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Salvatore Mineo, Jr. (January 10, 1939 – February 12, 1976), better known as Sal Mineo, was an Americanmarker film and theatre actor, best known for his performance opposite James Dean in the film Rebel Without a Cause.

Mineo, born in The Bronxmarker, the son of Sicilian coffin makers, was enrolled by his mother in dancing and acting school at an early age.

Early career

Mineo had his first stage appearance in The Rose Tattoo (1951), a play by Tennessee Williams. He also played the young prince opposite Yul Brynner in the stage musical The King and I. Brynner took the opportunity to help a young Mineo better himself as an actor.

After film and television appearances, his breakthrough was Rebel Without A Cause, in which he played John "Plato" Crawford, the sensitive teenager smitten with Jim Stark (played by James Dean). His performance resulted in an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor, and his popularity quickly developed. Mineo's biographer, Paul Jeffers, recounted that Mineo received thousands of fan letters from young female admirers, was mobbed by them at public appearances and further wrote, "He dated the most beautiful women in Hollywoodmarker and New Yorkmarker."

Mineo played a Mexican boy in Giant (1956), but many of his subsequent roles were variations of his role in Rebel Without a Cause, and he was typecast as a troubled teen. In the Disney adventure Tonka, for instance, Mineo starred as a young Sioux named White Bull who traps and domesticates a clear-eyed, spirited wild horse named "Tonka" who becomes the famous horse Comanche.

In his book, Multiculturalism And The Mouse: Race and Sex in Disney Entertainment (2006), Douglas Brode states that the very casting of Mineo as White Bull again "ensured a homosexual subtext". By the late 1950s the actor was a major celebrity, sometimes referred to as the "Switchblade Kid" - a nickname he earned from his role as a criminal in the movie Crime in the Streets.

In 1957, Mineo made a brief foray into music by recording a handful of songs and an album. Two of his singles reached the Top 40 pop charts. The more popular of the two, "Start Movin' (In My Direction)", reached #9 on Billboard's Pop chart. He starred as drummer Gene Krupa in the movie The Gene Krupa Story, co-starring Susan Kohner, James Darren, and Susan Oliver, and directed by Don Weis.

Meanwhile, Mineo made an effort to break his typecasting. His acting ability and exotic good looks earned him not only roles as a Native American boy in Tonka, but also as a Jewish emigrant in Otto Preminger's Exodus, for which he won a Golden Globe Award and received another Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor.

Attempted resurgence

By the early 1960s, he was becoming too old to play the type of role that had made him famous and was not considered appropriate for leading roles. He auditioned for David Lean's film Lawrence of Arabia but was not hired. Mineo was baffled by his sudden loss of popularity, later saying "One minute it seemed I had more movie offers than I could handle, the next, no one wanted me."

His role as a stalker in Who Killed Teddy Bear?, co-starring Juliet Prowse, did not seem to help. Although his performance was praised by critics, he found himself typecast anew, now as a deranged criminal. (He never entirely escaped this; one of his last roles was a guest spot on the 1975 TV series S.W.A.T. playing a Charles Manson-like cult leader.) He returned to the stage to produce the 1971 gay-themed Fortune and Men's Eyes (starring Don Johnson). The play garnered positive reviews in Los Angeles, but, was panned during its New York run, and its expanded prison rape scene was criticized as excessive and gratuitous. A small role in Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971) as chimpanzee Dr. Milo would be Mineo's last movie appearance. In 1973, Mineo appeared as Gamal Zaki, assistant to the president of a Middle Eastern country, who faces an assassination threat in the episode "Prey" of ABC crime drama, Columbo, starring with Peter Falk.


By 1976 Mineo's career had begun to turn around. Playing the role of a gay burglar in a San Franciscomarker run of the stage comedy P.S. Your Cat Is Dead, he received substantial publicity from many positive reviews and moved on to Los Angelesmarker with the play. Arriving home after a rehearsal on February 12, 1976, Mineo was stabbed to death in the alley behind his West Hollywoodmarker apartment building. He was stabbed just once, not repeatedly as first reported, but the blade struck his heart, leading to immediate and massive internal bleeding. Mineo was interred at the Gate of Heaven Cemeterymarker in Hawthorne, New Yorkmarker.

According to Warren Johansson and William A. Percy's Outing: Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence, he was murdered under circumstances that suggested "a homosexual motive." Mineo identified himself as bisexual in a 1972 interview, published after his death, but his biography notes that he dated men exclusively in the last years of his life.

Arrest in Mineo's killing

A pizza deliveryman, Lionel Ray Williams, was sentenced to 57 years in prison for killing Mineo and committing 10 robberies in the same vicinity.Although there was considerable confusion relating to what witnesses had seen in the darkness the night Mineo was murdered, it was later revealed that prison guards reportedly overheard Williams admitting to the crime. Williams claimed he had no idea who Mineo was. Williams was paroled in the early 1990s, but was soon jailed again for criminal activity. Many of Mineo's friends believed that Williams was not the murderer, especially since a blond white man was seen running from the incident.


Sal Mineo was the model for Harold Stevenson's painting The New Adam. The painting is currently part of Guggenheim Museummarker's permanent collection, and is considered "one of the great American nudes".


Mineo's career included involvement with opera. On May 8, 1954, he portrayed the Page (lip-synching to the voice of mezzo-soprano Carol Jones) in the NBC Opera Theatre's production of Richard Strauss' Salome (in English translation), set to Oscar Wilde's play. Elaine Malbin performed the title role, and Peter Herman Adler conducted Kirk Browning's production.

In December 1972, Mineo stage directed Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium, in Detroitmarker. Muriel Costa-Greenspon portrayed the title character, Madame Flora, and Mineo himself played the mute Toby.

Selected filmography

Feature films

Publicity still from The Gene Krupa Story.
Year Film Role Notes
1955 Rebel Without a Cause John "Plato" Crawford Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
1956 Crime in the Streets Angelo "Baby" Gioia, a.k.a. Bambino  
Somebody Up There Likes Me Romolo  
Giant Angel Obregón II  
Rock, Pretty Baby Angelo Barrato  
1957 Dino Dino Minetta  
The Young Don't Cry Leslie "Les" Henderson  
1958 Tonka White Bull  
1959 A Private's Affair Luigi Maresi  
The Gene Krupa Story Gene Krupa  
1960 Exodus Dov Landau Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
1962 Escape from Zahrain Ahmed  
The Longest Day Pvt. Martini  
1964 Cheyenne Autumn Red Shirt  
1965 The Greatest Story Ever Told Uriah  
Who Killed Teddy Bear Lawrence Sherman  
1969 Krakatoa, East of Java Leoncavallo Borghese  
80 Steps to Jonah Jerry Taggart  
1971 Escape from the Planet of the Apes Dr. Milo  


  1. Many of Mineo's friends believed that Williams was not the murderer, especially since a blond white man was seen running from the incident. | last = Noe | first = Denise | title = The Murder of Sal Mineo | url= | accessdate = 2008-07-20 }}


  • Frascella, Lawrence and Weisel, Al Live Fast, Die Young: The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without a Cause (Touchstone, 2005) ISBN 0-7432-6082-1
  • Gilmore, John, Laid Bare: A Memoir of Wrecked Lives and the Hollywood Death Trip (Amok Books, 1998) ISBN 1-878923-08-0
  • Johansson, Warren & Percy, William A. Outing: Shattering the Conspiracy of Silence. (Harrington Park Press, 1994), p. 91.

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