Salvatore "Sal" Mineo, Jr. (January 10, 1939 – February 12, 1976) was an American movie and stage Actor, famous for his Academy Award-nominated performance opposite James Dean in the film Rebel Without a Cause.
Acting career[edit | edit source]
After a few more film and television appearances his breakthrough was Rebel Without A Cause (1955) in which he gave an impressive performance as John "Plato" Crawford, the sensitive teenager smitten with James Dean's Jim Stark. His biographer Paul Jeffers recounted that Mineo received thousands of fan letters from young female admirers, was mobbed by them at public appearances and further wrote, "He dated the most beautiful women in Hollywood and New York." On the other hand, in An Introduction to Film Studies (2003), Jill Nelmes discusses "how gay men derived particular sub-cultural messages from such films as Rebel Without a Cause when empathising with the relationship between Jim (James Dean) and Plato (Sal Mineo)." According to Robert Aldrich and Garry Wotherspoon's Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day, Dean's "loving tenderness towards the besotted Sal Mineo in Rebel Without a Cause" touches and excites "gay audiences by its honesty." Mineo also appeared in Dean's last film, Giant (1956), although they didn't share any screen time.
Many of his subsequent roles were variations of his role in Rebel Without a Cause and he often played juvenile delinquents. In the Disney adventure Tonka, for instance, Mineo starred as a young Sioux named White Bull who traps and domesticates a clear-eyed, spirited wild horse named "Tonka" who becomes the famous horse Comanche. In his book, Multiculturalism And The Mouse: Race and Sex in Disney Entertainment (2006), Douglas Brode states that the very casting of Mineo as White Bull again "ensured a homosexual subtext." By the late 1950s the actor was a major celebrity, sometimes referred to as the "Switchblade Kid."
In 1957, Mineo made a brief foray into music by recording a handful of songs and an album. Two of his singles reached the Top 40 pop charts. He starred as drummer Gene Krupa in the movie The Gene Krupa Story (1959), co-starring Susan Kohner, James Darren, and Susan Oliver, and directed by Don Weis.
Meanwhile, Mineo made an effort to break his typecasting. His acting ability and exotic good looks earned him not only roles as a Native American boy in Tonka, but also as a Jewish emigrant in Otto Preminger's Exodus (1960) for which he received another Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor (and reportedly was bitterly disappointed when he didn't win.)
By the early 1960s he was getting too old to play the types that had made him famous and for a variety of reasons wasn't considered appropriate for leading roles. He auditioned for David Lean's film Lawrence of Arabia but wasn't hired. Mineo was baffled by his sudden loss of popularity, later saying "One minute it seemed I had more movie offers than I could handle, the next, no one wanted me."
His role as a stalker in Who Killed Teddy Bear? (1965), co-starring Juliet Prowse, didn't seem to help. Although his performance was praised by critics, he found himself typecast anew, now as a deranged criminal. (He never entirely escaped this; one of his last roles was a guest spot on the 1975 TV series S.W.A.T. playing a Manson-like cult leader.) He returned to the stage to produce the gay-themed Fortune and Men's Eyes (1971), starring Don Johnson of later Miami Vice fame. Although the play got positive reviews in Los Angeles, it was panned during a run in New York and its expanded prison rape scene was criticized as excessive and prurient. A string of failed projects and flops followed. A small role in Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) as chimpanzee Dr. Milo turned out to be Mineo's last movie appearance.
Murder[edit | edit source]
By 1976 Mineo's career seemed to be turning around again. Playing the role of a gay burglar in a San Francisco run of the stage comedy P.S. Your Cat Is Dead, he received substantial publicity from many positive reviews and moved on to Los Angeles with the play. Arriving home after a rehearsal on February 12, 1976, Mineo was stabbed to death in the alley behind a West Hollywood apartment building. He was 37 years old. (He was stabbed just once, not repeatedly as first reported, but the blade struck his heart, leading to immediate and massive internal bleeding.)
According to Warren Johansson and William A. Percy's Outing: Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence, he was murdered under circumstances that suggested "a homosexual motive." Investigators reportedly found gay pornography in his home and assumed that such men would only have their sexuality as a defining mark in every aspect of their life. (Mineo identified himself as "bisexual" in a 1972 interview, published after his death, but his biography notes that he dated men exclusively in the last years of his short life.)
A career criminal named Lionel Ray Williams was later sentenced to life in prison for killing Mineo. Although there was considerable confusion relating to what witnesses had seen in the darkness the night Mineo was murdered, Williams was reported to have boasted of the crime, which turned out to be a botched mugging. At the time of the murder, Williams had no idea who Sal Mineo was. Williams was paroled in 1990, after serving twelve years, but was jailed numerous times afterwards for parole violations.
At the opera[edit | edit source]
A little-known facet of Mineo's career was his involvement with opera. On May 8 1954, he portrayed the Page (miming to the voice of mezzo-soprano Carol Jones) in the NBC Opera Theatre's production of Richard Strauss' Salome (in English translation), set to the play of Oscar Wilde. Elaine Malbin performed the title role, and Peter Herman Adler conducted Kirk Browning's production.
Quote[edit | edit source]
"No one ever said movies are for developing your range. Hardly anyone gets that opportunity. Which is why I think the stage is so good. It's less bread, but you can play different types, and you can initiate your own projects."
References[edit | edit source]
- Frascella, Lawrence and Weisel, Al : Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause (Touchstone, 2005) ISBN 0-7432-6082-1
- Gilmore, John, Laid Bare: A Memoir of Wrecked Lives and the Hollywood Death Trip (Amok Books, 1998) ISBN 1-878923-08-0
- Jeffers, H. Paul, Sal Mineo: His Life, Murder, and Mystery (Carroll & Graf Publishers 2000) ISBN 0-7867-0777-1
- Johansson, Warren & Percy, William A. Outing: Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence. (Harrington Park Press, 1994), p.91.
[edit | edit source]
- Sal Mineo at the Internet Movie Database, including filmography.
- Crime Library - Biography, and more detailed discussion of Mineo's murder
- Crime Magazine - The Murder of Sal Mineo
- Transcript of interview with Boze Hadleigh (1972) and Hadleigh's comments following Mineo's death
- GLBTQ Encyclopedia
- - Spotlight Sal Mineo
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