Gay Founding Fathers: Sal Mineo

September 9, 2013
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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.

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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.

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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."

founding fathers sal mineo

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!

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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!

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Comments

I read Michaud's biography which was incredible in detail and absolutely gripping to read .Look forward to the film LOL

I had a HUGE crush on Sal Mineo when I was younger....and was devastated when he was murdered. Can't wait for this movie....and I will read the book as well.

He was GORGEOUS.

In loving memory to one of the original lost boys of the world.

He truly was one-of-a-kind. Not like the closeted Hudson or the "confused" Dean, Mineo stood apart and above the pack. He didn't care. Gotta love that! (And oh, yes, easy on the eyes!). All gay men should take a deep bow to this man.

I looked for the films mentioned , on netflix and none of them were in their library...

I looked for the films mentioned , on netflix and none of them were in their library...

You will have a hard time finding "Who Killed Teddy Bear?", but it is available on a region-free U.K. DVD on the Network label. It's an awesome 1960's sleaze-fest, with Juliet Prowse as the unwilling object of Sal's affectations and Elaine Stritch as a lesbian who also comes on to her; it's also a treat to see NYC as it looked then. I grabbed a still from it showing a close-up of Sal Mineo lighting a cigarette; it's a stunning black and white portrait all on its own. The YouTube clips don't do the photography justice; the DVD is much better, although still a standard def version of a cheaply-made film. Worth the search!

I think a Founding Fathers series is a great idea. I hope you're not going to limit yourself to 20/21st century. Walt Whitman...Frederick the Great of Prussia...Magnus Hirschfeld... and you might as well have the Bad and the Ugly with the good. Nice article on Sal Mineo!

Thanks! Appreciate the suggestion. We're going to look at some men from WAAAAAY back as well. Mix it up.

Founding Fathers is great. It'd be nice to know whether they're tops or bottoms or whatever: in the name of equality we deserve something more specific than just "gay". Stars are after all something to fantasize about aren't they?

LOL. That's a little hard for us to research. I think we'll have more luck hearing from guys here on the blog that may have gotten down with them back in the day.

For fantasy purposes, I think you can just decide whether they're tops or bottoms. It is your fantasy, after all!

Definitely William Haines, the early movie star who came out after the studios tried to hush him up. He refused to stay in the closet (and hide his partner) so he quit the movies, and became a very successful interior designer who decorated all of his Hollywood friends' homes. When almost all of Hollywood was hiding, Haines was unashamedly out.

He was surprised that he stopped getting roles? In 1960, he would have had to have been closeted and married.

Might be interesting to find some of the original Stonewall riots veterans to highlight.

YES... The few that are still around would make for a very interesting interview. Would have loved to met Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P Washington and heard what they had to say/remembered about the Stonewall Riots.

A "Founding Fathers" series is an excellent idea. Dr. Tom Waddell, who was one of the leaders in creating the Gay Olympics and one of the subjects of an HBO special back in the early '80's, would be a great one to spotlight (wonder whatever happened to his daughter and her lesbian mother?). Another good subject would be Malcolm Boyd, gay priest and author.

Thank you!

I loved him in "Rebel." I didn't know the "rest of the story." Thanks for putting this up, with the yummy pictures.

On the one hand, "Founding Fathers" would be a fascinating glimpse into gay Hollywood if you limited profiles to Hollywood people. But that's just a favorite subject of mine. You probably will include men and women from all walks of life, as you should...

Wow Sal Mineo, I was just a child but was totally smitten with him in a 1958 Disney movie called Tonka where he played White Bull. It was back in those days of "cowboys and Indians". Not so appropriate now but he was something to behold with his bare chest and wearing little else, galloping away on a horse with no saddle. Even at that age I can see I was fiercely attracted to a handsome man. Lovely memories. Thank you.

Love this concept, & thanks for inviting input. As I was considering making the suggestion to include Rev Troy Perry, founder of MCC churches, I read the comment suggesting the inclusion of Fr Malcom Boyd. Both would make excellent inclusions representing Gay religious pioneers, as would author/religious activist, Chris Glaser.

Another suggestion I support is Magnus Hirschfeld, a sexual pioneer who would probably feel comfortable in today's Gay comm'y given his prescient wisdom. Also, I hope you will include the contributions of Gay men of color such as Langston Hughes & Bayard Rustin, as well as Cubans Cesar Romero (original Joker on Batman) & Real World's Pedro Zamora.

Best of Luck on this excellent endeavor!!

I agree with BJMaster - a mix of "Founding Fathers" should include religious/spiritual figures. Overall, the idea behind this archive approach is ideal. We need to know where we've come from.

Thanks for all the suggestions, everyone! We will definitely take a look and start researching. Glad you like the series. :)

I have an old post card of Sal in a blazer & tie talking to Elvis who's dressed all in denim. Don't remember when I found it years ago; I've scanned it I but I'm not tech-savvy enough to know how to upload it to my profile; would be glad to e-mail to anyone who wants to see it.

go to my profile & send me a msg w/ your e-mail if you like.

Good old James Franco--ALWAYS pushing the bar---love it.

I think this is a good idea and would especially like to see a wide mix of both well known and obscure individuals that haven't been as visible in the media.

As far as Sal Mineo goes, I was especially attracted to him as he grew older. Thought he was very handsome and sexy. He was cute as a boy but I didn't find him sexy until he was more mature.

Someone praised him for hinting at or revealing his sexual identity unlike Hudson and Dean. At that point he really didn't have much to lose whereas Dean and Hudson still had viable careers to protect. Did it take courage and bravery for him to do it ? Yes but much less so than if his career was still in tact.

Still, we'll never know what impact he might have had on society if he had lived and continued to produce material with gay content even though gay rights movements were already exploding or about to at the time of his death.

Sal Mineo was an amazing young man. First time I saw him was in "Exodus," where he held his own in terms of both looks and acting ability against Paul Newman. I fell in lust with both of them!

Some how missed this post. It is a great idea. I would like to see more written about the Compton Cafateria riots. Funny, so many look down on drag queens but they have been the vanguard of gay rights.

I grew up in LA, a couple of blocks from Sal Mineo's cousin. I was about 5 and she was a year or two older and used to intimidate me, sort of bully me. One time she made me strip while she did, too. Kids do that. But I was particularly turned on somehow because of the connection to Sal, knowing he'd been in her house. I guess I felt the sexuality even before I became clear about it.