An upcoming feature film adapation of the queer 1967 novel The Wrong People, by Robin Maugham has reignited interest in the film’s notoriety as having been long optioned by queer Rebel Without A Cause actor Sal Mineo.
Above: A poster for the play Fortune and Men’s Eyes depicting its infamous scene of an older Mineo raping new face in Hollywood Don Johnson. Johnson would dodge gay rumors for years because of the part.
Set against the seedy backdrop of 1960s Tangier, The Wrong People (1967) is the story of Arnold Turner, a repressed English schoolmaster on holiday in Morocco, where he meets Ewing Baird, a wealthy American expat with a dark secret. Ewing lavishly entertains him and even provides him with a young lover, but as Arnold becomes more and more involved with Ewing he realizes only too late that he has been lured into a dangerous trap – and his only chance of escape is by helping Ewing to carry out a sinister plan. Drawing in part on the author’s real-life efforts to expose the African sex trafficking trade, Robin Maugham’s first explicitly gay-themed novel was both a critical and a commercial success, being reprinted several times – including in the important Gay Modern Classics series – and was optioned for a film version by Sal Mineo (Rebel Without a Cause).
Deadline said about the movie, “Maugham’s first explicitly gay-themed novel was critically praised but also garnered controversy. Homosexuality was still illegal in Britain for most of the 1960s. The book was reprinted several times, including in the Gay Modern Classicsseries, and was once optioned for a film version by Hollywood star Sal Mineo (Rebel Without a Cause). “Maugham created a moral dilemma in 1967” says McGillivray about the openly gay writer. “He handled it brilliantly, but the subject was so taboo that a film was out of the question. Now, because we’re so aware of what’s been covered up for years, I want to remind audiences of what this great writer said so long ago. And in addition to the issues raised, The Wrong People is also a superb suspense thriller.”
War veteran and politician Maugham (pictured above, center), the nephew of popular British playwright and novelist Somerset Maugham, is probably best known in film and literary circles for his novella The Servant which was the basis for the 1963 Jospeh Losey film of the same name with Dirk Bogarde, James Fox and Sarah Miles. He died in 1981.
Sal Mineo was an enigma. A heartthrob in the golden age of film he starred along side some of the biggest names in some of the biggest movies of all time.
He was an out bisexual at a time when it was largely a kiss of death in Hollywood. Mineo was although more likely gay, as labeling oneself bisexual was seen as something more palatable to the public.
Born in the Bronx, Mineo started his career on Broadway. After making the transition to film his first major role came in the form of the ill-fated character Plato in the 1955 classic Rebel Without A Cause alongside James Dean. The two had a special bond and there have been rumors since even before shooting for the film took place that the two had been intimate. It’s long been rumored that in a moment of helping Mineo understand his character, Dean told him to “Look at me the way I look at Natalie.”
“If I’d understood back then that a guy could be in love with another one, it would’ve happened,” Mineo said. “But I didn’t come to that realization for a few more years and then it was too late for Jimmy and me.”
Queer Coding | James Dean + Sal Mineo takes the following scene out of Rebel to show these ethos coming through the character of Plato.
He partnered with Dean again in the film Giant which also stared Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. James Dean was killed in a car crash before the the film was released.
With his dark eyes, bright smile, and undeniable charm, Mineo was a favorite of the movie magazines and tabloids of the day. In 1956 a photographer with less than honorable intentions took photos of Sal at the gym, documenting his workout—which included following him into the locker room and photographing him in the shower.
One of the photos was published in Screen Stars magazine and caused a bit of a scandal. However, the photo did solidify Mineo (who was only 17 at the time) as a full-fledged teen heartthrob. The image, which came to be known by Sal’s family as “the problem photo” has been doctored and reprinted to show much more (and sometimes even much less) than what was originally printed.
Natalie Wood, who stared alongside Mineo in the film Rebel Without A Cause once said “I’d hate to be charged a nickel for every heart he’s going to break.”
And a heartbreaker he was.
He was a heartthrob, a sex symbol who found getting someone into bed was easy. He met actress Jill Haworth while filming the 1960 epic Exodus. They became lovers, until she found him in bed with another man. Though their romantic relationship ended, the two remained close friends for the remainder of Mineo’s life. At the time of his murder, Mineo was in a long-term relationship with actor Courtney Burr III, whom Haworth said she believed “was the love of Sal’s life.” He had affairs with young actors and actresses (some allegedly as young as 14).
Mineo’s life has been the subject of books, films, podcast, and even featured in episodes of popular television series like American Horror Story. But, while many of told his story, previous view have gotten it right.
On February 12, 1976, Mineo was found murdered in his car port of his West Hollywood house at 8567 Holloway Drive. He had been stabbed to death.
Neighbors reportedly heard the murder but no one witnessed it. Multiple witnessed describe the same man fleeing on foot, a slender, young white man with long brown hair. A transcript of the police report printed in The Hollywood Reporter stated the following: [Witness] Jackie Helga Bruce/WF/35. Ms. Bruce stated this: Male traffic at Mineo’s pad. “Young men in and out.” “They were gay, he was gay.” “They were a lot of, you know, young men around.”
Witness Frederick Rushlow/WM/29. Mr. Rushlow stated this: Mineo was just back in town. He’d been up in San Francisco. He was starring in a play there. P.S. Your Cat Is Dead. Said play was in rehearsal here now.
Mineo had an ex-roommate named Courtney Burr. He hadn’t seen Burr in a year. Burr was an actor. Rushlow described him. Burr was 5’8″/150/about 26.
Word leaked. The press grabbed it and created big woo-woo. It made the late TV and radio news. Actor Mineo Dead. Two-time Oscar Nominee Slain Outside Apartment.
According to History: “For two years, the police searched in vain for clues to the killer’s identity. At first, they suspected that Mineo’s work for prison reform had put him in contact with a dangerous ex-con. Then their focus shifted to Mineo’s personal life. Investigators had discovered that his home was filled with pictures of nude men. But the homosexual pornography also failed to turn up any leads.
Then, out of the blue, Michigan authorities reported that Lionel Williams, arrested on bad check charges, was bragging to everyone that he had killed Mineo. Although he later retracted his stories, at about the same time, his wife back in Los Angeles told police that he had come home the night of the murder drenched in blood. However, there was one major discrepancy–Williams was black with anAfro and all of the eyewitnesses had described the perpetrator as a white man with long brown hair.”
Fortunately, the police were able to unearth an old photo of Williams in which his hair had been dyed brown and processed so that it was straight and long. In addition, the medical examiner had made a cast of Mineo’s knife wound and police were able to match it to the description of the knife provided by Williams’ wife. Lionel Williams was convicted and given a sentence of life in prison.
Unfortunately, the myth that Mineo was murdered by a hustler he paid for sex persists, largely indicative of how gay men are often seen.