.

Franklin started a poster business, producing artwork for bullfights. On something of a dare from a friend who believed that Americans couldn't be matadors, Franklin trained for his first bullfight, according to the Encyclopedia of Jews in Sports.

Thus began Franklin's colorful career. He fought in Mexico, then became the first American to fight in Spain, becoming a full matador in 1945. At his peak, Franklin made more than $100,000 a year as a bullfighter, according to Great Jews in Sports.

Franklin suffered for his sport, too. In 1930, Franklin was gored so severely that he required multiple surgeries to repair extensive injuries that left him near death and unable to fight for several years. He survived, only to "die in obscurity in 1976," according to the Jewish Daily Forward.

Franklin's life was lived in the spotlight, though. He met Ernest Hemingway and was immortalized in one of the writer's great works, was profiled in a masterful write-up in the New Yorker, published an autobiography and starred in a movie.

Curiously, for all his fame and self-promotion, the matador has never been inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame or the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

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Jewish sports collectors have access to a surprising amount of the bullfighters' memorabilia.

Sidney Franklin KTAV Card
Sidney Franklin KTAV Card. Photo courtesy of Joshua Platt.
Beckett.com shows one trading card for the Jewish matador, number 4 in the 1963 Jewish Sports Champions cards produced by KTAV published as part of an activity book by the same name. None of the individual cards are for sale in the Beckett Marketplace, however.

An eBay search at the time of this posting yields no Franklin KTAV cards and just one copy of the 1963 activity book, Jewish Sports Champions, in which the card is featured.

Amazon.com shows three listings for the Jewish Sports Champions book, though none of the listings make specific mention of the cards. Same for ABEbooks.com. Collectors interested in buying the book for the trading cards should, therefore, be careful.

Amazon.com does have a number of Franklin items available for purchase, other than the KTAV activity book.

These include photos of Franklin, along with coffee mugs and a jig saw puzzle bearing his image. 

Bull Fighter from Brooklyn
Bullfight from Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of Amazon.com.
Also for sale on Amazon are copies of the matador's autobiography, Bullfighter from Brooklyn: An Autobiography of Sidney Franklin.

An article in the Jewish Daily Forward article about Franklin describes the bullfighter's autobiography as "self-promotional" and "largely fictitious."

I've not read the book, and am no expert on Franklin, so I cannot render critical judgement, one way or another. I would, however, suggest that any Franklin collection would be incomplete without the matador's own book. 

While I could find first editions of Franklin's book, I found no signed copies on AmazonABEbooks.com or eBay. Certainly autographed copies of Franklin's autobiography must exist. Do any JewishSportsCollectibles.com readers have one on their shelf?

Bart Paul's 2009 biography, Double-Edged Sword: The Many Lives of Hemingway's Friend, the American Matador Sidney Franklinprovides an outsider's look at Franklin's life. The book describes Franklin as "a gay man in the most masculine of worlds who triumphed over prejudice and adversity as he achieved what no American had ever accomplished, teaching even Hemingway lessons in grace, machismo, and respect." 

A well-written critical review of the book in the Jewish Daily Forward details the biography's short comings. These problems aside, Double-Edged Sword is, nevertheless, a must-have addition to any Franklin collection.

Double Edged Sword
Double Edged Sword. Photo courtesy of Amazon.com.
As the Paul's title details, Franklin was a friend of Ernest Hemingway's. As such, the bullfighter also figures prominently in books by and about the famed author.

The most notable of these is Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon, in which "Papa" devotes an entire chapter to Franklin.

"Franklin is brave with a cold, serene and intelligent valor," writes Hemingway, "but instead of being awkward and ignorant he is one of the most skillful, graceful and slow manipulators of a cape fighting today."

As the Jewish Daily Forward review notes, Hemingway "overpraised" Franklin in the book, and the friendship between the author and bullfighter cooled shortly thereafter. This well-deserved criticism aside, Death In The Afternoon also makes a worthwhile addition to a collector's Franklin book shelf.

Franklin was profiled by the New Yorker magazine, in a piece hailed as some of the best sports writing in the magazine's history, according to Wikipedia. Collectors can read Lillian Ross's story about Franklin in The Only Game in Town: Sportswriting from The New Yorker

As mentioned above, Encyclopedia of Jews in Sports and Great Jews In Sports also contain biographies of Franklin. These books are worthy general additions to any Jewish sports memorabilia collection or library, well beyond their inclusion of the biographies they have of the matador. 

The Kid From Spain
The Kid From Spain. Photo courtesy of Amazon.com.

According to the Jewish Daily Forward, Franklin appeared with Eddie Cantor in
The Kid From Spain, a comedy film "in which Franklin provides serious bullfighting expertise juxtaposed with Cantor’s clowning."

Critical reviews aside, a copy of Franklin's on screen appearance -- available on Amazon.com on DVD and VHS -- would make a nice addition to any collection of the matador's memorabilia.

A search of eBay for "Sidney Franklin bullfighter" or "Sidney Franklin bullfighting" yields numerous Franklin collectibles, in addition the above books and movies.

Bull Fighter From Brooklyn Comic Book
Sidney Franklin comic book. Photo courtesy
of eBay.
These include numerous vintage photos of Franklin and several newspapers reporting on the matador's exploits. Among the most interesting items are a 1920s promotional poster and a 1944 comic book.

Do you have any Sidney Franklin memorabilia in your Jewish sports collection? Share your thoughts with JewishSportsCollectibles.com readers by commenting below.

'Ole!

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Author's note: Collectors who want to know more about Sidney Franklin,  should contact the American Jewish Historical Society in New York. AJHS maintains a Franklin archive. The collection consists of "photographs of Franklin performing in the bullring, or posing with Spanish and Latin American matadors or famous Americans ... . There are also audio recordings of Franklin, a film proposal, clippings and a copy of Franklin’s autobiography." According to AJHS, additional photographs of Franklin and correspondence between the bullfighter and Earnest Hemingway are housed in the Ernest Hemingway Papers at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.