cover image Sal Mineo: His Life, Murder, and Mystery

Sal Mineo: His Life, Murder, and Mystery

H. Paul Jeffers. Carroll & Graf Publishers, $25 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-7867-0777-5

Small, sinuous and sensuous, Mineo is best remembered for his Academy Award- nominated performance as Plato, the troubled gay teen in love with James Dean in the famed 1955 cult film Rebel Without a Cause, though Mineo's career was far more extensive. His life, which ended in a mysterious street stabbing in 1976 when he was 37, is an emblematic story of early childhood success and a faltering later career. Born in 1939 to immigrant Italian parents in the Bronx, Mineo possessed extraordinary star quality. At age 11, he landed a Broadway role with one line in Tennessee's William's The Rose Tattoo; two years later, he was the understudy for the part of the Crown Prince of Siam in The King and I. After just two films, he was catapulted into stardom in Rebel. But except for an Academy Award nomination for his performance in Exodus in 1960, Mineo's film career was spotty and didn't build momentum. With an easy style and sound reporting, Jeffers (a personal friend of Mineo's and author of numerous books including An Honest President: The Life and Presidencies of Grover Cleveland) has recreated the performer's life with verve and insight. He also provides delicious, though sometimes extraneous, gossip (16-year-old Mineo most probably had affairs with both James Dean and director Nicholas Ray on the set of Rebel). Jeffers's insights into the complicated Hollywood politics that controlled Mineo's up-and-down career will appeal to older film buffs and Rebel fans who will recognize him in the movie still on the jacket, while gay (and straight) readers will be wholly absorbed by his account of how homophobia impeded the search for Mineo's murderer. Targeted marketing to gay readers should boost sales (as it will the title reviewed directly below.) (Nov.)