Oscar Actors: Mineo, Sal–Background, Career, Awards

March 10, 2022
Sal Mineo Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: No; parents coffin makers

Social Class: lower-middle

Race/Ethnicity/Religion: Italian descent; father born in Sicily

birth: NYC

Family: brothers and sisters



Teacher/Inspirational Figure:

Radio Debut:

TV Debut:

Stage Debut:

Broadway Debut:

Film Debut: Joseph Pevney’s Six Bridges to Cross (1955), aged 15; he beat out Clint Eastwood.

Breakthrough Role: Rebel Without Cause, 1955; age 17 (3rd film)

Oscar Role:

Other Noms: Exodus, 1960; aged 22

Other Awards:

Frequent Collaborator:

Screen Image: troubled teenager; then criminal

Last Film: Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971); aged 32

Career Output:

Film Career Span: 1955-1971; 16 years

Marriage: No; gay


Death: 1976; aged 37

Salvatore Mineo Jr. (January 10, 1939 – February 12, 1976) was an American actor, singer, and director.

He is best known for his role as John “Plato” Crawford in the drama film Rebel Without a Cause (1955), which earned him the Best Supporting Actor nomination at age 17, making him the fifth-youngest nominee in the category.

Mineo also starred in films such as Crime in the Streets, Giant (both 1956), Exodus (1960), for which he won a Golden Globe and second Oscar nomination, The Longest Day (1962), John Ford’s final western Cheyenne Autumn, and Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971).

Mineo was born in New York City, the son of coffin makers Josephine (née Alvisi) and Salvatore Mineo Sr.

He was of Sicilian descent; his father was born in Italy and his mother, of Italian origin, was born in the US. Mineo was the brother of actress Sarina Mineo and actors Michael Mineo and Victor Mineo. He attended the Quintano School for Young Professionals.

Mineo’s mother enrolled him in dancing and acting school at an early age. His first stage appearance was in Tennessee Williams’ play The Rose Tattoo (1951). He also played the young prince opposite Yul Brynner in the stage musical The King and I. Brynner took the opportunity to help Mineo better himself as an actor.

On May 8, 1954, Mineo portrayed the Page (lip-synching to the voice of mezzo-soprano Carol Jones) in the NBC Opera Theatre’s production of Richard Strauss’s Salome (in English translation), set to Oscar Wilde’s play. Elaine Malbin performed the title role, and Peter Herman Adler conducted Kirk Browning’s production.

As a teenager, Mineo appeared on ABC’s musical quiz program Jukebox Jury. Mineo made several television appearances before making his screen debut in Joseph Pevney’s Six Bridges to Cross (1955). He beat out Clint Eastwood for the role.

Mineo also successfully auditioned for a part in The Private War of Major Benson (1955), as a cadet colonel opposite Charlton Heston.

Mineo’s breakthrough as an actor came in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), in which he played John “Plato” Crawford, a sensitive teenager smitten with Jim Stark (James Dean). Mineo’s performance earned him his first Best Supporting Actor nod. At age 17, he became the fifth-youngest nominee in the category.

Biographer Paul Jeffers recounted that Mineo received thousands of letters from young female fans, and was mobbed by them at public appearances: “He dated the most beautiful women in Hollywood and New York City.”

In Giant (1956), Mineo played Angel Obregon II, a Mexican boy killed in World War II.


Many of his subsequent roles were variations of his role in Rebel Without a Cause, and he was typecast as a troubled teen.

In the Disney adventure Tonka (1958), Mineo starred as a young Sioux named White Bull who traps and domesticates a clear-eyed, spirited wild horse named Tonka that becomes the famous Comanche, the lone survivor of Custer’s Last Stand.

By the late 1950s, Mineo was a major celebrity. He was  referred to as the “Switchblade Kid,” a nickname earned from his role as criminal in the movie Crime in the Streets (1956).

In 1957, Mineo made a brief foray into pop music by recording a handful of songs and an album. Two of his singles reached the Top 40 in the United States’ Billboard Hot 100. The more popular of the two, “Start Movin’ (In My Direction)”, reached No. 9 on Billboard’s pop chart. It sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc.

He starred as drummer Gene Krupa in the movie The Gene Krupa Story, directed by Don Weis with Susan Kohner, James Darren, and Susan Oliver. He appeared as the celebrity guest challenger on the June 30, 1957, episode of What’s My Line?

Mineo made an effort to break his typecasting. His roles as a Native American brave in Tonka (1956), and Mexican boy in Giant (1956). He played Jewish Holocaust survivor in Exodus (1960), for which he won Globe Award and received his second Best Supporting Actor.

By the early 1960s, Mineo was becoming too old to play the type of role that had made him famous, and his rumored homosexuality led to being considered inappropriate for leading roles.

He auditioned for David Lean’s film Lawrence of Arabia (1962) but was not hired.

Mineo appeared in The Longest Day (1962), in which he played a private killed by a German after the landing in Sainte-Mère-Église.

Fleeting Fame

Mineo was baffled by sudden loss of popularity: “One minute it seemed I had more movie offers than I could handle; the next, no one wanted me.”

Mineo was the model for Harold Stevenson’s painting The New Adam (1963). Now in the Guggenheim Museum’s collection, it is considered “one of the great American nudes.”

Mineo also appeared on the Season 2 episode of The Patty Duke Show: “Patty Meets a Celebrity”

Mineo’s role as a stalker in Who Killed Teddy Bear (1965), which co-starred Juliet Prowse, did not help his career. Although his performance was praised by critics, he found himself typecast again—this time as a deranged criminal.

The high point of this period was his portrayal of Uriah in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).

Mineo guest-starred in an episode of the TV series Combat! in 1966, playing the role of a GI wanted for murder. He appeared twice more on the same show, including an installment with Fernando Lamas.

In 1969, Mineo directed a Los Angeles production of the gay-themed play Fortune and Men’s Eyes (1967), featuring then unknown Don Johnson as Smitty and Mineo as Rocky. The production received positive reviews, although its expanded prison rape scene was criticized as excessive and gratuitous.

Mineo’s last role was a small part in Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), as the chimpanzee Dr. Milo.

Mineo stage-directed the Gian Carlo Menotti opera, The Medium in December 1972 in Detroit. Muriel Costa-Greenspon portrayed the title character, Madame Flora, and Mineo played the mute Toby.

In 1975, Mineo appeared as Rachman Habib, the assistant to murderous consular head of a Middle Eastern country, in the ”Columbo” episode “A Case of Immunity,” on NBC-TV.

Mineo also appeared in two episodes of Hawaii Five-O, in 1968 and 1975.

One of his last roles was a guest spot on the TV series S.W.A.T. (1975), in which he portrayed a cult leader similar to Charles Manson.

By 1976, Mineo’s career had begun to turn around. While playing the role of a bisexual burglar in a series of stage performances of the comedy P.S. Your Cat Is Dead in San Francisco, Mineo received positive reviews; he moved to Los Angeles along with the play.

Mineo met English-born actress Jill Haworth on the set of the film Exodus in 1960, in which they portrayed young lovers. Mineo and Haworth were together on-and-off for years; they were engaged to be married at one point.

According to biographer Michael Gregg Michaud, Haworth cancelled the engagement after she caught Mineo engaging in sexual relations with another man. The two remained very close friends until Mineo’s death.

Mineo disapproved of Haworth’s relationship with the much older TV producer Aaron Spelling. When Mineo found Haworth and Spelling at private Beverly Hills nightclub, he punched Spelling in the face, yelling, “Do you know how old she is? What are you doing with her at your age?”

While some have described Haworth as being nothing but a close friend and a “beard” to Mineo to conceal his same-sex partners, Michaud casts doubt upon this claim; he asserts that Mineo’s and Haworth’s relationship was genuine, and that Mineo regarded her as one of the important people in his life.

In a 1972 interview with Boze Hadleigh, Mineo discussed his bisexuality.

At the time of his death, he was in six-year relationship with actor Courtney Burr III.


On the night of February 12, 1976, Mineo returned home from rehearsal for the play P.S. Your Cat Is Dead. After parking his car in the carport below his West Hollywood apartment, he was stabbed in the heart by a mugger. Lionel Ray Williams, a young pizza delivery man with criminal record, was convicted and sentenced in March 1979 to 57 years in prison for killing Mineo and for committing ten robberies. Although considerable confusion existed as to what witnesses had seen in the darkness the night, Williams claimed to have had no idea who Mineo was. Corrections officers later said they had overheard Williams admitting to the stabbing. Williams’ wife later confirmed that on the night Mineo died, he had come home with blood on his shirt.