I’m just a kid from the Bronx.
~ Dean Ghaffari’s summarization of 2-time Academy Award nominee Sal Mineo
The late actor Sal Mineo (1939 – 1976) will affectionately be remembered as James Dean and Natalie Wood’s close confidante Johnny “Plato” Crawford from the classic 1955 teen-angst movie Rebel Without a Cause. The Sicilian descent acted since age 12 when he was first cast in a stage production of Tennessee Williams’ play The Rose Tattoo, he had one line “The goat is in the yard.” One year later, he played Prince Chulalongkorn in the 1956 film The King and I with fellow Oscar winner Yul Brynner, who looked over the young actor giving him sound advice about surviving the business. At the time of his death at age 37, he made 22 films and made countless appearances in both television and plays. Mineo had that “it” quality to make it in all three areas and succeeded beyond expectation. Actor Dean Ghaffari does an exceptional job portraying the late Golden Globe winner as a good man with a lot of talent that maybe not enough people appreciated his talent but was determined to make it on his own terms.
However, typecasting seemed to follow Mineo. After Rebel he was offered more troubled teen roles. With his close relationship with James Dean, he was often questioned about his sexuality. From “is he or isn’t”, he said he was bisexual, he was dubbed the Switchblade Kid from the 1956 movie Crime in the Streets playing criminal-in-training Angelo “Baby” Gioia. Then he played a stalker in Who Killed Teddy Bear(1965). It looked just as he left one sinister character behind, another one popped out and soon that needs to be exorcised as well. Mineo decided to take charge of his career by directing the LA stage play Fortune and Men’s Eyes in 1967, with good reviews. He took heavy verbal abuse from director John Ford in the 1964 Western drama Cheyenne Autumn. Give a kid a break! DAMN!!
Ghaffari shows a more vulnerable side the young actor who went from being the bread-winner in his family to having his career stalled during the ’60s. The Oscars, the Golden Globe, the major roles he conquered early in his career, he even had a fledging pop music career for a minute. The money left as soon as it came in. It was a humbling experience when a worker at an unemployment office recognized Mineo applying for benefits. His name was sullied. His director and producing material were failures and he hasn’t been highly successful since Exodus in 1960. Ghaffari excels as Mineo. He has an in-depth knowledge of the Oscar winner who was taken away too soon. Coming home from a play rehearsal, Mineo was stabbed once in the heart by pizza delivery man Lionel Ray Williams, who tried to rob Mineo but killed him instead. He was sentenced to over 50 years.
Gladly, Mineo will not be forgotten. He stayed true to himself both personally and professionally. He’ll always be sweet and tender Plato with a good heart and immense talent. Ghaffari, who resembles the handsome Mineo, captures the talented actor perfectly.
Rebel With a Cause—The Sal Mineo Story plays Friday August 25th and Saturday, August 26th at 8 p.m., playing at the Promenade Playhouse, located at 1404 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica. For ticket reservation, log on to www.promenadeplayhouse.com or call (310) 656-8070