Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Rebel" Actor Sal Mineo Heart Stabbed in a West Hollywood Alley 1976


Salvatore Mineo, Jr. (January 10, 1939 – February 12, 1976), better known as Sal Mineo, was an American film and theatre actor, best known for his performance opposite James Dean in the film Rebel Without a Cause.[2]


Early career

Mineo, born in The Bronx, the son of Sicilian coffin makers, was enrolled by his mother in dancing and acting school at an early age.[3] He had his first stage appearance in The Rose Tattoo (1951),[2] 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 a young Mineo better himself as an actor.[1]

After film and television appearances, his breakthrough was Rebel Without A Cause,[2] 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.[1] Mineo's 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."[4]

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.[5] 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" - a nickname he earned from his role as a criminal in the movie Crime in the Streets.[1]

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.[6] The more popular of the two, "Start Movin' (In My Direction)," reached #9 on Billboard's Pop chart. He starred as drummer Gene Krupa in the movie The Gene Krupa Story, 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, for which he won a Golden Globe Award and received another Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor.


Attempted resurgence

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.[3] 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?, 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). The play garnered 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 chimpanzee Dr. Milo would be Mineo's last movie appearance. In 1973, Mineo appeared as Gamal Zaki, assistant to the president of a Middle Eastern country, who faces an assassination threat in the episode "Prey" of ABC crime drama, Columbo, starring with Peter Falk.

Westwood Playhouse, now the Geffen PlayhouseWestwood Playhouse, now the Geffen Playhouse
Death

By 1976 Mineo's career had begun to turn around.[7] 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 at the Westwood Playhouse (now the Geffen, above) on February 12, 1976, Mineo was stabbed to death in the alley behind his West Hollywood apartment building (below). He was 37 years old. Mineo was stabbed just once, not repeatedly as first reported, but the blade struck his heart, leading to immediate and massive internal bleeding.[8] Mineo was interred at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.[9]

Alley behind Holloway apartment where Sal Mineo was stabbed in his heart.

Alley behind Holloway apartment where Sal Mineo was stabbed in his heart.

Alley behind Holloway apartment where Sal Mineo was stabbed in his heart.
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." Despite a high-profile romance with actress Jill Haworth, Mineo identified himself as bisexual in a 1972 interview,[3] published after his death, but his biography notes that he dated men exclusively in the last years of his life.


Arrest in Mineo's killing

A pizza deliveryman, Lionel Ray Williams, was sentenced to 57 years in prison for killing Mineo and committing 10 robberies in the same vicinity.[10] Although there was considerable confusion relating to what witnesses had seen in the darkness the night Mineo was murdered, it was later revealed that prison guards reportedly overheard Williams admitting to the crime.[7] Williams claimed he had no idea who Mineo was. Williams was paroled in the early 1990s, but was soon jailed again for criminal activity.[3] Many of Mineo's friends believed that Williams was not the murderer, especially since a blond white man was seen running from the incident.

Sal Mineo's apartment building on Holloway Drive, West Hollywood

Sal Mineo's Holloway apartment building
Footnotes

1.^ Bell, Rachael, The Switchblade Kid: The Life and Death of Sal Mineo,
2.^ Holliday, Peter J., Mineo, Sal (1939-1976),
3.^ Noe, Denise, The Murder of Sal Mineo
4.^ Jeffers, Paul (2000). Sal Mineo: His Life, Murder, and Mystery. New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers. ISBN 0786707771.
5.^ Smith, Laura C., Untimely End for a 'Rebel'
6.^ salmineo.com. "Sal Mineo Mini biography"
7.^ Ellis, Chris; Julie Ellis (2005). The Mammoth Book of Celebrity Murder. New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers. pp. 419–422. ISBN 0786715685.
8.^ Rachael Bell (2008). "The Switchblade Kid: The Life and Death of Sal Mineo". TruTV. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.
9.^ Sal Mineo at Find a Grave
10.^ Los Angeles Times, Actor Sal Mineo Is Stabbed to Death
11.^ Mann, Ted, The New Adam
12.^ Vogel, Carol. "Exposure for a Nude"
13.^ Stevenson, Harold. "The New Adam Article"

1 comment:

  1. I remember this like it was yesterday, such shocking things leave a permanent mark on your psyche. This senseless murder of this beautiful & talented young man has also left an emptiness in Hollywood that can never be filled. Sal's loss was a great tragedy and loss to Hollywood & to all the world.

    ReplyDelete