The short, shocking life of the Switchblade Kid.
Michaud charts the strange life and career of Sal Mineo (1939–1976), the boyish actor who attained instant iconic status as a troubled teen in the 1955 classic Rebel Without a Cause—only to find himself washed up by his early 30s, crippled by debt, reduced to dinner- and community-theater work and increasingly identified with a sordid gay demimonde before being fatally stabbed outside his home. The author takes a dry, journalistic approach to this grim, sensational material, and while his restraint may be admirable, it makes Mineo something of a cipher. The sweet neighborhood boy made good transforms into a sexually voracious man preoccupied by transgressive stories of perversion and rape, and the reader is never quite sure how that happened. Typecast after Rebel, Mineo struggled to branch out into more mature and varied performances, scoring with projects like The Gene Krupa Story (1959) and 1960’s Exodus (for which he received his second Oscar nomination, after Rebel), but Hollywood lost interest. Mineo would pursue one doomed project after another in a bid to rehabilitate his image. The failure of these projects is unsurprising—they invariably focused on exceedingly dark, sexually provocative subject matter completely at odds with Mineo’s image and prevailing audience taste. Mineo was engrossed in his own homosexual awakening in this period, but Michaud is hesitant to explore the connection or to examine Mineo’s psychology or artistic process in any meaningful way. Instead, the author reports with cold objectivity on the projects’ financing woes and Mineo’s many romantic entanglements, including trysts with actress Jill Haworth and teen idol Bobby Sherman. Mineo’s murder, apparently the result of a botched robbery attempt, was a sadly appropriate conclusion to the talented actor’s messy, mismanaged life and career.
The facts are here, but readers seeking a nuanced portrait of the actor should look elsewhere.