Gay Founding Fathers: Sal Mineo
Welcome to "Gay Founding Fathers," a new series that goes back—sometimes way back—through queer culture to introduce you to gay men who made a difference, made history, made us swoon, and just plain made us be proud to be who we are. First up: actor Sal Mineo.
With his soulful brown eyes, thick Italian hair, and shy lips that always seemed to quiver as if they were about to ask the prettiest girl in school to the prom, Sal Mineo didn’t just fit the mold of a teen idol, he was the mold. Along with James Dean, his co-star in the classic film Rebel Without a Cause, Mineo helped usher in a new kind of screen idol: the brooding but sensitive heartthrob. The kind of guy who’d defend his girlfriend’s honor but who’d just as easily turn around and cry on her shoulder over the injustices of the world. It was a personality-trait match made in teenage girl heaven, and it helped make the Bronx-born actor one of the biggest movie stars of the 1950s.
Unfortunately, it also led to his career downfall. By 1960, Mineo, now 21 years old, was too old to play the types of roles that made him famous, and despite winning a Golden Globe and a second Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for Exodus (1960), his Hollywood shelf-life had run its course. 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.” For the remainder of his life, Mineo continued to appear occasionally on television and in low-budget films (including the homoerotic cult hit Who Killed Teddy Bear?, in which he played a deranged stalker). Now free of the image factory that demanded he stay closeted, Mineo became increasingly more comfortable exposing his homosexuality, provocatively posing in his underwear for magazines, adopting the look of the leather scene of the early seventies, and spearheading the production of groundbreaking gay-themed plays like "Fortune and Men’s Eyes" (watch the big-screen adaptation here) and "P.S. Your Cat is Dead."
Sadly, like his Rebel co-stars Dean and Natalie Wood, Mineo would die young (and under mysterious circumstances). On February 12, 1976, he was stabbed to death in an alleyway behind his West Hollywood apartment building while coming home from a play rehearsal. He was 37 years old.
Who Killed Teddy Bear? raised more than a few eyebrows in 1965, especially for its homoerotic content, like this scene featuring a Speedo-clad Mineo pumping iron and taking a dip in the pool. Eat your heart out, David Barton!
Mineo's life story will be the subject of the upcoming feature film Sal, based on author Michael Gregg Michaud's best-selling biography and directed by none other than James Franco. Cbeck out The Advocate's behind-the-scenes article on the making of the film, here, before it hits theaters on November 1.
How many of you remember Sal Mineo? Tell us your memories and who would you like to see featured in "Founding Fathers" in the comments section below!