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[335] Sal Mineo – Michael Gregg Michaud

” Juggling two different personas, that of a straight man in public and homosexual in private, Sal compartmentalized his life and friends. His personal battle with image versus reality resulted in a certain amount of emotional chaos. ” [25:225]

Rebel Without a Cause (1955) has long been an American classic when I watched it in mid 1990s. James Dean’s death compounded the fame and credential. I was not aware of the name of the boy who played Plato, as my attention riveted at Dean and Wood. Something very sexually sublime about that movie that captured me right away. I am most impressed with lover-father blurring of attraction between Plato and Jim. The scene at the beginning of the film in the high school when Plato, sultry-eyed, dark-haired, gazes at Jim Stark in his locker mirror. This young actor’s performance as one sensitive, lonely rich boy with an unspoken crush on Dean was unforgettable, earning him a Best Supporting Oscar nomination—all this has only been made known to me through Michaud’s book.

Just nineteen, he was straddling the fence between youth and adulthood. It was difficult for casting agents to know what to do with him. [13:130]

Early success of Sal as a child star, who was born into a working class Italian-American family in Bronx, rendered his career later unfulfilled. Sal’s convincing portrayals of juvenile delinquent and willingness to expound upon teenage issues in times of great calling become the barrier to landing adult roles. Since Hollywood’s attitude about sex was oddly (and absurdly) guarded, like most gay men and women in the entertainment business, Sal lived his private life under the radar for fear and professional recriminations. Along with homophobia, pigeonholding, rumors of homosexuality, and Sal’s own naivete about practical issues, all contribute to Mineo’s later disappointments, as homosexuality was disingenuously disavowed.

Sal knew that outing himself, declaring his sexuality, would destroy what little was left of his career. Though Sal never publicly came out in a conventional manner, there was a subliminal coming-out that began years before. He wanted his lifestyle and his choices to be accepted. He wanted a normalcy and legitimacy in his life. [36:349]

The biography, the most accurate one up-to-date, is a product of a decade’s writing. Michaud spent three years researching Sal’s life and sifting through relevant papers, seeking the help and support of Jill Haworth and Courtney Burr, whose collaboration in telling the story of the remarkable but overlooked actor’s life also gives weight to the book’s credibility. As Mr. Burr has pointed out in Mr. Michaud’s book event, Sal was not fully in touch with his sexuality when he and Jill Haworth, who was his romantic interest in Exodus (1960), began an intimate relationship. To say Mineo was unaware of his attraction to men until he met someone like Bobby Sherman (who used Sal to advance his career), as some critics claim, is unfair. Who is anyone to judge one’s own coming to terms with his own sexuality, let alone for someone who doesn’t connect his jockey brief fetish to male intimacy? Unlike most of his west coast native contemporaries, Mineo is not predisposed to political and sexual intrigues of Hollywood.

The point is that one does not have to be involved to understand. That’s what the homosexual is crying for, not sympathy, but simple understanding. [29:263]

Really. Even Sal’s own family never understood his choices. Even America today doesn’t understand. Supporters of California Proposition 8 don’t understand. It calls for the norm of marriage as we know it to be relegated to houses of worship or institutions of faith not a governmental issue make it the personal choice of each person. Full of details and previously undisclosed anecdotes, the biography captures a career of ups and downs and a private life of sexual impulses.

421 pp. Hardback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]