Sal Mineo: A Biography by Michael Gregg Michaud (Crown Archetype; $25.99; 421 pages)
“…the pursuit of his sexual impulses and attractions caused him undeniably conflicting feelings.”
The appropriate title of this book, based on its content, might have been Sal Mineo’s Sex Life. Because, yes, boys and girls, that’s what you get in well over 400 pages of its content – Sal having sex with women, with men, with prostitutes, and three-ways, etc. And you also get the bonus of Sal having sex with (and almost having sex with) some well-known actors and actresses and musicians. Fun, huh?
Well, actually, not so much. At least not for the reader who purchases this book thinking it’s going to be a conventional biography, one dealing with Mineo’s childhood, his teen years, his adult years and – most importantly – with the details of each film and television show that he appeared in. We get some information about all of this here but it’s hidden under all of the details about sex, sex, sex. No matter what aspect of Mineo’s life is being touched on, it’s overwhelmed by sex.
Here is one quick example, from the text (as Sal is working in London):
On Friday, February 4, Conrad Shadlen received Robin Maugham’s proposed contract to write a screenplay from his novel. That evening, Sal and Courtney discussed their concerns about Maugham’s monetary demands over dinner at the restaurant April and Desmond’s. The proprietress, April Ashley, was Britain’s most famous transsexual.
Now what possible relevance is attached to the sexuality of the restaurant owner? None, except that titillation, constant titillation, is on the agenda for the writer. It became far more than enough for this reader during the first 90 pages, and was quite tiring and overloading in the space of 400 pages. (You’ve heard of the phrase, a one-trick pony. This is a one-note biography.) Sal Mineo, the actor and artist, the person one hopes to learn about by reading this hard R to X-rated tome gets lost in the sad process.
The author claims to be lucky by having had the cooperation of Jill Haworth and Courtney Burr, two people involved in Mineo’s life personally and romantically. I think not. I think that without their involvement Michaud might have produced a more traditional biography. But we will never know.
One point that needs to be made is that several pages of photographs of Mineo are included – the majority of them without his shirt – and one of them appears to be made out to the author by Mr. Mineo. Yet the author never touches upon the circumstances of having received this autographed photo, something that might have provided some perspective.
“I think to have success so young made the rest of his life unfulfilling…”
Michaud misses an opportunity. While writing about the filming of Rebel Without a Cause, he fails to focus on the curse of this film that made three actors mega-stars very early in their lives, but that also seemed to doom each one of them (James Dean, Sal Mineo, and Natalie Wood) to an early death. And it stretches things a bit to place Mineo’s talent at the level of Dean’s. James Dean was a once in a generation, if not once in a century, actor.
The most entertaining, interesting and well written portion of this work is the Afterword that describes the trial of Mineo’s killer. Unfortunately, one has to plow one’s way through 372 sexaholic pages to get to this point. And although it appears to be well written and factual, the author was never in contact with the prosecutor in the case, one Michael Genelin, formerly of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
If you’re the type of reader who believes that a person’s life is best defined by their sexual practices, then you may enjoy this bio. However, if you feel that a person’s sexual life is that person’s private business, then you will very likely not get this work. I did not get it.
This review was written by Joseph Arellano. A review copy was provided by the publisher.