Born on January 10, 1939, in New York, New York, Sal Mineo established a career as a teen actor and heartthrob, earning a supporting actor Oscar nomination for his role in Rebel Without a Cause, opposite James Dean. Other prominent projects included Giant, Dino and Exodus—for which Mineo received a second Oscar nod and a Golden Globe award. His life was cut short on February 12, 1976 when he was stabbed to death at the age of 37.
Actor Sal Mineo was born Salvatore Mineo Jr. on January 10, 1939, in Harlem, New York; some accounts list his place of birth as the Bronx, where he grew up as well. Though involved in wayward activities as a youth, Mineo entered the performing arts after his mother Josephine received advice from a talent scout. Her son took acting and dance classes at the Professional Children’s School and made his first Broadway appearance in 1951 in Tennessee Williams's The Rose Tattoo, followed by a substantial role in The King and I, with Yul Brynner and Gertrude Lawrence.
'Rebel Without a Cause'
Mineo then transitioned to a movie career while still in his teens, making his big-screen debut in Six Bridges to Cross, starring Tony Curtis, and Charlton Heston’s The Private War of Major Benson, both released in 1955. Mineo’s breakout role came next, that of John “Plato” Crawford in the classic Rebel Without a Cause, also from 1955. He received an Academy Award nomination for his affecting, stand-out performance opposite James Dean and Natalie Wood, with the thespians appearing as a beleaguered trio of teens.
The nomination shot Mineo into major stardom, and he continued to appear in 1956 films like Somebody Up There Likes Me, a biopic on boxer Rocky Graziano starring Paul Newman, the musical Rock Pretty Baby and the drama Giant, in which Mineo once again co-starred with Dean. Mineo continued to work steadily through the rest of the decade, playing the lead in the films Dino (1957), Tonka (1958), where he played a Native American character, and The Gene Krupa Story (1959). Mineo received a 1957 Emmy nomination for the TV-version of Dino as well and also charted Top 40 singles as a pop singer.
Second Oscar Nod
Mineo was part of the cast of 1960’s Exodus, a story about the founding of Israel directed by Otto Preminger. Mineo earned his second supporting actor Oscar nod for his role as Dov Landau and won a Golden Globe. However, by the mid-1960s, his film career had slowed considerably, with later roles including The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) and Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971).
Mineo was one of the first actors to be openly gay during an era when it was considered far more taboo to be out in Hollywood, with some of his later project choices reflecting his orientation. He returned to the stage, directing the dramas End as a Man and Fortune and Men’s Eyes, with the latter focusing on power and sexuality in a prison. He also began to take on TV projects like the movies Stranger on the Run (1967) and The Challengers (1968), a Mission: Impossible special and guest spots on Columbo and S.W.A.T. Struggling financially, he landed a role in the play P.S. Your Cat Is Dead, which ran in San Francisco during the mid-1970s.
Murdered in Robbery Attempt
On February 12, 1976, coming home from Los Angeles rehearsals, Mineo met an untimely death. He was brutally stabbed outside of his West Hollywood home in a robbery attempt and died shortly thereafter at the age of 37. Years later Lionel Ray Williams was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Books on the pioneering actor’s life include 2000’s Sal Mineo: His Life, Murder, and Mystery by H. Paul Jeffers and 2010’s Sal Mineo: A Biography by Michael Gregg Michaud. Mineo was also depicted in the 2013 film Sal, directed by James Franco, with Val Lauren playing lead.
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