A headline in the New York Sun on Sept. 4, 1940, captured accurately, albeit with amused condescension, the startling anomaly embodied by Conchita Cintron: “She’s a Timid Blue Eyed Girl But — She Kills Bulls Without Qualms.”
Cintron was 18 years old then and, as the headline went on to announce, had never been on a date, but she was already an international star of the bullring, a prodigy who was on her way to becoming perhaps the most celebrated torera in history. She was known as la Diosa Rubia, the “Blonde Goddess.”
“I have never had any qualms about it,” she said of her deadly skill in the article. “A qualm or a cringe before 1,200 pounds of enraged bull would be sure death.”
Cintron, who retired from bullfighting after having killed as many as 750 bulls in the ring, died in Lisbon on Tuesday. She was 86.
The cause of death was a heart attack, family members told the Portuguese news agency Lusa. Her death and burial were confirmed by a funeral agency and a local church, The Associated Press (AP) reported.
“She made an indelible mark on a period of bullfighting history,” Hugo Ferro, of the Portuguese Bullfighters’ Union, said in an interview with AP.
Cintron, an expert horsewoman and a dedicated athlete who was known for her seriousness of purpose and serene manner, was unusual in that she mastered two styles of bullfighting: Spanish, in which the matador (or matadora, in her case) is on foot, and Portuguese, in which the bullfighter is on horseback and known as a rejoneador or rejoneadora. She was one of the very few — if not the only, as some reports said — who used both styles in the same fight, opposing the bull first on foot, giving it a series of cape passes; then on horseback, from which she provoked the bull with short, barbed sticks; and finally making the kill, once again on foot.
She was injured many times in the ring and seriously gored twice, once in each thigh; both times she fought on and killed the bull. She described the technique of killing a bull in an interview with AP in 1940.
“The bull to a certain extent commits suicide when he charges,” she said. “There is a little spot just forward of the shoulders which is not exposed to the matador’s sword unless the bull is charging.”
She continued: “No, it doesn’t take great strength to kill a bull. It does take a keen eye, a steady nerve and a true hand. But if the sword strikes the proper spot, it penetrates easily.”
She was born Concepcion Cintron Verrill in Antofagasta, Chile, on Aug. 9, 1922. Her parents were American. Her father, Frank Cintron, was from Puerto Rico, a graduate of West Point and for a time a career Army officer before becoming a businessman in South America. Her mother, Loyola Verrill, was from Connecticut; in 1960 she wrote a book about her daughter’s life, Goddess of the Bullring, under the name Lola Verrill.
When Cintron was still an infant, the family moved to Lima, Peru, where she grew up and where she came under the tutelage of Ruy da Camara, once a renowned rejoneador, who had just opened a riding school. He was taken with her, then age 11. She became his prize pupil, and in the early years of her international travel he was her chaperon. “My maestro,” she called him throughout her life.
Da Camara also tutored her in fighting bulls on foot — and killing them. She entered the bullring for the first time in Portugal at 13; she killed her first bull, in Tarma, Peru, at 15. When her autobiography, Memoirs of a Bullfighter, was published in 1968, an article in Vogue described how she got used to the idea of killing by practicing at a slaughterhouse, for days on end jabbing in vain at doomed oxen with a dagger.