By Michael Gregg
(New York: Three Rivers Press/Crown/Random House,
Review by Dr.
Central Texas Historical Association
February 1, 2023
"Do you think the end of the world will come at nighttime?"
(Plato Crawford in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, 1955)
the salacious and widespread rumors, Sal Mineo was the victim of a
random, botched robbery that occurred near the parking lot of his
West Hollywood apartment. The actor's assailant had no idea who Mineo
wasin his quest for a quick buck, any victim would suffice.
The assault had nothing to do with the former teen idol's lifestyle
and his "freewheeling sexuality." Sal was targeted neither by a spurned
male lover nor killed over a drug deal. His attacker stabbed Mineo
in the chest, piercing his heart; he perished from "a massive hemorrhage."
Cut dead just before 9:30 on the night of February 12, 1976, Sal,
age thirty-seven, was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Over the course of his career, which lasted from 1950 until his untimely
demise, Mineo appeared in more than twenty films. Sal also directed,
and acted in, numerous plays (most notably in THE KING AND I, FORTUNE
AND MEN'S EYES, and P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD) and frequently showed up
on television, making guest appearances on such popular programs as
JUKE BOX JURY, THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW, AMERICAN BANDSTAND, COMBAT!,
THE PATTY DUKE SHOW, THE MATCH GAME, HAWAII FIVE-O, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE,
MY THREE SONS, THE DATING GAME, HARRY O, POLICE STORY, S.W.A.T., COLUMBO,
and ELLERY QUEEN. Mineo's final television appearance was in an episode
of the police show JOE FORRESTER, which aired on NBC just ten days
before his death. Furthermore, Sal enjoyed popularity in the late
Fifties as a pop singer, earning two Top Forty singles.
Mineo received two Oscar nominations, for his unforgettable performances
as doomed youth Plato Crawford in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955) and
Holocaust survivor Dov Landau in EXODUS (1960). He won a Golden Globe
for the latter motion picture, on which he met his longtime intimate
Jill Haworth. The attractive young couple appeared on the December
12, 1960, cover of LIFE magazine, promoting their film.
Sal struggled in making the transition from teen to adult actor. His
private life cost him roles as well. Although Mineo's career was characterized
by great highs and lengthy lows, he worked for some of cinema's best
directors, including Nicholas Ray (REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, 1955), Don
Siegel (CRIME IN THE STREETS, 1956), Robert Wise (SOMEBODY UP THERE
LIKES ME, 1956), George Stevens (GIANT, 1956 and 1965's THE GREATEST
STORY EVER TOLD), Raoul Walsh (A PRIVATE'S AFFAIR, 1959), Otto Preminger
(EXODUS, 1960), Ronald Neame (ESCAPE FROM ZAHRAIN, 1962), and John
Ford (CHEYENNE AUTUMN, 1964). He also had a small role in the iconic
World War II
epic, THE LONGEST DAY (produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, 1962). Moreover,
Sal starred with Juliet Prowse in the gritty, dark, and disturbing
1965 movie, WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR?, now considered a cult classic.
SAL MINEO: A BIOGRAPHY, Michael Gregg Michaud thoughtfully examines
the New York City-born actor's fascinating, eventful life. Here are
five intriguing insights and observations from this superb and candid
In REBEL WITHOUT
A CAUSE, Mineo's character "represented a teenage boy that homosexual
teenagers could recognize and empathize with. Sal's searing and
sympathetic portrayal of Plato burned a hole in the movie screen
and in the hearts of millions of teenage girls and boys…the character
of Plato eventually became known as the first gay teenager in the
many parts that he did not receive. Sal declared, "All of a sudden,
my agents told me, 'You're not a hot property anymore.' And they
were right, I wasn't. I wasn't getting any offers…The roles I wanted
most went to new people." These included Chico in THE MAGNIFICENT
SEVEN (played by Horst Buchholz), Perry Smith in IN COLD BLOOD (played
by Robert Blake), Ratso Rizzo in MIDNIGHT COWBOY (played by Dustin
Hoffman), and Michael Corleone in THE GODFATHER (played by Al Pacino).
And in 1968, he was set to star in a spaghetti western, which never
materialized, called THE LAST OF THE GUNFIGHTERS. Sal also bought
the film rights for THE LAST PICTURE SHOW. "One day," Michaud observes,
Mineo "gave the book to Peter Bogdanovich and told him he had tried
in vain to produce it but still believed it would make a great film.
Sal felt he was too old to play the lead. The director recognized
the cinematic potential of the novel, quickly obtained the film
rights when Sal's option expired, and eventually directed the film."
Bobby Kennedy in his run for the presidency. According to Michaud,
Sal "served as honorary Los Angeles chairman of the Young Democrats
for Kennedy in 1968 and appeared at several rallies and fund-raisers."
Although it was never made, Sal planned to play Sirhan Sirhan in
a proposed motion picture. "It was just horrible," he asserted,
"when I learned of the assassination. At first, I didn't see how
I could ever portray Kennedy's killer. I had always been convinced
that Sirhan was the lone gunman who killed Kennedy but now I believe
there are grounds for doubt. If the film can influence the courts
to reopen the case or force out new facts and answer questions,
then it will serve its purpose." Mineo also discounted the official
explanation for the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy,
calling the Warren Commission "bullshit."
By the mid-1960s,
Mineo's motion picture career slowed considerably. After 1965, he
made only three movies, two in 1969 and one in 1971, until his death
in 1976. Sal despised his final film, ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF
THE APES, in which he played Milo, a chimpanzee. "Sal," Jill Haworth
contended, "was trying very hard to be relevant. He was trying to
be a member of contemporary, working Hollywood. He wanted to fit
in. He wanted a place at the table. But in a way, he was an anachronism.
He represented the past, and many people saw him as a leftover or
reminder of the Fifties. And he hated that."
The NEW YORK
TIMES covered the actor's service, held in New York five days after
his death. According to the report, "When Plato, the alienated teenager
played by Sal Mineo, died at the end of the 1955 film REBEL WITHOUT
A CAUSE, he was mourned only by the family housekeeper and two high
school friends. At Sal Mineo's funeral today, about 250 people crowded
into the church, and dozens more stood outside in a cold rain."
Mineo's brother-in-law delivered the eulogy: "Sal was a rare and
very special person, a gentle man, whose sensitivity and understanding
affected everyone he met. Those who love him knew he loved life
and that he lived with courage, abandon, humor, style, and grace.
His art, what he created, will always stand."
Fans of the Texas epic, GIANT, likely recall Sal in the small but
memorable role of Angel Obregon, a young soldier from Reata who lost
his life in World
War II. Mineo's character, Michaud argues, "had one of the most
effective and dramatic moments in the sprawling film. Cutting away
from Angel's good-byes at the ranch, the film reveals the Obregon
family standing expectantly on a railroad platform, seemingly waiting
for his return home from duty. When the train pulls away from the
station, though, it reveals Angel's flag-draped coffin."