Mineo was born in The Bronx, the son of Sicilian coffin makers. His mother enrolled him in dancing and acting school at an early age. He had his first stage appearance in The Rose Tattoo (1951), a play by Tennessee Williams. He also played the young prince opposite Yul Brynner in the stage musical The King and I. Brynner took the opportunity to help Mineo better himself as an actor.
As a teenager, Mineo appeared on ABC's musical quiz program Jukebox Jury, which aired in the 1953-1954 season. Mineo made several television appearances before making his screen debut in 1955 in the Joseph Pevney film Six Bridges to Cross. He beat out Clint Eastwood to the role. Mineo had also successfully auditioned for a part in The Private War of Major Benson as a cadet colonel opposite Charlton Heston.
Sal Mineo was an American film and theatre actor, best known for his performance as John "Plato" Crawford opposite James Dean in the film Rebel Without a Cause. He became involved with many young women, including Jill Haworth, his co-star in "Exodus." Michaud convinced Haworth to open up for the first time about her relationship with Mineo. Haworth later told that she thought Courtney Burr III, the man with whom Mineo spent the last six years of his life, was the "love of Mineo's life."
Harold Stevenson's The New Adam
Sal Mineo & Courtney Burr on stage
Courtney Burr And Sal Mineo
His breakthrough then came in Rebel Without a Cause, in which he played John "Plato" Crawford, the sensitive teenager smitten with Jim Stark (played by James Dean). His performance resulted in an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor, and his popularity quickly developed. Mineo's biographer, Paul Jeffers, recounted that Mineo received thousands of letters from young female fans, was mobbed by them at public appearances and further wrote, "He dated the most beautiful women in Hollywood and New York."
Mineo played a Mexican boy in Giant (1956), but many of his subsequent roles were variations of his role in Rebel Without a Cause, and he was typecast as a troubled teen. 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 Comanche.
In Multiculturalism and the Mouse: Race and Sex in Disney Entertainment (2006), Douglas Brode states that the 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"—a nickname he earned from his role as a criminal in the movie Crime in the Streets.
In 1957, Mineo made a brief foray into pop music by recording a handful of songs and an album. Two of his singles reached the Top 40 in the United States Billboard Hot 100. The more popular of the two, "Start Movin' (In My Direction)", reached #9 on Billboard's pop chart. It sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc. He starred as drummer Gene Krupa in the movie The Gene Krupa Story, directed by Don Weis with Susan Kohner, James Darren and Susan Oliver.
Mineo made an effort to break his typecasting. His acting ability and exotic good looks earned him roles as a Native American boy in Tonka, and as a Jewish emigrant in Otto Preminger's Exodus, for which he won a Golden Globe Award and received another Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor.
By the early 1960s, he was becoming too old to play the type of role that had made him famous and was not considered appropriate for leading roles. He auditioned for David Lean's film Lawrence of Arabia but was not 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." He did appear on The Patty Duke Show in its second season (1964). The episode was called "Patty Meets a Celebrity". There are stories he attempted to revive his career by camping out on the front lawn of Francis Ford Coppola's home for a chance to win the role of Fredo in The Godfather, but the role went to John Cazale.
His role as a stalker in Who Killed Teddy Bear?, co-starring Juliet Prowse, did not 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 Charles Manson-like cult leader.) He returned to the stage to produce the 1971 gay-themed Fortune and Men's Eyes (starring Don Johnson). This play gathered positive reviews in Los Angeles but was panned during its New York run, and its expanded prison rape scene was criticized as excessive and gratuitous. A small role in Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) as the chimpanzee Dr. Milo was Mineo's last appearance in a motion picture. In 1973, Mineo appeared as Rachman Habib, assistant to the president of a Middle Eastern country, in the episode "A Case of Immunity" on the NBC crime drama Columbo. He also appeared in two episodes of Hawaii Five-O, in 1968 and 1975.
In the late 1960s, Mineo became one of the first major actors in Hollywood to publicly acknowledge his homosexuality.
By 1976, Mineo's career had begun to turn around. Playing the role of a bisexual burglar in a series of stage performances of the comedy P.S. Your Cat Is Dead in San Francisco, Mineo received substantial publicity from many positive reviews, and he moved to Los Angeles along with the play. Arriving home after a rehearsal on February 12, 1976, Mineo was stabbed to death in the alley behind his apartment building in West Hollywood, California. He was 37 years old. Mineo was stabbed just once, not repeatedly as first reported, but the knife blade struck his heart, leading to immediate and fatal internal bleeding. Mineo's remains were interred in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.
After a lengthy investigation, pizza deliveryman Lionel Ray Williams was arrested for the crime. In March 1979 he was convicted and sentenced to 57 years in prison for killing Mineo and for committing 10 robberies in the same area. Although there was considerable confusion as to what witnesses had seen in the darkness on the night Mineo was murdered, it was later revealed that prison guards had overheard Williams admitting to the stabbing. Williams had claimed that he had no idea who Mineo was. Rumors that the attack was in response to Mineo soliciting Williams for sex were unfounded. There has been speculation that Williams is connected to the unsolved murder of actress Christa Helm, who was murdered in the same neighborhood in a strikingly similar way, one year later on the very same day. Williams was not arrested until after the murder of Helm.
Williams was paroled in the early 1990s, but he was imprisoned again soon for criminal activity.
Sal Mineo was the model for Harold Stevenson's painting The New Adam. The painting is currently part of Guggenheim Museum's permanent collection, and is considered "one of the great American nudes".
Mineo's career included involvement with opera. On May 8, 1954, he portrayed the Page (lip-synching to the voice of mezzo-soprano Carol Jones) in the NBC Opera Theatre's production of Richard Strauss' Salome (in English translation), set to Oscar Wilde's play. Elaine Malbin performed the title role, and Peter Herman Adler conducted Kirk Browning's production.
In December 1972, Mineo stage directed Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium, in Detroit. Muriel Costa-Greenspon portrayed the title character, Madame Flora, and Mineo himself played the mute Toby.
Burial: Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne, Westchester County, New York, USA
Rebel Without a Cause, the most famous of hundreds of delinquent films, made the teen rebel into a national hero. Nicholas Ray directed the 1955 film and also wrote the story, which was originally adapted for the screen by Irving Shulman. James Dean was iconic as misunderstood teen Jim Stark. Jim's two relationships in the film are with Judy, an unhappy young woman played by Natalie Wood, and Plato, a troubled gay teen played by Sal Mineo. Ray was clear in establishing Plato's sexuality: the teen keeps a photograph of actor Alan Ladd in his school locker and is obviously in love with Jim. In one unfilmed version of the script, Jim and Plato kiss. Mineo would later claim he was "proud to play the first gay teenager in films." Ray consciously used sexually ambiguous images - all of the young men in the film look like Hollywood versions of the Physique models - to enhance the film's sexual and emotional appeal. Rebel and other films were successfully mainstreaming an iconic homsexual type, barely concealed, to a huge audience who remained unaware of its origins.Further Readings:
The new ideas about masculinity that emerged from homosexual culture were reinforced by the homosexual influence in the film industry. Actors such as Hudson, Nader, and Hunter "helped set the style and tone of masculinity for a generation," even as their homosexuality and relationships were open knowledge within the industry. Not coincidently, Rebel, a film with tremendous impact on American culture, had roots in nontraditional sexual cultures. Nicholas Ray, who was married four times, was sexually involved with both women and men for most of his life. James Dean and Sal Mineo were both primarily homosexual. Jack Simmons, alledegly Dean's boyfriend at the time, played one of the gang members. The film industry was tolerant of nonheterosexual behaviors as long as they were not publicized, and most actors were able to be successfully closeted while having great influence on the popular, heterosexual imagination. This was true of Tryon, Perkins, Dean, and Clift. Teen heartthrobs Guy Madison and Rory Calhoun had a long-term affair. Many homosexuals had marriages of convenience. Hudson was married to Phyllis Gates, who was his agent's secretary and a lesbian, for a short period of time to please his fan base and the studio executives. --A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski
Sal Mineo: A Biography by Michael Gregg Michaud
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Three Rivers Press; Reprint edition (October 11, 2011)
Amazon: Sal Mineo: A Biography
Sal Mineo is probably most well-known for his unforgettable, Academy Award–nominated turn opposite James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and his tragic murder at the age of thirty-seven. Finally, in this riveting new biography filled with exclusive, candid interviews with both Mineo’s closest female and male lovers and never-before-published photographs, Michael Gregg Michaud tells the full story of this remarkable young actor’s life, charting his meteoric rise to fame and turbulent career and private life.
One of the hottest stars of the 1950s, Mineo grew up as the son of Sicilian immigrants in a humble Bronx flat. But by age eleven, he appeared on Broadway in Tennessee Williams’s The Rose Tattoo, and then as Prince Chulalongkorn in the original Broadway production of The King and I starring Yul Brynner and Gertrude Lawrence. This sultry-eyed, dark-haired male ingénue of sorts appeared on the cover of every major magazine, thousands of star-struck fans attended his premieres, and millions bought his records, which included several top-ten hits.
His life offstage was just as exhilarating: full of sports cars, motor boats, famous friends, and some of the most beautiful young actresses in Hollywood. But it was fourteen-year-old Jill Haworth, his costar in Exodus—the film that delivered one of the greatest acting roles of his life and earned him another Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe win—with whom he fell in love and moved to the West Coast. But by the 1960s, a series of professional missteps and an increasingly tumultuous private life reversed his fortunes.
By the late sixties and early seventies, grappling with the repercussions of publicly admitting his homosexuality and struggling to reinvent himself from an aging teen idol, Mineo turned toward increasingly self-destructive behavior. Yet his creative impulses never foundered. He began directing and producing controversial off-Broadway plays that explored social and sexual taboos. He also found personal happiness in a relationship with male actor Courtney Burr. Tragically, on the cusp of turning a new page in his life, Mineo’s life was cut short in a botched robbery.
Revealing a charming, mischievous, creative, and often scandalous side of Mineo few have known before now, Sal Mineo is an intimate, moving biography of a distinctive Hollywood star.
Sal Mineo: His Life, Murder, and Mystery by H. Paul Jeffers
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Carroll & Graf (May 10, 2002)
Amazon: Sal Mineo: His Life, Murder, and Mystery
This long-overdue biography chronicles the dramatic ups and troubled downs of a career that won 1950s teen screen idol Sal Mineo two Oscar nominations—for Rebel Without a Cause (with James Dean) and Exodus—before he was twenty-one and ended with a movie has-been’s shocking death, at thirty-seven, by a stab wound in the chest. As this carefully and caringly researched biography shows, Sal Mineo’s talents far exceeded the limits typecasting imposed upon a career that saddled him with the nickname, The Switchblade Kid. It also demonstrates that Mineo’s decline had less to do with the loss of the baby-face good looks that quickened the heartbeat of teenage girls than it did with his unwillingness to deny his homosexuality. Investigating the mystery that continues to surround Sal Mineo’s tragic death and sifting the facts from the fictions that shroud his private life, this serious study of the man and the star sympathetically chronicles the thirty-seven years that made an “erotic politician” and gay icon of a street kid and teen idol. 24 pages of black-and-white photographs are included.
Idol Worship by Michael Ferguson
Paperback: 357 pages
Publisher: STARbooks Press; 2nd edition (June 1, 2005)
Amazon: Idol Worship
Ferguson painstakingly plows through Hollywood’s past and digs up the dirt on every male sex icon there ever was! --Instinct Magazine, February 2004
More LGBT Couples at my website: www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Real Life Romance
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