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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 960

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This is the grave of Sal Mineo.

Born in 1939 in New York, Mineo was the son of Sicilian immigrants (his mother was born in the US but her parents came over) and grew up in an Italian neighborhood. The family was super into acting and dancing and Sal and his siblings took classes in the arts from the time they were children. Sal was by far the most successful and that started young. In 1951, he got a part in the Tennessee Williams play Rose Tattoo. Then he got cast as the young prince working with Yul Brynner in the original stage play of The King and I. So yeah, he did well as a kid. He was still a young man, sure, but he was cast all the time in TV, plays, movies, whatever.

That all led to the one role people really remember him for today–the teenage boy in quasi-love with James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. It’s possible he was so good in this role because was in fact gay. In fact, his homosexuality would destroy his career in a homophobic Hollywood and America by the 60s. He was technically in the closet and was in a relationship with Jill Hayworth. What she knew is not clear, but she caught him having sex with another man and word got out. More on all this in a minute. Mineo is great in Rebel. He was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. He certainly wanted to be a heterosexual at this time and it was well known that he only dated the most beautiful women.

Unfortunately for Mineo, like a lot of young actors with a lot of early success, he was totally typecast after Rebel Without a Cause. He did get a choice role in Giant, but he was mostly cast in terrible movies like Tonka, where he plays a young angry Sioux who tames a horse that was in Custer’s Last Stand (Good Lord Hollywood. Really?). Mineo was quite conscious of this and tried to break out. He had a brief pop music career and had a couple of songs hit the Billboard Top 40. He was cast as Gene Krupa in The Gene Krupa Story (zzzzzzzz). He played a Holocaust survivor in the adaptation of the racist Leon Uris novel Exodus starring Paul Newman. Nothing makes up for the Holocaust like displacing and killing some Brown people! He got his second Best Supporting Actor nomination for this, as Americans really wanted some Israeli propaganda at this point.

But by the early 60s, people knew too much about his homosexuality. Mineo was extremely frustrated that his career tanked. He tried to get good roles. He was a good actor! He was a finalist for the lead in Lawrence of Arabia but didn’t get it (I think O’Toole was unquestionably a perfect casting choice there) and while he did get a part in The Longest Day (The Slowest Film would have been a better title), his career just went into the toilet. By the mid 60s, he was doing game shows, B-movies, and plays, including some openly gay roles such as the play Fortune and Men’s Eyes in 1967 alongside Don Johnson(!!). How bad did it get for Mineo. His last movie role is as one of the apes in Escape from the Planet of the Apes. Ugh.

By the mid 70s, Mineo was getting a few more roles, in part because the homophobic McCarthyism period was over and there was a slight bit more acceptance of gay roles. He often received rave reviews for his work all through this period when he actually was seen.

Sadly, Mineo was murdered in 1976 in what seems to be a flubbed robbery attempt. His killer was a well-known robber and while the rumor mill said it was a gay thing, it was not. It was just a random crime. His killer got a life sentence. The idiot actually realized at some point it was Mineo and then bragged about it. It’s a good reminder that criminals are the dumbest people in the world. Mineo was only 37 years old, despite what felt like a very long career. What a tragedy. He would have made a great old man actor, especially an old gay man actor in an era when that became much more accepted. Ugh.

In 2017, James Ellroy decided to “investigate” Mineo’s murder. You can read about that here. I don’t trust the police, but I also don’t trust movie directors.

Let’s watch some of Mineo’s work, though not much of the A work seems to be on the internet.

Sal Mineo is buried in Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Hawthorne, New York.

If you would like this series to visit other people associated with Rebel Without a Cause, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. James Dean in Fairmount, Indiana and Natalie Wood is in Los Angeles. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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