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Sal Mineo

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Title: Sal Mineo  
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Subject: Giant (1956 film), A Private's Affair, Crime in the Streets, Exodus (1960 film), Requests for arbitration/ Onefortyone/ANON al/ Supplement
Collection: 1939 Births, 1976 Deaths, 1976 Murders in the United States, 20Th-Century American Male Actors, American Male Child Actors, American Male Film Actors, American Male Stage Actors, American Murder Victims, American People of Italian Descent, American People of Sicilian Descent, Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe (Film) Winners, Bisexual Actors, Bisexual Men, Burials at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Deaths by Stabbing in the United States, Gay Actors, Lgbt Entertainers from the United States, Male Actors from New York City, Male Actors of Italian Descent, Murdered Male Actors, People from the Bronx, People Murdered in California
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Sal Mineo

Sal Mineo
Born Salvatore Mineo, Jr.
(1939-01-10)January 10, 1939
The Bronx, New York, United States
Died February 12, 1976(1976-02-12) (aged 37)
West Hollywood, California, United States
Other names The Switchblade Kid[1]
Years active 1951–1976

Salvatore "Sal" Mineo, Jr. (January 10, 1939 – February 12, 1976),[2] 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 (1955).[3] He was twice nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, for his roles in Rebel Without a Cause and Exodus (1960).


  • Early life and career 1
  • Rebel Without a Cause and after 2
  • Career decline and attempted revival 3
  • Personal life 4
  • Murder 5
    • Arrest and conviction in Mineo's murder 5.1
  • Art 6
  • Opera 7
  • Selected filmography 8
  • References 9
    • Citations 9.1
    • Sources 9.2
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11

Early life and career

Mineo was born in the Bronx, the son of coffin makers Josephine (née Alvisi) and Salvatore Mineo, Sr.[4][5] He was of Sicilian descent; his father was born in Italy and his mother, of Italian origin, was born in the United States. His mother enrolled him in dancing and acting school at an early age.[6] He had his first stage appearance in Tennessee Williams' play The Rose Tattoo (1951).[3] 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.[1]

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 the Joseph Pevney film Six Bridges to Cross (1955). He beat out Clint Eastwood for the role.[7] Mineo had also successfully auditioned for a part in The Private War of Major Benson (1955), as a cadet colonel opposite Charlton Heston.[8]

Rebel Without a Cause and after

His breakthrough as an actor came in Rebel Without a Cause (1955),[3] 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 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."[9]

Gigi Perreau with Mineo signing autographs at the premiere of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956)

In Giant (1956), Mineo played Angel Obregon II, a Mexican boy killed in World War II, but many of his subsequent roles were variations of his role in Rebel Without a Cause, and he was typecast as a troubled teen.[10] In the Disney adventure Tonka (1959), for instance, Mineo starred as a young Sioux named White Bull who traps and domesticates a clear-eyed, spirited wild horse named Tonka that becomes the famous Comanche, the lone survivor of Custer's Last Stand.

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 (1956).[1]

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.[11] 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.[12] He starred as drummer Gene Krupa in the movie The Gene Krupa Story (1959), 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 the Native American boy in the above-mentioned film Tonka (1956), and as a Jewish emigrant in Otto Preminger's Exodus (1960), for which he won a Golden Globe Award and received another Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor.

Career decline and attempted revival

By the early 1960s, he was becoming too old to play the type of role that had made him famous, and his homosexuality led to his being considered inappropriate for leading roles. For example, he auditioned for David Lean's film Lawrence of Arabia (1962), but was not hired.[6] He also appeared in The Longest Day (1962), wherein he played a private who is killed by a German after the landing in Saint-Mere-Eglise. 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." The high point of this period was his portrayal of Uriah in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). Mineo also appeared on the Season 2 episode of The Patty Duke Show: "Patty Meets a Celebrity"(1964). 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 (1972), but the role went to John Cazale. Mineo guest-starred in an episode of ABC's TV series Combat! in 1966, playing the role of a GI wanted for murder.[13] He did two more appearances on the same show, including appearing in an installment with Fernando Lamas.

Mineo's role as a stalker in Who Killed Teddy Bear? (1965), which co-starred 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 characterization. One of his last roles was a guest spot on the TV series S.W.A.T. (1975), playing a cult leader similar to Charles Manson.

In 1969, Mineo returned to the stage to direct a Los Angeles production of the gay-interest play Fortune and Men's Eyes (1967), featuring then-unknown Don Johnson as Smitty and himself as Rocky. The production received positive reviews, although its expanded prison rape scene was criticized as excessive and gratuitous.

In 1970, Mineo was crowned King of the Beaux Arts Ball. Presiding with him as his Queen was Madeleine Le Roux.[14]

Mineo's last motion picture role was a small part in the film Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), as the chimpanzee Dr. Milo.

In 1975, Mineo appeared as Rachman Habib, assistant to the president of a Middle Eastern country, in the Columbo episode "A Case of Immunity", on NBC-TV. This episode was filmed entirely on location at Greenacres, the (by that time declining) estate of silent screen legend Harold Lloyd. Soon after the filming, the estate was sold and subdivided into 12 estate lots. Mineo also appeared in two episodes of Hawaii Five-O, in 1968 and 1975.

Personal life

Mineo met actress Jill Haworth at the set of the film Exodus, where they played young lovers, for which he won a Golden Globe Award and received another Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor. Mineo and Haworth were together on-and-off for many years, even getting engaged to be married at one point. They remained very close friends until Mineo's death.[15][16]

Mineo was very protective of Haworth, especially regarding Haworth's social circles. He clearly expressed disapproval of Haworth's brief relationship with the much older television producer Aaron Spelling. Haworth was 20 and Spelling was 42. One night when Mineo found Haworth and Spelling at a private Beverly Hills nightclub, he walked up and punched Spelling in the face, yelling, "Do you know how old she is? What are you doing with her at your age?"[15]

In an 1972 interview with Boze Hadleigh, Mineo discussed his bisexuality.[17] At the time of his death, he was in a 6-year relationship and was already living with male actor Courtney Burr III.[15][18]

Michael G. Michaud wrote a biography of Mineo with the majority of information coming from Haworth and Burr. In his book, Michaud has confirmed that Mineo had sexual relations with then teen idol Bobby Sherman. He also cleared up rumours about Mineo's co-stars James Dean (in the film Rebel Without a Cause, 1955) and Don Johnson (in the play Fortune and Men's Eyes, 1969). Mineo never had any sexual relations with either Dean nor Johnson. Johnson and Mineo had been roommates for a time and became friends. Mineo was also close friends with David Cassidy, another teen idol back then.[15][19]

Mineo has become a gay icon posthumously. Some people, mostly the LGBT community, label him "homosexual" (even though Mineo himself has said he was "bisexual")[20] and say that Haworth was nothing but a close friend and "his beard".[21] Michaud refutes this, discussing Mineo and Haworth's relationship as a normal heterosexual relationship, and that Mineo fell in love with Haworth and regarded her as one of the most important people in his life.


The footstone of Sal Mineo in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in New York State

By 1976, Mineo's career had begun to turn around.[22] While 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.

Mineo was arriving home after a rehearsal on February 12, 1976, when he was stabbed to death in the alley behind his apartment building near the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, California.[23] Mineo was stabbed just once, not repeatedly as first reported, but the knife blade struck his heart, leading to immediate and fatal internal bleeding.[24] His remains were interred in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.[25]

Arrest and conviction in Mineo's murder

After a lengthy investigation, Lionel Ray Williams, a pizza deliveryman, was arrested for the crime. In March 1979, Williams was convicted and sentenced to 57 years in prison for killing Mineo and for committing 10 robberies in the same area.[26] Although considerable confusion existed as to what witnesses had seen in the darkness the night Mineo was murdered, Correction Officers were later revealed to have overheard Williams admitting to the stabbing.[22]

Williams claimed he had no idea who Mineo was. Williams may have been connected to the unsolved murder of the actress Christa Helm, who was killed in the same neighborhood in a strikingly similar way, exactly one year after Mineo's murder.[27] Williams was not arrested until after the murder of Ms. Helm.

Williams was paroled from prison in the early 1990s but he was soon imprisoned again for other crimes.[6]


Sal Mineo was the model for Harold Stevenson's painting The New Adam (1963). The painting currently is part of the Guggenheim Museum's permanent collection,[28] and is considered "one of the great American nudes".[29]


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.

Mineo stage-directed Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium in December 1972 in Detroit.[30] Muriel Costa-Greenspon portrayed the title character, Madame Flora, and Mineo played the mute Toby.

Selected filmography

Publicity still from The Gene Krupa Story.
Year Title Role Notes
1952 The Vision of Father Flanagan Les TV Movie
1952 A Woman For The Ages Charles TV Movie
1953 Omnibus Paco TV Series, "The Capitol of the World"
1954 Janet Dean, Registered Nurse Jose Garcia TV Series, "The Garcia Story"
1955 Six Bridges to Cross Jerry (boy) Screen debut
1955 The Private War of Major Benson Cadet Col. Sylvester Dusik
1955 Rebel Without a Cause John "Plato" Crawford Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1956 Crime in the Streets Angelo "Baby" Gioia, a.k.a. Bambino
1956 Somebody Up There Likes Me Romolo
1956 Giant Angel Obregón II
1956 Rock, Pretty Baby Angelo Barrato
1957 Dino Dino Minetta
1957 The Young Don't Cry Leslie "Les" Henderson
1958 Tonka White Bull
1959 A Private's Affair Luigi Maresi
1959 The Gene Krupa Story Gene Krupa
1960 Exodus Dov Landau Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1962 Escape from Zahrain Ahmed
1962 The Longest Day Pvt. Martini
1964 Cheyenne Autumn Red Shirt
1965 The Greatest Story Ever Told Uriah
1965 The Patty Duke Show Himself TV Series, "Patty Meets a Celebrity"
1965 Who Killed Teddy Bear? Lawrence Sherman
1967 Stranger on the Run George Blaylock
1968 Hawaii Five-O Bobby George TV Series, "Tiger By The Tail" episode
1969 Krakatoa, East of Java Leoncavallo Borghese
1969 80 Steps to Jonah Jerry Taggart
1969 The Name Of The Game Sheldon TV Series, "A Hard Case Of The Blues" episode
1970 Mission Impossible Mel Bracken TV Series, "Flip Side" episode
1971 Escape from the Planet of the Apes Dr. Milo
1971 My Three Sons Jim Bell TV Series, "The Liberty Bell" episode
1975 Columbo Rachman Habib TV Series, "A Case of Immunity" episode



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  25. ^ Sal Mineo at Find a Grave
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Further reading

External links

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