Long-time readers will be aware that there are days when it takes a lot of thought on my part to figure out where I know someone from. Either because they’re behind the scenes people, because they’ve done so many things that I know and love, or sometimes, because I’m more familiar with the person than the work. I could cite specific examples of all of them—and also the occasional time I just had a really hard time finding a still of the thing I think of first. However, Sal Mineo is not any of these examples. I’ll admit it; I think of him in the single most obvious place to think of him, just like pretty much everyone else does.
So okay, yes, there’s a lot of other things he did. I actually saw him in an episode of Columbo the other day; I believe he was murdered by Hector Elizondo. Which is weird, because usually the most famous person is the killer, and you’d think Sal Mineo is more famous by far than Hector Elizondo. (Even though I like him enough so that I’ve already written about him.) I’ve also sought out other Mineo work deliberately; I covered one of his movies for Disney Byways once, come to that. Okay, so some of his work isn’t great, but he was Oscar-nominated for both Rebel and Exodus, losing to Jack Lemmon for Mister Roberts and Peter Ustinov for Spartacus.
But, yes, let’s talk Rebel Without a Cause for a while, because it’s an incredible and underrated performance. Everyone talks about James Dean, and they’re not entirely wrong to do so; James Dean also gives an amazing performance. So does Natalie Wood. It’s a really well-acted movie all the way around. But Plato is a character who needs to be the heart of the piece in a lot of ways, really. He is what elevates the movie—he shows that the tenderness Jim feels is not just for the girl he’s got a crush on but more general.
Though of course it’s also possible to put a bisexual take on the whole thing and suggest that Plato’s crush on Jim is not entirely unrequited and that Jim just doesn’t possess the language and awareness to accept it and do anything about it. Which makes it all the more frustrating that Mineo’s own bisexuality is so steadily erased. He came out as bisexual in the ’70s, before his untimely death, and a lot of people are now saying that he was “really” gay and said bisexual because it was more acceptable. Which misses a lot about treatment of bisexuals, as exemplified by the fact that “he only dated men in his last few years” is taken as evidence of anything, and in fact from what I can tell it’s mostly that he was in a relationship for six years.
For one thing, who knows what would have happened if he hadn’t been murdered? And of course the police at the time assumed it was to do with his sexuality because it was 1976 and of course they did. Probably would now, come to that. As it happens, the man who killed him said he hadn’t even recognized Mineo, who did look a lot different than he had in the ’50s. He’d put on weight in a way that changed his face. His career wasn’t in its best shape ever, though he was making a comeback. He might’ve gone on to a career as a character actor; who can now say? Or maybe he would’ve stayed on the stage and done good work there. Impossible now to say; either way, such a loss.