“It’s a situation I’ve never been able to fathom. One minute, it seemed I had more movie offers than I could handle, the next — no one wanted me.” — Sal Mineo

It’s his birthday today.

I cannot imagine what it must have been like to be a gay kid in the 1950s and see Rebel Without a Cause, particularly Sal Mineo’s performance as “Plato,” the lonely teenage boy, with a picture of Alan Ladd hanging in his locker, and a burgeoning crush on Jim (James Dean), whom he stares at in the high school hallway with a mixture of longing, hope, and fear.

That’s not subtext. That’s text. In a memo, the Warner Brothers censor warned:

“It is of course vital that there be no inference of a questionable or homosexual relationship between Plato and Jim.”

Too late, pallie.

I wrote a lengthy piece on Rebel Without a Cause here. The experience of Rebel remains as intense as the first time I saw it (and it had a huge impact on me as a teenager), only now it’s even more intense, considering the early and violent ends of its three captivating charismatic stars.

Mineo was nominated for an Academy Award for Rebel, and another Academy Award in 1960 for his performance in Exodus, directed by Otto Preminger, based on the best-selling novel by Leon Uris about the formation of the state of Israel. You’d think two Oscar nominations might have helped solidify at least the opportunities coming his way. But that wasn’t to be the case. Work dried up for him in the 1960s (similar to what happened with a lot of 1950s heartthrobs. The 60s were a very weird era for movies. Very weird.) Mineo’s time at “the top” was short-lived. He was type-cast. He got bored with that. He moved to theatre, directing and acting in plays. He got good reviews in these plays, because of course he did, he was an amazing actor. Even after offers from the mainstream industry dried up, he kept working. I admire this about him. He did a lot of television, participating in the boom of live television in the 1950s, an era when so many great actors and directors and writers cut their teeth in the most exciting and stressful environment possible.

In 1957, Mineo came out with an album, and a couple of the tracks charted pretty high on Billboard, like the swinging “Start Movin’ In My Direction.”

He was a teen heartthrob!

Here’s a rather bizarre clip, but I got sucked into it, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. In 1959, with much fanfare, Sal Mineo played famous drummer Gene Krupa in a biopic, The Gene Krupa Story, and this appearance on the game show I’ve Got a Secret was part of the promotional push.

I am haunted by Sal Mineo’s end. His painful frightening end. In 1976, he was in rehearsal for a production of P.S. Your Cat is Dead. A working actor. He came home, parked his car in the carport, and was stabbed to death by a man he did not know. He must have been so scared. It’s a heart-rending image of him all alone, in this horrifying terrifying situation. The guy fled the scene. The murder was chalked up to a “gay thing” and not really investigated. Jeffrey Dahmer, anyone? It’s infuriating. When leads dried up, no one pursued it. It wasn’t until 1979 that Lionel Ray Williams, busted for a bunch of robberies, was also charged with the murder of Sal Mineo – Williams didn’t know him, didn’t know OF him, the attack was completely random.

For The Hollywood Reporter, James Ellroy published the results of his own investigation into the initial police investigation of Sal Mineo’s murder. It’s a fascinating and very sad read.

Mineo was a tender and sensitive talent. New generations continue to discover him.

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8 Responses to “It’s a situation I’ve never been able to fathom. One minute, it seemed I had more movie offers than I could handle, the next — no one wanted me.” — Sal Mineo

  1. mutecypher says:

    The James Ellroy article reminded me of what a terrible ending he had. How awful to have run into that brainless piece of evil.

    • sheila says:

      I know, right? The randomness of it just haunts me. also how long it took for the cops to figure it out – because of said randomness. Mineo must have been so afraid. It’s just awful.

  2. Melissa Sutherland says:

    He and I share the same birthday, though he was older. What’s funny to me, is that Rod Stewart and I were both born on this day, IN THE SAME YEAR. He’s had quite a career and 9 kids, I think.

    Sal Mineo was, from everything I’ve heard. one of the nicest guys around. I cannot bear to think of his death. Dying is bad enough…….

  3. Tracy says:

    Esquire just re-ran an essay Peter Bogdanovich did on Sal Mineo back in 1978. They were contemporaries and became friends. It’s a great article and gives an intimate look into a side of Sal Mineo that most of the other pieces I’ve read about him didn’t bother with, probably because there is nothing “sensational” in what Bogdanovich wrote. It’s beautifully written by someone that you can tell truly cared about him.

  4. Bill Wolfe says:

    It seems like Sal Mineo would have been a perfect actor for the American New Wave directors of the late 1960s and 1970s to have given a new life. It’s a shame that didn’t happen.

    • sheila says:

      AbsoLUTEly. He was ripe for rediscovery. Easy to picture him alongside Hoffman or Hackman … an elder statesman of the craft – the baby-faced teen now an adult man – with all kinds of experience behind him.

      It’s a very sad story.

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