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Sal Mineo: A Biography by Michael Gregg…

Sal Mineo: A Biography

by Michael Gregg Michaud

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I am a life long movie buff and a real fan of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, a film every bit as influential as CITIZEN KANE. So I didn't want to pass up a chance to read a bio of Sal Mineo, whose performance as the troubled teen, Plato, in REBEL is iconic. Along with his REBEL co-stars James Dean and Natalie Wood, Mineo played a prominent part in the creation the post war youth culture that has become such a part of the American fabric.

Michael Gregg Michaud's bio does a very good job telling Mineo's typically American story: an Italian kid from The Bronx whose mother put him in dancing school to keep him from falling in with street gangs. This put Mineo on a path that eventually led to a part in the Broadway musical production of THE KING AND I with Yul Brynner, which then led to Hollywood and the big break with a role in REBEL. Mineo would go on other movie roles, most often as a juvenile delinquent, and a short lived, but surprisingly successful, singing career as a teen idol.

But despite two Academy Award nominations, one for REBEL (for which he really should have won) and the other for EXODUS, his career waned as the '60's wore on, good movie roles dried up and the only steady work Mineo could get was in episodic television. It's a familiar trajectory for many talented actors who hit it big while young, but never find the one great part that would have have guaranteed them adult stardom. I always thought it was a shame he wasn't considered for the lead in WEST SIDE STORY, he certainly had the musical background for the part.

The second half of Michaud's well researched book could be considered the story of a has been, only Sal Mineo never saw himself as one, he kept on working and looking for new challenges after freeing himself from the control of his family, which had taken full advantage of his early monetary success while still a minor. One of the big appeals of this book to some is the depiction of Sal Mineo's private life and bisexual exploits. Michaud talked extensively with Jill Haworth and Courtney Burr, the two great loves of his life and they paint a picture of an essentially nice, if sometimes volatile, man who might not have always exhibited the best judgement-he spent many years trying to interest the studios and investors in productions with extremely limited commercial appeal. He really wanted the part of Michael in THE GODFATHER, but they went with an unknown like Al Pacino, but Mineo benefited in an indirect way in the mid 70's when every cop show on prime time needed swarthy actors to play in shows featuring Mafia characters. In the later part of his career, Mineo wanted to direct on the stage and his choice of material, which often included nudity and homosexual relationships caused whispers about his life style and definitely lost him work on TV. His life was cut short by a brutal murder in 1976, denying Mineo the opportunity to have a great career third act like his REBEL co-star, Dennis Hopper. It does say something well about Mineo that unlike many other performers who hit it big early, he apparently never fell victim to drug and alcohol addiction.

Michaud's book is a must for those who enjoy a behind the scenes look at Hollywood, although I would have liked a little more historical context on how the culture went from the squeaky clean 50's to the anything goes 60's in so short a time. A lot of names are dropped in this book (Bobby Sherman, Jon Provost, Jay North), with some surprising, though unverifiable, revelations.

All three leads in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE came to violent ends, it gives the movie a very poignant feel when watching it now; read Michael Gregg Michaud's SAL MINEO and learn the story of one of them; he deserves to be remembered. ( )
  wb4ever1 | Jun 10, 2015 |
Well researched and well written biography on actor Sal Mineo who is best remembered for his role in Rebel Without a Cause with James Dean. The book contains many interviews with those who knew Mineo including actress Jill Haworth who was a co-star in Exodus. I only wish the author would have let us known what became of Mineo's mother, brothers, and sister. ( )
  knahs | Sep 4, 2011 |
This is quite a book. It almost reads like a novel. I loved the detail involved when talking about the actor's early life and the beginning of his stardom. I really enjoyed reading about the preparation and filming of REBEL and Sal's relationship with James Dean. Sal's highs and lows are all here and the author really gives you insight into what made the man. Regardless of his faults, and we all have them, Sal Mineo was a terrific actor and his life was cut short, with so much promise ahead. He was just getting his life back on track again. A fascinating book about an extraordniary man and talent. ( )
  silversurfer | Apr 29, 2011 |
I had been anticipating Michaud’s book for several months prior to its release – half anticipating, and half dreading. You see, despite what Michaud likes to claim in interviews, this isn’t the first seemingly-legitimate biography of Sal Mineo to hit the shelves. I have treasured my copy of "Sal Mineo: His Life, Murder, and Mystery" by H. Paul Jeffers (2002, Running Press) ever since I bought it; in fact, I’ve read and referred to it so many times there are actually pages falling out. I was apprehensive about having a new account of Sal’s life, partially because I felt like everything I knew about Sal came from that first book. However, Jeffers’ biography is far from a literary masterpiece; written by someone who knew Sal on a physical, if not intimate, level, much of it reads like hilarious Mary Sue fanfiction (“basking in the sight of his unruly black hair, the bedroom eyes, imperfect nose, muscled arms and torso, narrow hips, and bewitching smile”), and Jeffers relies a little too much on dubious Hollywood sources like Boze Hadleigh (although Michaud is guilty of this too). As the release of Michaud’s book grew closer, my apprehension turned to giddy eagerness. I bought the book the day it came out and finished it the day after.

What I found in Michaud’s Sal Mineo is a serious, well-written, thoroughly-researched account of Mineo’s life that even I, who thought I knew everything about the subject, gleaned a lot of surprising new information from. The book contains a deftly-woven mix of facts and personal anecdotes derived from contemporary articles and interviews with the actor, as well as the accounts of Sal’s close personal friends and acquaintances whom Michaud took the time to locate and endear himself to. Best of all, it is not at all derivative of any previous work. Rather than expound upon or contradict Jeffers’ biography, Michaud instead presents us with an entirely new perspective through his use of previously-unpublished information and all-new anecdotes. Jeffers’ work is like the pulpy “unauthorized” paperback account; Michaud’s is a serious and dignified examination of the all-too-brief life of Sal Mineo and the people he loved. The two books compliment each other nicely.

What’s especially remarkable about Michaud’s book is the unprecedented access he was granted to the recollections of two of Sal’s closest companions, who here collaborate for the first time with a Mineo biographer. Jill Haworth (who tragically passed away just a week ago) was the female love of Sal’s life from 1960 to 1964; Courtney Burr III was the male love of his life from 1970 until Sal’s death in 1976. It cannot be overstated how valuable the contributions of these two people were to this work, especially given that both of them have been very reluctant in the past to speak on the subject of Sal Mineo and incredibly wary of anyone who asked. While this does lend a loving, personal quality to the book, it also has its negatives. Later chapters become tedious as each movement of both Sal and Courtney Burr are recounted. Furthermore, while Michaud does a marvelous job of piecing together Sal’s life before he knew Jill Haworth, the book ends up very heavily biased against Sal’s family. Perhaps this was Michaud’s revenge against the Mineo clan for not answering his calls (assuming he made an attempt to contact them), or his reward to Burr for his cooperation. While I understand that the religious beliefs of the Mineo family caused them to disapprove strongly of Sal’s later life and his relationship with Burr, that’s their prerogative and their right, and I don’t feel it was fair or particularly professional of Michaud to condemn them for it. Sal’s sister Sarina and brother Victor have spoken lovingly of their brother in previous biographical pieces on Sal, and his niece Samantha (who never knew her uncle) has voluntarily spoken on behalf of the family in the past. Why were these people not consulted for the special point of view they could have offered? It left me feeling as though the book was missing an important chunk of information, and the nasty insinuations Michaud makes about Mineo’s mother Josephine at the very end left me with a sour taste in my mouth.

Overall Michaud’s Sal Mineo is a rich and engaging look at a brilliant artist and sensitive soul who was taken from this earth much too soon. Any nit-picky gripes held by die-hard fans (of which, let’s admit, there are few) are far outweighed by the wealth of knowledge and insight into Mineo’s life and work Michaud has provided us, with the invaluable contributions of Haworth and Burr. No matter my personal qualms with some of his journalistic choices, I am grateful to Michael Michaud for giving this overlooked actor the serious biographical treatment he has so long deserved.

From my blog: http://garbolaughs.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/book-review-sal-mineo-michael-michau... ( )
  psychobiddy | Jan 10, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307718689, Hardcover)

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.

One of the hottest stars of the 1950s, Mineo grew up as the son of Sicilian immigrants in a humble Bronx flat. But by age eleven, he appeared on Broadway in Tennessee Williams’s The Rose Tattoo, and then as Prince Chulalongkorn in the original Broadway production of The King and I starring Yul Brynner and Gertrude Lawrence. This sultry-eyed, dark-haired male ingénue of sorts appeared on the cover of every major magazine, thousands of star-struck fans attended his premieres, and millions bought his records, which included several top-ten hits.

His life offstage was just as exhilarating: full of sports cars, motor boats, famous friends, and some of the most beautiful young actresses in Hollywood. But it was fourteen-year-old Jill Haworth, his costar in Exodus—the film that delivered one of the greatest acting roles of his life and earned him another Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe win—with whom he fell in love and moved to the West Coast. But by the 1960s, a series of professional missteps and an increasingly tumultuous private life reversed his fortunes. 

By the late sixties and early seventies, grappling with the repercussions of publicly admitting his homosexuality and struggling to reinvent himself from an aging teen idol, Mineo turned toward increasingly self-destructive behavior. Yet his creative impulses never foundered. He began directing and producing controversial off-Broadway plays that explored social and sexual taboos. He also found personal happiness in a relationship with male actor Courtney Burr. Tragically, on the cusp of turning a new page in his life, Mineo’s life was cut short in a botched robbery.
Revealing a charming, mischievous, creative, and often scandalous side of Mineo few have known before now, Sal Mineo is an intimate, moving biography of a distinctive Hollywood star.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:14 -0400)

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In this new biography filled with 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, turbulent career and private life.… (more)

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