Gerry B's Book Reviews

Sal Mineo: A Biography, by Michael Gregg Michaud

A life story, an adventure, and a romance – highly recommended

 

 

 

Blurb: Sal Mineo is probably most well-known for his unforgettable, Academy Award–nominated turn opposite James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and his tragic murder at the age of thirty-seven. Finally, in this riveting new biography filled with exclusive, candid interviews with both Mineo’s closest female and male lovers and never-before-published photographs, Michael Gregg Michaud tells the full story of this remarkable young actor’s life, charting his meteoric rise to fame and turbulent career and private life.

About the author: MICHAEL GREGG MICHAUD’s work has appeared in numerous magazines and publications, including the Los Angeles Times. He is also a playwright, editor, artist, and award-winning photographer. An animal-rights defender, he is a founding director of the Linda Blair WorldHeart Foundation. He lives in Los Angeles.

*Available in e-book format – 2137KB

Review by Gerry Burnie 

When I first came upon the title “Sal Mineo: A Biography by Michael Gregg Michaud [Crown Archetype, 2010], I knew it was something I had to read. You see, in 1965 I spent an intimate evening with Sal Mineo in Toronto, and although this time was brief I can attest to some of the characteristics Michaud writes about; certainly Mineo’s disarming charm, his impetuousness, and his passion for life at whatever he happened to be doing at the time.

Sal Mineo’s impoverished childhood in the Bronx is a testament to several things: i.e. if you stay true to your dreams they will come true (in some measure), and anything worthwhile is worth working for. Mineo did against formidable odds. Along the way luck also played a role when he was cast with Yul Brenner in “The King and I,” and Brenner became his inspiration as well as his mentor.

Eventually Hollywood beckoned, and on the basis of his accomplishments, youthful good looks and luck, at the tender age of fifteen he was cast in a supporting role opposite the (now) legendary James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.” The female lead in this cinematic classic was Natalie Wood, and it is particularly interesting to note that all three of these individuals met an untimely and tragic end.[1]

Mineo idolized Dean, who was known to be bi-sexual, and for the first time Sal began to realize how love between men could arise. Nothing ever transpired between these two, however, and eventually Dean’s brilliant career and unorthodox lifestyle was cut short by a tragic car accident—September 30, 1955.

In the Halcyon days of his career, Mineo was managed by his well-intentioned but domineering mother—the quintessential stage mother—who spent his considerable income faster than he could earn it.  Moreover, lacking the business acumen to realize this, and being a bit of a spendthrift himself, the plot was set for a financial crises.

Also contributing to this downturn was Mineo’s inability to make the transition from a teen idol to more mature roles. Ironically, it was his baby face and stereotype casting as a juvenile delinquent—the very characteristics that had made him a famous—that worked against him in the eyes of the public. Consequently, he joined the ranks of childhood stars whose careers were short lived.

Until this stage his sexual orientation had been strictly heterosexual, particularly with a British starlet by the name of Jill Haworth.[2] That was until he met Bobby Sherman; a virtual unknown until Mineo used his influence to launch Sherman’s singing career in the 1960s. Following his fling with Sherman, the floodgates seemed to open to a variety of attractive, young men who ended up in Mineo’s bed—some with familiar names from the era, i.e. Jay North (Dennis the Menace), David Cassidy, and Jon Provost (Timmy of Lassie fame). Nevertheless, when he met a handsome actor by the name of Courtney Burr, he finally formed a love that lasted until Mineo’s death in 1976.

Not surprisingly rumours of this began to circulate, and since Hollywood’s attitude about sex was oddly (and not just a little hypocritically) guarded, Sal lived his private life under the radar for fear and professional recriminations.

“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.”

Not an unreasonable wish in a town where almost anything goes, sexually, and sensuality is a packaged product.

***

This exhaustive biography is not only a tribute to Sal Mineo, a talented and misunderstood individual who lived life to the fullest—no matter what he did—it is also a tribute to the author’s unrelenting dedication. For example, the writing of “Sal Mineo: A biography” took ten years and three-years of research to complete. Moreover, numerous interviews were conducted, most particularly with Jill Haworth and Courtney Burr, to give it a personal insight beyond the written record. Bravo!

Full of details and previously undisclosed anecdotes, the biography captures a career of ups and downs and a private life of sexual impulses. Highly recommended. Five stars.


[2] With deep regret, Jill Haworth passed away January 03, 2011.

January 23, 2011 - Posted by | biography, Contemporary biography, Gay romance, Hollywood, Non-fiction, Uncategorized

7 Comments »

  1. Thanks for this interesting review. As you probably are aware after reading this biography, Sal Mineo produced the play, “Fortune and Men’s Eyes” in 1969 in LA, by Canadian playwright, John Herbert. I’m wondering if the book reveals much about this project? It must have “pushed people’s buttons” back in 1969 that Sal Mineo was involved with a gay prison plan, no? Oftentimes a play or movie of this nature will attract gay and bisexual people to it (actors, technical people, etc.) and then it becomes quite a goldmine of great stories and trivia.

    Comment by David-Paul | March 4, 2012 | Reply

    • Yes, the biography was quite in-depth about the play which Mineo reprised several times. I believe it was this play he was appearing in (at the Royal Alex) when I met him in Toronto.

      I was friends with radio announcer George Wilson of CKFH, and the two founders of “Box Office” magazine, and I was introduced to him at a party. We later spent the night together at the King Henry Hotel.

      Comment by Gerry B. | March 4, 2012 | Reply

      • Gerry – WOW that’s really awesome to have spent the night together with Sal Mineo! Can’t wait to read your memoirs! BTW I lived in Toronto from 1968 through 1986.

        Comment by David-Paul | March 5, 2012

  2. Hello–thank you for the review. Sal was someone , just as was James Dean, that outsiders clutched and sensed was one of them. I will buy the book.
    I have a question and perhaps you know the answer or you can direct me where to get it. I’m confused about what police agency handled the case. The Sheriff has jurisdiction in West Hollywood yet news reports refer to the the police handling the initial response and investigation. Perhaps reporters were using the term “police” mistakenly when they meant Sheriff Deputies.
    I’m trying to respond to one of the conspiracy theories concerning Sal’s murder.
    thank you
    antonio caetano

    Comment by antonio caetano | November 30, 2011 | Reply

    • Hello Antonio

      Looking back at Gregg Michaud’s writing, it was the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department that investigated the death, and later arrested Lionel R Williams. The complaint was filed by Dep. Distric Attorney Burton Katz. The sheriff was Peter Pritchess.

      The motive was alleged to be robbery, but Mineo wasn’t actually robbed. There were also another couple of inconsistencies with appearance, etc. However, I have no opinion myself.

      Gerry B.

      Comment by Gerry B. | November 30, 2011 | Reply

  3. The three young stars of Rebel Without A Cause – Sal Mineo, James Dean, Natalie Wood – all died tragically and, in the case of Miss Wood, still fairly young. Of that young breakout lot I guess Dennis Hopper is the only one who lived to an old age.

    Comment by Scholar Spartan | August 25, 2011 | Reply

    • I believe I did make that observation in the review as well, and it is very true. You may be interested to know that the upcoming review is of Tab Hunter’s autobiography. A really interesting read so far.

      Comment by Gerry B. | August 25, 2011 | Reply


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