Boze Hadleigh interview with Sal Mineo, 1972
copyright: Boze Hadleigh

THE BOZE HADLEIGH INTERVIEW OF SAL MINEO~1972!
The following 1972 interview was originally printed in Boze Hadleigh's
book, "Conversations with My Elders." It has also been published
again, in the book, "Celluoid Gaze," and excerpts of the
interview were also featured in the November 2002 issue of "FAB!"
magazine in Los Angeles

Purchase this book and more by Author Boze Hadleigh through Amazon.

sal Sal Mineo 1939-1976

I met the Switchblade Kid in 1971, while in a play at Santa Barbara High. Grant Loud was a costar in The Death and Life of Sneaky Fitch. The night of the final performance, Sal Mineo was in the audience. He'd come with a friend of Lance Loud, the elder brother whose coming out was a highlight of the series "An American Family." After the set was struck, the blond friend introduced me to Mineo, whom I vividly recalled from Exodus. He was shorter than I had imagined, but also better-looking than in that long-ago film. He briefly complimented me on my comedic performance and Western gear.

Later, some two-thirds of us went for beer and pizza, before breaking up into our inevitable cliques. The rest of the cast and crew followed Sal to The Pub, a gay bar popular with Industry types on Saturday nights. A few days later I learned that Sal danced with some of the guys who'd managed to get in, and that unlike many in his profession, he hadn't tried to stand out. After a few drinks and several hot dances- twice with girls- Sal and his friend had left quietly. At age twenty-one, I finally got to peek inside the forbidden Pub. I was aided and abetted by a former classmate who was related to Sally Struthers. Outside or inside, The Pub was perfectly ordinary: a small bar with a modest dance area, a pool table, and a patio out back. "Big deal," said Dave. "Not even a plaque to let you know that Sal Mineo danced here."

The summer after I graduated from high school, I saw Rebel Without a Cause for the first time, on TV. I decided I wanted to interview Sal Mineo. And not because of James Dean; I wasn't a Dean fanatic. At the library, I looked Sal up. I learned that he'd appeared in The Greatest Story Ever Told and Escape from the Planet of the Apes, two memorable pictures that I didn't remember seeing him in.

A few weeks later, within the space of three days, I saw Mineo in two movies: Somebody Up There Likes Me, with Paul Newman as Rocky Graziano, and Dino, as a tormented juvenile delinquent. In vain, I tried to contact Lance Loud (we didn't connect until 1975, at a Condé Nast staff party in New York). Next, I tried the blond friend- but he wasn't a student, and locating him was tougher than break-dancing in Venice. At last, I reached Sal Mineo. He took down my number and said he'd probably be able to see me in a few months, before the holidays.

He called in early December 1972. Rather than me going to L.A., he said he'd come up to Santa Barbara. Did I really want to interview him? he asked. Couldn't we just go to a movie or something? Or maybe double-date with some girls he knew? Had I seen the Burt Reynolds centerfold in Cosmopolitan? Sal was going to ask Burt to autograph his copy.

"Do you think he will?" I asked.

"Of course he will," Sal sniffed.

I suggested that we make a day of it, if he didn't have any other commitments. Sal readily agreed. Like most out-of-towners (and locals over forty), he loved Santa Barbara.

He flew up from L.A. At the time, I didn't consider this unusual. I picked him up in my red Dodge Dart and we went to lunch. Sal made me withhold "all those questions" till later. Then we went to see Cabaret. Sal kept nudging me during Michael York's scenes. "What a hunk! That's my type." I enjoyed Sal's easygoing company, but fretted that he'd keep postponing our session until he had to leave. So far, I didn't know that much about him, other than his type: blond and supercilious.

In the car, Sal raved about the film. "Liza was friggin' fantastic! Of course- she's a wop. She's gonna win an Oscar. Wait and see. Joel Grey was great- he should win one, too. The director should win one, and so should the movie. The only movie I liked better this year was "The Godfather." The next year Minnelli, Grey, and Bob Fosse all won Academy Awards for Cabaret. Best Picture was The Godfather. Sal had never won an Oscar, though he'd been nominated twice.

We quickly reached our destination. It was only a few blocks from the cinema, but Sal hadn't wanted to walk. Even at eighteen, I knew not to ask questions like, "Do you think you'll be recognized?" We entered El Paseo, a downtown tourist trap comprising several shops around a plaza with a small outdoor café. Wearing sunglasses, a white shirt opening on his bronze chest, tight jeans, white socks, and penny loafers, Sal Mineo still looked like the eternal youth.

[ Transcriber's Note: BH = Boze Hadleigh, SM = Sal Mineo ]

BH: How do you account for your youthful appearance?

SM: Good genes, I guess. . . . Genes- G-E-N-E-S- by the way!

BH: Does approaching middle age bother you?

SM: As Mae West said, does it bother you? (laughs.)

BH: Or will middle age mean you can finally get away from playing the juvenile?

SM: Good question. I'm only thirty-three- I hope you don't think of that as being middle-aged! It's all in your mind, anyway. Remember when Marilyn Monroe turned thirty-six and she said she looked pretty good for someone her age? That was sad. . . . Maybe you don't remember that.

BH: I certainly remember Marilyn. I'll never forget the morning I found out she was dead. I was in second or third grade, and my family was in L.A. That morning, when we came down into the lobby, the first thing I saw was the headline in the newspaper. It was very sad. It affected me much more than President Kennedy's death.

SM: How come?

BH: Age. To a third-grader, a president, any president, was just some guy in Washington. But Marilyn was the first movie star I knew, and she was so pretty- after she died, I wished I could have been her friend. Probably everybody's felt that way.... How did her death affect you, Sal?

SM: I cried. She was a nice kid, a good kid. I met her, of course. But we never worked together. How about you- did you cry?

BH: No. Not when she died. Afterward, when we were visiting some friends of my parents, and these people were making very disparaging remarks about her. I cried then. I couldn't understand why they'd want to do that.

SM: Everyone forgets- fortunately, I guess- that Marilyn was not only a sex symbol, she was real controversial. Especially when she started out. I remember, because movie people were split fifty-fifty for and against her.

BH: The double standard: since she was a sexy woman, she was looked on as some kind of prostitute, by some.

SM: And then as she grew more celebrated or whatever, some of the people who'd liked her turned on her. Because she'd be notoriously late on the set- man, I could never get away with that. But I never thought less of her for it. . . . Did you ever cry after Kennedy died?

BH: Did you?

SM: Yeah. But I cry easy. Comes from being a wop.

BH: Well, as I said, I came to appreciate President Kennedy after reading about him. At the time, when I saw the coverage on TV, what amazed and kind of pleased me was how all those grown people were crying, even men. I didn't believe most grown-ups had the tenderness to be able to cry.

SM: Nice discovery. . . . Well, like you say, as I get older, the range of roles for me will hopefully open up. But I'm sick of waiting, and they still think of me like I only did a couple of roles, and the rest of my career was all reruns.

BH: Still the Switchblade Kid, huh?

SM: (Smiles.) That's right! Still the best pal to the lead. (Shakes head.) Hollywood don't flex its muscle-brain.

BH: How do you mean?

SM: What you start out as is pretty much how you wind up. I mean, you get typed in the first thing that clicks, then they don't give you no more fuckin' chances.

BH: It's harder for those who begin very young, isn't it?

SM: Everyone knows that. Almost no kid star ever becomes an adult star- the ones that do are all girls.

BH: Your first film was?

SM: Six Bridges to Cross. God, don't remind me. Jeez... They should have titled it Six Bridges to Burn. But I was lucky, 'cause then came Rebel.

BH: So much has been said and written about that film.

SM: You're telling me. . . . Why don't you ask me about that later? I get these interviewers who just want to ask about Dean and Rebel, and they go on and on, like they were writing a book!

BH: Do you ever think that, if you hadn't been in Rebel, you might have become a bigger star?

SM: You mean I might've had the lead. When I started in films I was fifteen, sixteen, and I had this baby face that made me look like a wheat-flour dumpling or something. And the name didn't exactly help.

BH: That's true. . . . Come to think of it, you're almost the only Italian-American actor who was allowed to keep his surname. Did you put up a big fight to retain it?

SM: Damn right, man. I'm proud of being a wop.

BH: First time I heard "wop," I thought it was a kind of little fish- like a pollywog.

SM: Pollywop's an Italian parrot. . . . Yeah, I was unique. They made all the guys change names and half of them had to have nose jobs, like Dean Martin, alias Dino Crocetti. And the girls: Anne Bancroft's real name was Italiano- and Paula Prentiss' was Ragusa, I think.

BH: What did they think they were accomplishing by doing that, I wonder? Particularly since most of the studio heads weren't WASPs.

SM: Standardization.

BH: Easier to control people when you can keep them fitting into molds, I suppose.

SM: Hell, not just that, they didn't want the world to know there was an Italian heritage. Or that you could look all kinds of ways and be Italian. We ain't all olive-skinned. Look at Connie Stevens or what's-her-name . . . Bernadette Peters.

BH: And look at Virna Lisi, fresh from the old country.

SM: You are making me horny.

BH: Who are those two girls you mentioned, for a double date?

SM: (Laughs.) Are you kidding? I got a girl in every port- and a couple of guys in every port, too.

BH: Do you think rumors about being bi have hurt you in your career?

SM: Maybe. . . Nah, I doubt it. Everyone's got those rumors following him around, whether it's true or not. Everyone's supposed to be bi, starting way back with Gary Cooper and on through Brando and Clift and Dean and Newman and . . . you want me to stop?

BH: Did you resent the rumors?

SM: Well, no. Because what's wrong with being bi? Maybe most people are, deep down.

BH: Shirley MacLaine has publicly said that.

SM: I think she's right- got a good noodle, Shirl does. But anyhow, the rumor about me, from what I hear, was usually that I'm gay. Where, like, with Monty Clift or Brando, the rumor was that they're bi. [Brando later publicly admitted to bisexuality.]

BH: There was also a rumor that you once hustled. ...

SM: Hustled? Me? No. I never charged no one in my life- and I could have, too. But I tell you this: some of my relatives, over in Sicily, are ragazzi di vita.

BH: "Boys of life?"

SM: Yeah- means hustlers. (Shrugs.) A lot more of that goes on than people think, especially in poor places.

BH: What about Hollywood's male casting couch?

SM: What about it? There's always been a casting couch- gay, bi, straight, everything.

BH: Even women behind the casting couch now, I hear.

SM: Yeah, but not much. They gotta keep more careful about their reps than men do. Anyway, if you want to know if I've been on the couch, unh-unh.

BH: Careers can't be built on couches, right?

SM: You got it. I mean, a chick or a guy can get some tiny part or get put in front of a crowd, maybe. But that's it. And it's blackmail- you gotta keep playing the guy's game. It wouldn't be worth it. And it would mean you can't get by on your talent.

BH: Have you felt being stereotyped limited your talent?

SM: No one ever said movies are for developing your range. Hardly anyone gets that opportunity. Which is why I think the stage is so good. It's less bread, but you can play different types, and you can initiate your own projects.

BH: Have you given up on movies?

SM: I've never given up completely. It's hard to let go. Maybe if I had, if I'd gone and become some top-notch stage actor, then they'd have rediscovered me. That can happen.

BH: Escape from the Planet of the Apes was a hit. Will you do more of those?

SM: Eh, sequels . . . I'll bet you didn't exactly recognize me in it. I doubt I'll do another; it's pretty thankless. Frankly, I did it for the bread.

BH: You didn't become a millionaire with all those movies?

SM: Not many did. It's just that you keep hearing about the ones who did. And now they earn obscene kinds of bread, and there's a bigger difference now between what a big star earns and a... lesser star. Who says it's a democratic business?

BH: You've also spent quite a bit on your family?

SM: You read that? (Smiles.) Where'd you read that?

BH: Years back, I guess. About how you bought your mom a home and provided for your sister and brother-

SM: Brothers. Yeah, well, we wops stick together. Least I could do.

BH: Now, you know, what I remember you best from was Exodus. My parents took us to see it when it came out, and it made a big impression on me.

SM: What part did you like best?

BH: Well, not a part, or even all the fine actors in it, but the story, the drama about reestablishing Israel, and what they had to go through to do it. The shocking part, to me, was how unfair the British were- up till then, I'd always thought they were more civilized.

SM: It's a terrific story, and Otto Preminger made it more than just a movie, but you know what shocked a lot of people then? My part: where Dov Landau confesses that the Nazis used him "like a woman." The word homosexual had hardly been mentioned in anything then, and when I said that ... the speech, you could hear the shock.

BH: It must've shocked the Academy into nominating you for an Oscar.

SM: It sure helped. Sympathy. For the character, who died in the end- pardon the pun. He had to die, even though he was straight and in love with this blond girl, because he was, shall we say, tainted. In the censors' eyes, anyway.

BH: Hollywood morality ... The funny thing is, when I saw it at the cinema, the rape part went right past me. Kids don't get that. Later, when I saw it on TV, years ago, already, it was like hearing that part of the movie for the first time.

SM: Was the first time you heard it. Yeah, Preminger had a lot of guts. He was real anti-censor, 'cause he was so pro-liberty, and years before Exodus he was testing the censors with his subject matter. He was the first one to prove you didn't need the god-damned Seal [the Production Code Seal of Approval] for commercial success. He helped end movie censorship.

BH: A remarkable man. Who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar that year?

SM: Mr. Peter Ustinov. Spartacus- guys who didn't like Kirk Douglas called it Sparagus. But Peter's okay- a good actor. He won two Oscars. I guess that proves he's good.

BH: Who won when you were nominated for Rebel? Then we'll get off this depressing subject.

SM: Ta-da: Jack Lemmon, in Mister Roberts. I knew he'd win.

BH: Coincidentally- or not -your character, Plato, was killed off in Rebel, too.

SM: Makes sense: he was, in a way, the first gay teenager in films. You watch it now, you know he had the hots for James Dean. You watch it now, and everyone knows about Jimmy, so it's like he had the hots for Natalie [Wood] and me. Ergo, I had to be bumped off, out of the way.

BH: Straight critics and audiences would mostly see that Plato was looking for a father figure, since he comes from a broken home.

SM: The brokenest! So what's the point?

BH: I think people tend to see what they want to see. Plato's feelings may be a mixture of seeking the missing father and idolizing or adoring Jim, but straights will see only the one aspect and gays will see only the other. What do you think?

SM: Does that mean only bisexuals see both aspects?

BH: Could be....

SM: I do think Rebel's one of those superflicks that are all things to all people. It has so many levels.

BH: So in a sense, your career began at the top...

SM: And I've been working my way down ever since.

BH: I didn't mean that. But people who peak early- like you, with your Oscar nominations within five or six years of each other- often find it difficult to live up to the early promise, right?

SM: Don't I know. . . . No, you're absolutely right. You only get a Rebel or an Exodus once in a few years, and if you can work up to that, people see you as developing. If it starts out that way, they see you as, well, regressing. Those are maybe my most famous flicks, and I played fucked-up teens in them, so guess what they kept offering me?

BH: I found Dino very touching- the best thing I've ever seen on juvenile delinquency and the vicious circle of reform schools.

SM: It was pretty decent. But you know what I liked? The Gene Krupa Story. I loved those drums, man!

BH: I haven't seen that. I almost saw one of yours called Tonka. Didn't have any idea what it was about, but I used to play with Tonka trucks when I was a kid, so...

SM: Why didn't you see it?

BH: I went out on a date that night.

SM: So tell me.

BH: I had a date with this girl on Saturday night, but she wanted to change it to Friday, because of a family visit. But I'm sure I'll catch up with Tonka someday.

SM: Eh, don't bother. If you've got a heavy date, go with it, man. Or her, or him, or whatever.

BH: Do you think bisexuality is the true norm?

SM: You mean do I think everyone's bi? Yeah. . . if they'd be honest about it, or try it. How about you?

BH: I don't think one can generalize about people that way.

SM: How about you personally?

BH: I've been attracted to both. . . . Now, back to your career. Did you think of yourself as a sex symbol?

SM: An SS? (laughs.) Not after I made Exodus. You know, Otto sounds like a Nazi, and he's a tough buzzard, but he's got a great heart. Nice man. . . . What were we talking about? Oh, yeah. Did or do I consider myself sexy?

BH: Do you consider yourself a sex symbol?

SM: Only when I'm alone and lonely... if you know what I mean.

BH: Who doesn't?

SM: Oh, I know a few devout Sicilians who don't. . .

BH: Priests?

SM: Are you kidding? Nuns. Priests do it right and left- there's more gay priests than you can figure. Why do you think the Church is so down on priests?

BH: Appearances?

SM: Yeah, that and the clothes they wear. Anyway, I don't want to offend anybody here.

BH: Well, speaking of headgear, anyway, you did Escape from Zahrain with Yul Brynner. I think he kept that hood on his head through the whole movie! What's the story?

SM: That flick was not made in the shade, man. Desert heat, and then some. I don't think Yul wanted to bother shaving two, three times a day.

BH: You're right- he had a beard, too.

SM: Mostly I think he wanted to look exotic.

BH: I don't think he could help that.

SM: And it was a scene-stealing thing: everyone kept wondering if he'd ever remove the friggin' hood.

BH: What was it like working with Paul Newman in Somebody Up There Likes Me?

SM: You didn't even comment that I did two flicks with Escape in the title. (Smiles.) Paul was pretty new then. Like me. Only, he was taller and he had blue eyes, and being half-Gentile, he could get into leading-man parts just like that. (Snaps fingers.)

BH: He certainly had the required look.

SM: And then some. And don't think he didn't know it. Well, the truth is, we didn't get along that great.

BH: That sort of parallels the fact that Rock Hudson and James Dean didn't get along on Giant. Older man/younger man rivalry?

SM: Maybe. But Paul- I gotta be fair to the man- he had a heavy part, with makeup and cauliflower ears and all, so he had lots to worry about. Plus he was runnin' sorta scared, with one big bomb behind him. We were all impressed out of our wits- I came from the stage, and Hollywood was it. I'd have done anything they wanted.

BH: Was Newman approachable? I've heard he has a considerable ego.

SM: We all have that. But yeah, he was on kind of a star trip. He could afford to be. Leading men can survive a few flops. Me, if I'd had a few flops back then, I'd have been demoted to bit parts or stuck in some crowd scene.

BH: I once came across a color picture in a movie book of you and Barbara Eden and other actors and actresses, all in swimsuits, posing for a cheesecake or beefcake shot. Your arms were all linked, and-

SM: Jesus, that was long ago! I haven't seen that picture in, God, I don't know how long. We were all on this artificial beach set. I have to admit, I looked pretty cool, even back then.

BH: You're one of those people who look better, the older they get.

SM: Thanks. Yeah, so far. But did you get a load of Eden's hips? Widesville, man.

BH: Her hair was darker, too, and she wasn't at all as attractive as she is now. What happened?

SM: They go to work on the dames the moment they set foot in the studio gate. They starve them, they set these fag beauty experts on them, and they tell them to get gorgeous or else no dice.

BH: Anything comparable for the men?

SM: Lose the weight- but not too much. I've never had any real weight problem. Wait till your mid-twenties, then you'll know. Something happens around twenty-five, and you can never eat the same way again. Or if you do, the weight starts creeping up on you, faster and faster- according to my friends.

BH: They must have shaved your chest in that beach shot.

SM: Hair is- was- "vulgah ."

BH: They didn't try to change your New York accent?

SM: They tried to change everything except my fuckin' gender! But they finally figured out that maybe what I had worked. And it did, for the kind of things I did at first, and kept on doing.

BH: Some more titles of your movies: The Longest Day, Crime in the Streets, The Young Don't Cry. . . Rather grim titles. Anything you want to say about any of them?

SM: Just watch them, if you like. They're self-explained. Most of them are so-so.

BH: Krakatoa, East of Java. Probably a disaster film ahead of its time, huh?

SM: Nobody remembered Krakatoa- sounded like a voodoo flick to most people.

BH: I did see The Greatest Story Ever Told.

SM: You Catholic, too?

BH: My mother is. Why?

SM: It could've broken even if all the Catholics and their families had seen it.

BH: I did my part- I saw it twice.

SM: Once for the plot and once for the scenery?

(laughs.)

I played Uriah; it was an all-star thing. Everyone was in it. And it offended just about everyone- either that, or they just didn't give a damn.

BH: It was a 1965 film. I guess Biblical pictures were completely out of favor by then. Prophets became losses.

SM: Very good! (Both laugh.)

BH: It's not mine- someone told me that one. But George Stevens, of Giant, directed Story.

SM: What was he like to work with? Well, I didn't exactly have a starring role. That was Max von Sydow, who's a nice guy. A lot nicer than the last guy who'd played Jesus...

BH: Jeffrey Hunter, in King of Kings.

SM: Yeah, young blue-eyes. Gorgeous. A creep.

BH: He was bisexual, wasn't he?

SM: Yeah. Anyway, Stevens was good- I mean, a good director. But a tough old buzzard. The best directors are usually tough nuts to crack, but the result's usually worth it, after.

BH: Pat Boone was in Story, and so was Charlton Heston and...

SM: I just said: everyone was in it. Heston, he has an ego the size of Texas and a talent the size of South Dakota.

BH: Why not North Dakota?

SM: We won't go into that. Anyhow, Boone, well, everyone knows what a bigot he's turned out to be. . . . Who else was in that? Let's see: Victor Buono- I forget what he played, but he's cool; real fat, so he looks twice his age. Angela Lansbury- real nice lady, nothing like her bitchy [movie] image. Not that I worked with hardly any of these guys, but I've at least met them all. Of course, Roddy McDowall was in it- you know Roddy?

BH: I just know of him.

SM: Everyone knows of him . . . (Smiles.) Carroll Baker was in it- the obligatory sex symbol, right? She played, uh, Veronica... They even got Sidney Poitier into it. I ought to see it again some time, for laughs. Everybody's in it; it would probably become a cult movie, if it weren't religious.

BH: Are you religious?

SM: Privately, yeah. I'm sure no stickler for all those Catholic rules, anyway.

BH: Briefly getting back to Rebel Without a Cause.

SM: Oh, no . . . (Groans, then laughs.) In my case, Rebel Without a Pause. Well, what?

BH: Do you agree with the statement that the characters played by you and Dean and Natalie Wood were forming your own nuclear family in Rebel, since they all came from broken homes?

SM: That's a good concept, but I don't know that it was what [Nicholas] Ray and everyone intended.

BH: Because Dean and Wood were about the same age, and you were younger, looking up to him...

SM: One thing, though: if it's some nuclear unit or whatever, the son gets killed off.

BH: Homophobia, I suppose. You'd prove a rival to Natalie for Jimmy. And the idea is that they live happily ever after, meaning that they'll reproduce and have their own kids.

SM: Yeah, so how's that make it a nuclear family unit?

BH: It could as easily be seen as a triangle. But when it was made, there were no homosexual characters, ever.

SM: If there had been, I might've been called a name!

BH: That's what eventually happened; it went from invisibility on the screen to name-calling and vituperation. If Plato had been an actually gay role, would you have accepted it?

SM: Probably. . . . Listen, I'd have done anything to get into movies and stay there. And if it's a big-budget flick with top names, you take anything in it- unless you're a big star.

BH: Don't you think a lot of gay actors totally shy away from gay roles?

SM: You know they do. Rock Hudson, X, Y, Z . . . Not me- not anymore, if I ever did. Dov was not a gay role. ...

BH: Even though he was sacrificed to homophobia. . . . What do you think of recent gay films like The Boys in the Band or Myra Breckinridge?

SM: Myra ain't gay. That was transsexual stuff, and it was mostly Raquel Welch.

BH: And Myron- Rex Reed- was more like her boyfriend than her prior self.

SM: Right. But Mae West was a hoot in it. I got friends who go up and see her- gay guys, jocks.

BH: Gay jocks?

SM: Yeah. They adore her, so she gets the reaction she wants out of them. Most straight guys would gross out if she made a move on them. But Boys in the Band was fun. It was kind of negative, because it was one of the first movies like that- or plays. I think we'll see more and more of the gay stuff up on the screen, because people are curious, and gays go to see anything about themselves- especially if it's funny or sexy.

BH: You, of course, produced another stage version of Fortune and Men's Eyes, and it was a hit.

SM: Like I said, sexy- we put in nudity and everything. I mean, that's what they want. You don't do a thing about men behind bars and hold back on the sex and the raunch. They know what they're expecting to see- the audiences, I mean.

BH: You had nothing to do with the movie version. What did you think of the movie?

SM: Flop time. Unh-unh. Nothin' like my play- my version. Less integrity.

BH: Were you approached to costar in it?

SM: Dino Grows Up- the Hard Way! (Both laugh.) Well, they knew I did the play, and I'd want some input. The producers of the flick-flop flop-flick knew exactly what they wanted. It sure wasn't what audiences wanted.

BH: By doing FaME, you were virtually announcing your sexuality to the public. Did you worry about that?

SM: It wasn't like producing or directing a gay movie- it got a lot less publicity. The public hardly ever knows anything about that; if they see me kiss a girl in a movie, that's what they remember, and that's what they assume.

BH: But more importantly, you were letting Hollywood know that you didn't care who knew. Wouldn't that rob you of future movie roles?

SM: Sure. Once I did FaME, I probably lost half my future chances. But that'll change- it's already changing. I think it's only going to change in a big way- in the future, I mean- if gay actors and stars and directors come out. That'll show the guys in charge that we're here, and we're gonna stick around and not keep playing bury-the-queer-in-the-fairy-tale. You know what I'm saying?

BH: Yes, I do. Do you like directing as well as acting?

SM: I like not being bossed around all the time. I'll never be Nick Ray or George Stevens, but I'd like to direct some good pictures. It doesn't matter if I'm in them. FaME was a great experience, and I liked working with actors instead of just competing with them. Yeah, I want to do lots more of that. Even if I never act again, though I'd hate not having a choice.

BH: Having a choice- isn't that what your being involved with gay themes is about? Or, for that matter, being bisexual?

SM: I think so. I don't like having to just do straight parts, or gay parts, and I don't like to be told I can only love a woman- or a guy.

BH: Why do you think so many gay men are turned off by bisexual men?

SM: Listen, they ain't turned off by them sexually. Maybe politically. Because half the gays in Hollywood pretend they're bi. And I guess so far that's a matter of survival. Some don't even have the guts to say they're bi.

BH: By the same token, some straight men, mostly younger, trendy ones, like to say they're bisexual.

SM: That's cool. Even if it ain't true, some of them try it, once or twice, and that's healthy. It lets them find out if they really got no taste for men, or if they're really bi or gay, but they've been fooling themselves- like the "straight" guy in Boys in the Band.

BH: Do you believe in trying everything once?

SM: You mean drugs, don't you? (Shrugs.) Why not? Once, anyway. I'm not into heavy drugs. You can't be, and still work. And I like working. It lets you show what you're made of, and it's a challenge. I mean, fuckin' Hollywood has its faults, but I love being part of the entertainment industry. No way I'd want to try something else- I know, from my relatives. Hardly any of them are happy at what they're doing.

BH: Somebody in L.A. told me you'd wanted to be in Midnight Cowboy?

SM: I was, once, interested in buying the rights. Did you ever read that novel? James Leo Herlihy- nice guy. The book's fuckin' fantastic, man. Even better than the movie. Anyway, I'd wanted to play Ratso.

BH: Why not the Jon Voight part?

SM: Do you see blond hair on this head, huh? It's a WASP part, and Ratso's a wop or a Jew. That ain't just my opinion, that's how Hollywood works.

BH: What was your childhood like in New York?

SM: My childhood in New York was one long Bronx cheer. Okay?

BH: You're probably a lot more interesting now. . . Was Paul Newman any nicer in Exodus?

SM: Everyone has a Paul Newman thing, man. (Shakes head.) He's a great-looking ice cube. Leave it at that.

BH: You played Broadway, didn't you? A prince in The King and I?

SM: You're from the East, you do 'theatah," eventually you hit Broadway. It ain't as exciting as it sounds.

BH: Maybe this isn't as exciting as it sounds, but in the switchblade fight scene with Dean in Rebel, your reaction while he fights is terror, for him, and. . . love. Were you in love with James Dean?

SM: He was a shitheel, sometimes. He liked being that way. But everybody had moments when they loved him- one way or another. I did, too. Did we have an affair, you mean?

BH: Then, or perhaps later . . . ?

SM: I might tell you some people I had affairs with- maybe. But Jimmy was special, so I don't want to say.

BH: It's rare that a star has an affair with a star, isn't it?

SM: It is, for the most part. Why do you think?

BH: Why? Egos, I guess. It's easier to seduce or impress a fan than a costar.

SM: You got it, kid. Also, there's that competitive thing: Who's the bigger star, the top man? A pun, again. (laughs.)

BH: Do you prefer fans or stars or starlets of either gender?

SM: What do I prefer. . . Not stars, whatever that is. I mean, most people say I'm a star, but I know I'm not a superstar. Doesn't matter. I like real people, men who are happy being what they are, even if they don't earn a lot. I like English guys, because they got good manners and they're not so star-struck.

BH: Blond Englishmen, huh?

SM: Not necessarily blond, and not necessarily English. I like them all- men, I mean. And a few chicks, now and then.

BH: Are you of a monogamous nature?

SM: Make that polygamous, and you got it, kid. (Smiles.)

BH: James Dean and Nick Adams were roommates, as I'm sure you know. Were they also lovers?

SM: I didn't hear it from Jimmy, who was sort of awesome to me when we did Rebel. But Nick told me they had a big affair- I don't know if it was while they were living together or not. But there's always the roomie thing in Hollywood- Brando and Wally Cox, Brando and Tony Curtis, Cary Grant and Randolph Scott- and there are always rumors about them, even if they aren't true. I think Hollywood secretly wants to think it's true.

BH: Why?

SM: To some straight guys- straight execs, anyway- it's a way of tearing a star down to size. Envying him but despising him; that kind of thing- real twisted.

BH: You said earlier you'd mention an affair you had with someone famous. For instance?

SM: For instance? How about Peter Lawford?

BH: Bi, right? How about Peter Lawford?

SM: Yeah. (Smiles.) How about Peter Lawford. That's enough name-dropping for now. And I don't go much for groupies, either. Stars- big stars- or groupies; I like someone I can relate to like a kind of equal, you know?

BH: So your ego has its limits?

SM: Yeah. I'm basically a good guy. (Smiles.)

BH: Was your bisexuality a problem, as far as your family was concerned, Sal?

SM: As long as you don't wear a dress or sound like Marilyn Monroe, there's no problem that can't be worked out. One time, when my Ma wondered how come I turned out gay, I asked her, "Ma, how come my brothers didn't?" You get me?

BH: Yeah- it's there to begin with.

SM: You're catching on. Besides, when you're successful, you're okay, you know? Moms love success.

BH: She must be proud you didn't change your name to Sal Miller or something.

SM: She is. Imagine me, Sal Maynard- someone did suggest that.

BH: Reminds me of Maynard G. Krebs.

SM: (Both laugh.) He looked more like Maynard G. Crabs.

BH: What about doing more television?

SM: I did TV, way back when, and much more recently, and I could go that route. Only, how many shows can you guest on? I wouldn't mind my own show, but I'm not old or craggy enough to play a detective. Not yet. I'll probably do more of it, though.

BH: What about directing TV?

SM: Closed shop, pretty much. And no controversy allowed. I could play maybe a priest. . . . You know something? TV's so fuckin' old-fashioned and scared, but it's TV that got movies more liberal. TV and some gutsy guys like Preminger. To compete with TV, movies had to get more sexy and provocative, so TV made movies like Rebel possible. And that started the whole ball rolling. But TV itself is still for a kiddie version of the average working man.

BH: You ought to go in there and stir things up.

SM: Man, I'd like to stir things up.

 

Sal spent the night in town, at a motel on State Street, in front of West Beach. He called me the next morning, said he'd enjoyed talking together, and noted that he was spending the afternoon visiting an actress friend, before flying back to L.A. Eventually I found out that the friend was the ailing Norma Varden. A veteran of countless films, including Witness for the Prosecution, The Sound of Music, and Doctor Dolittle, the Englishwoman often went downtown to lunch, shop, or visit the museum of art. I'd met her in a supermarket, and she was extremely nice. But lately she hadn't been out and about. A dedicated Santa Barbaran, Ms. Varden continued to live there until poor health forced a move to the motion picture home in Los Angeles.

I never saw Sal Mineo again.

When he died, Sal was rehearsing for the L.A. opening of P. S. Your Cat Is Dead. He'd already played the bisexual cat burglar in the San Francisco production. Had he lived, I'd definitely have gone to see him at the Westwood Playhouse. I was stunned when I read that he had been stabbed to death on February 12, 1976, in front of his apartment house. He'd habitually walked to and from work. He didn't fear the dark, and had no known enemies.

Though his cinematic heyday had ended in the early sixties, Sal made headlines with his sudden death. Speculation abounded as to why. His sex life provided the unofficial but widely circulated answer. It was hinted that he was an S&M devotee, into bondage and other kinks. Or that he'd made a pass at a hustler and thus "provoked" his murderer- this, despite the multitude of gay hustlers to be found on West Hollywood's Santa Monica Boulevard. It was also loudly whispered that Sal Mineo's executioner might have been a former lover.

It wasn't the first time Sal had been the object of such ignorant speculations and malicious fantasizing. Part of the James Dean legend had it that his younger costar "turned queer" after Dean's untimely death in 1955. According to the story, Sal attempted fruitlessly to contact his fallen friend at a seance. He thereafter wrecked his car in an accident, but fate intervened to spare Sal's life. However, the words "James Dean" suddenly appeared on the car's windshield, and from that moment on, Sal Mineo was gay.

The yellow journalism surrounding Sal's death was fueled by the grisly murders of silent superstar Ramon Novarro and Italian director and intellectual Pier Paolo Pasolini. Novarro, the original Ben-Hur and a lover of Valentino, had died at the hands of two hustler brothers in 1968, in his own home. Pasolini, an ardent leftist with many enemies, was bludgeoned to death near Rome on November 3, 1975, just months before Sal died. His death caused a governmental scandal, and a likely murderer was quickly produced- some said too quickly.

Unlike Pasolini's mystery, Mineo's was eventually solved. It turned out that the thief who'd killed him had happened upon an innocent bystander. That the bystander was gay and an ex-movie star was a coincidence. Only after he was caught and jailed did the murderer learn that his victim had been Sal Mineo. The solution to the mystery was virtually ignored by the press.

Years after Sal's death, I met a Northern California restaurateur who'd been one of Sal's lovers while living in L.A. The ash-blond had recently arrived from England, and was taken by friends to Studio One, a large gay disco frequented by numerous gay actors, including Sal. Greg recalls, "He sent a friend over to me. The chap asked if I'd like to meet a movie star. I said 'Who?' He said, 'Sal Mineo.' I didn't know who Sal Mineo was, and the chap became irritated. 'Don't you ever watch television?' he asked. I said I was from Torquay, England. At any rate, I danced with Sal and then went to his apartment, whose walls were covered with photographs of famous people Sal had met. And we began our affair."

Greg knew Sal in 1974 and 1975. "We broke up because, although we had an open arrangement, Sal was rather possessive. And I was very young, slim and attractive, and I wanted to roam, to move on to other relationships, meet more people. But he was a nice guy- of Hollywood, but not Hollywood." Greg offers these recollections of Sal Mineo:

"Back in the fifties, Sal played a character called Nicky on Ann Sothern's TV series. I saw one of those episodes- Nicky falls in love with 'a very lovely young girl'; but, by definition, girls are young. . . Sal said he'd had a fight with the show's director, about diction . . . One time, after dining in West Hollywood, we went back to my apartment and watched television. 'I Love Lucy' was on. Sal loved 'I Love Lucy.'

"Lucy was pronouncing things like stew 'styew' and decided 'dee-cided.' Being from England, I commented on it. Sal said he'd once met Joan Crawford, who'd had the nerve to criticize his diction- things like saying 'muthah.' Sal was sensitive about that, and about his family's early poverty. But Lucy and Crawford and all the old stars were taught to talk veddy clipped, which is why Bette Davis sounds more English than I do. Anyway, Crawford turned Sal off, but she went on and on about the old studio days- she loved to talk about her 'starry self,' he said.

"Crawford mentioned a late superstar actor who was 'as gay as a goose,' and who was married off by his studio to a superstar actress who was also 'as gay as a goose,' an expression Sal hated. I asked why he didn't like it, and he said he couldn't stand farm animals. One couldn't tell if he was joking. I wanted to ask if he disliked animals in general, but thought better of it. I love animals, and we hadn't had sex yet, that evening.

"So I asked if Sal had ever taken diction lessons. I knew it might rub him the wrong way- so I could rub him the right way! He said the Sothern show's director had brought in a vocal coach, and after five minutes, Sal walked off the set. Sal also had a run-in with an anti-gay crew assistant. Don't ask me how the chap knew, way back then, though Sal once said he used to camp a lot, when he was younger. He was quite butch when I knew him, and quite out of the closet. I admired Sal as an up-front gay man, of which we have hardly any in England.

"Sal survived the episode. He was proud of being 'a survivor,' and according to him, he'd had a very rough childhood. He said he'd always known he was gay, but he only became sexual after getting involved in fisticuffs. Street fighting was a sex substitute, and the more he fought, the more he craved sexual contact... It's ironic that he often played passive roles, because Sal was not sexually passive.

"Once he told me that he'd met the late Robert Taylor in Italy, in the mid sixties. Taylor was in decline. He was doing an Italian picture set in Egypt [The Glass Sphinx, (1967)]. And Sal knew he was gay. Taylor wasn't his type, but he craved his affection or approval. They were introduced, and went to a restaurant together, for drinks. It never got past drinks, because Taylor was- to Sal's dismay- not a friendly man. Not a 'buddy,' or a buddy to gays.

"Sal had heard gossip about Taylor, but it must have left out his politics. He was a long-time conservative who was ready to put down gays and liberals in public. He had denounced several suspected radicals during the fifties witch-hunts. I wonder that he even got together with Sal, because when Sal confided his own gayness- which no doubt Taylor had heard about- Taylor became very cold. He said he didn't wish to discuss politics. Sal hadn't mentioned politics, but I suppose that to Taylor, coming out- though just to another gay- was political.

"Sal went to the john, and when he came back, Taylor said he had another engagement to rush off to. Sal wondered if Taylor wasn't anti-ethnic, because Sal was proud of his heritage, but sensitive. Between being one of the few Italian-American actors who'd kept his name, and being known in Hollywood as gay, he was often suspicious of strangers. He'd opened up to Taylor, and been swatted down. I knew it hurt him a lot. He asked me, 'How could anyone with hair that dark be a bigot?'

"Sal was friends with Peter Bogdanovich before Bogdanovich was a top director. He'd only directed something with Boris Karloff. And one of Sal's biggest disappointments was that Bogdanovich hadn't given him the chance for a comeback in The Last Picture Show. Because it was Sal who gave him a copy of the novel and told him it would make a wonderful movie. Bogdanovich thanked him repeatedly, but didn't give him a part.

"Eventually Sal knew he was through in pictures. He hadn't achieved the transition to adult stardom. So he finally chucked Hollywood. By the time he was in rehearsals for P.S. Your Cat Is Dead, we'd stopped dating, but we kept in touch. One of my friends stayed friends with Sal, and he told me that Sal was having more fun with plays, working honesty and creatively, than he'd ever had in Hollywood. It didn't mean so much to me then. But it did after his death.

"Sal would have hated that the robber [Sal's murderer] didn't know who he was! As for all the scandal coverage, he'd probably have been amused. Sal never cared much what the public or the neighbors thought. His peers' approval was what counted. He wanted less to be a star than to do good work and be acknowledged as a craftsman. He played hard, worked very hard, and he still had a lot of potential..."

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This Interview copyright Boze Hadleigh, used with permission.