Sal Mineo: A Biography by Michael Gregg Michaud (Three Rivers Press; $16.00; 432 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 well – and should 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 – lurid accounts of Sal having sex with women, with men, with prostitutes, and engaging in three-ways, etc. And you also get the bonus of Sal having sex with (and almost having sex with) some well-known actors and musicians. Fun, huh?
Well, truthfully, 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 the late actor’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 the tons of 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 and specific example, from the text (as Sal is working in London):
On 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 in 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 and lurid 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, and – it might be said – a bio about tricks.)
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 also misses a great opportunity here. 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 373 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.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. Sal Mineo: A Biography was released in a trade paperback version on October 10, 2011.
Note: We mentioned in this review that the writer did not contact former prosecutor and author Michael Genelin (Requiem for a Gypsy). We asked him to give us his impressions of the accuracy of the content presented in the book’s Afterward. Here is his response:
“The facts, as presented by Michaud seemed, in the main, to be correct. There were a number of things about the case that he was incorrect on, most of them minor; however, he also got much of it right… with two exceptions. Michaud said we played tapes of (Lionel) Williams wherein he made numerous boasts of the killing. Nope! We had no recorded statements of Williams boasting of the killing. We also did not, as alleged, bring in the defendant’s past criminal record – commencing with a juvenile conviction when he was 14 – to establish a ‘pattern of criminal behavior.’ That would not have been allowed, and would have been reversible error.”