I had intended to review Sal Mineo: A Biography, the new book by Michael Gregg Michaud released in November 2010 by Crown Archetype, a lot earlier, but things kept getting in the way. I decided that if I didn’t do it by today – what would have been Sal’s 72nd birthday – I was never going to get it done. Part of the reason why it’s been such a struggle to get my words out when it comes to this book is because, as I’ve mentioned in passing, Sal Mineo is my favorite actor. Yes, THE Favorite Actor, the one I love above all others, living or dead. (Don’t believe me? Check out my college dorm room.) As someone new to the classic film blogging scene, I’ve been a bit embarrassed to admit this. First of all, Sal is mostly associated with the 1950s, a decade that doesn’t get a lot of love or respect amongst classic fans. Secondly, there’s that whole Teen Idol bit that he had going for a while, which makes me afraid that people won’t take him seriously as an actor, and therefore won’t take me seriously as a classic film blogger. But that’s exactly why I do need to talk about Sal, to make sure he’s remembered as a legitimate actor – the boy got TWO Academy Award nominations, for goodness’ sake! – and to make people take a second look at his body of work. Some of it’s pretty cheesy, yes – and what’s wrong with that? – but some of his better performances have gone largely overlooked. By no means do I think he was a perfect actor – and that is, I think ultimately, what I like best about Sal. He had a vulnerability, an eagerness to learn and to improve his craft. You can see him grow stronger as an actor as he ages on screen. Plus he was funny, sensitive, self-deprecating, adorable, and had an intensely interesting personal life. So yes, I am officially coming out of the closet as a Sal Mineo Fangirl. I may be the only one, but that’s fine by me – everyone needs an obsession.
I had been anticipating Michaud’s book for several months prior to its release – half anticipating, and half dreading. You see, despite what Michaud likes to claim in interviews, this isn’t the first seemingly-legitimate biography of Sal Mineo to hit the shelves. I have treasured my copy of Sal Mineo: His Life, Murder, and Mystery by H. Paul Jeffers (2002, Running Press) ever since I bought it; in fact, I’ve read and referred to it so many times there are actually pages falling out. I was apprehensive about having a new account of Sal’s life, partially because I felt like everything I knew about Sal came from that first book. However, Jeffers’ biography is far from a literary masterpiece; written by someone who knew Sal on a physical, if not intimate, level, much of it reads like hilarious Mary Sue fanfiction (“basking in the sight of his unruly black hair, the bedroom eyes, imperfect nose, muscled arms and torso, narrow hips, and bewitching smile”), and Jeffers relies a little too much on dubious Hollywood sources like Boze Hadleigh (although Michaud is guilty of this too). As the release of Michaud’s book grew closer, my apprehension turned to giddy eagerness. I bought the book the day it came out and finished it the day after.
What I found in Michaud’s Sal Mineo is a serious, well-written, thoroughly-researched account of Mineo’s life that even I, who thought I knew everything about the subject, gleaned a lot of surprising new information from. The book contains a deftly-woven mix of facts and personal anecdotes derived from contemporary articles and interviews with the actor, as well as the accounts of Sal’s close personal friends and acquaintances whom Michaud took the time to locate and endear himself to. Best of all, it is not at all derivative of any previous work. Rather than expound upon or contradict Jeffers’ biography, Michaud instead presents us with an entirely new perspective through his use of previously-unpublished information and all-new anecdotes. Jeffers’ work is like the pulpy “unauthorized” paperback account; Michaud’s is a serious and dignified examination of the all-too-brief life of Sal Mineo and the people he loved. The two books compliment each other nicely. (more…)