On June 8, 1948, indomitable matador Barnaby Conrad recounted his time in the ring to an enraptured Lobero audience.
Twenty-six years old at the time, he told of how, a few years earlier, he had impulsively (and fueled by tequila) leaped out of the stands and challenged a bull in Mexico City’s giant Plaza de Toros México bullring. Conrad had used his Brooks Brothers raincoat as a cape.
When he died in 2013 at the age of 90, Barnaby Conrad was one of Santa Barbara’s most beloved residents. Cate School alum, Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference founder, artist, and general bon-vivant, Conrad had met, and become friends with, many of the most important artistic talents of his day. Sinclair Lewis, John Steinbeck, Truman Capote, and Ray Bradbury were all close confidants of Conrad. But Conrad’s real hero, and eventual nemesis, was Ernest Hemingway.
After graduating from Cate School and then Yale, Barnaby Conrad went to work for the US State Department and served as a vice-consul in Spain. While there he followed Hemingway’s footsteps and took up the pursuits of boxing and bullfighting. In Madrid, Conrad became the protégé of Juan Belmonte, considered among the greatest of all matadors, and fought under the name “El Niño de California”, the California Kid. Conrad survived at 47 corridas (bullfights) in Spain, Mexico, and Peru.
After returning to the States, Conrad would use his bullfighting experience as the source of his most famous novel, “Matador”. Apparently, Ernest Hemingway was not impressed by “Matador”, and wrote a number of scathing letters about Conrad to his editor. In his obituary in the Paris Review, Conrad is quoted as saying about Hemingway, “I suppose that he felt I had invaded his territory, which I had. He felt that he owned bullfighting, and I think it hit a nerve that I dared to write about bulls.”
In 1958, Conrad was gored, almost fatally in a bullfight that was part of a charity event. After learning of the incident, the Hungarian actress Eva Gabor is said to have run into playwriter Noel Coward at Sardi’s restaurant in New York and asked him,
“Did you hear about poor Barnaby? He was terribly gored in Spain.” Coward replied, “Oh, thank heavens. I thought you said he was bored.”
Barnaby Conrad founded the Santa Barbara Writers Conference in 1973 and was a long-time attendee and supporter of the Lobero Theatre.
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