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    Mineo's Journey

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Before he became a screen teen idol as a result of his poignant Oscar®-nominated performance as Plato in the scorching Rebel Without a Cause (1955, directed by Nicholas Ray), Sal Mineo (1939-1976), born in The Bronx 78 years ago today, already had two solid Broadway credits under his belt in the original Broadway run of Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo and as understudy/ eventual replacement Prince Chulalongkorn in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I. Work was steady after that but not as personally rewarding as the dedicated actor and unlikely heartthrob would like. After reading Leon Uris’s impactful best-seller Exodus, he immediately recognized a role worth pursuing in Otto Preminger’s upcoming film adaptation, that of a Jewish concentration camp survivor and emigrant to Palestine who resolves to becomes a militant Zionist freedom fighter in the radical Irgun underground. “When news of his casting was announced in February 1960, Sal admitted that he had been trying for months to snag the role of Dov Landau,” Michael Gregg Michaud wrote in his 2010 profile Sal Mineo: A Biography. “In fact, he had all but given up when Preminger called him in to read for it. ‘The next morning I read for him. He went out of the room for a few minutes and when he came back he said, “I’ll see you in Israel.” I didn’t even ask about money. I’d have paid them for a part for this!’ Sal’s reputation as a teen idol initially disturbed Preminger. He was reluctant to consider the actor but was very impressed with his reading. Shortly afterward, Preminger screened The Gene Krupa Story. Halfway through the film, he yelled at the projectionist, ‘Stop! One more reel and that boy’ll be out of Exodus (1960).’ After filming started that Spring in Haifa, Mineo knew he was onto a good thing, that working with a demanding filmmaker like Preminger would prove energizing, as would the verisimilitude the location shoot provided. Michaud chronicled: “‘When I got the role of Dov,’ Sal said, ‘I wasn’t quite sure such a character really existed. But now I’ve met Dov not one but a hundred times over. You can meet him anywhere in Israel, a tough guy who thinks he can move mountains and who sometimes does.’” He would later tell Mike Wallace when doing publicity for the film that Dov was “the first great part I’ve had since Rebel Without a Cause.” (His parts during this period weren’t too shabby, as they included Crime in the Streets for director Don Siegel, Somebody Up There Likes Me for director Robert Wise, Giant for director George Stevens, Dino (bringing his Studio One in Hollywood TV role to the screen), Walt Disney’s family-friendly Native American tale Tonka and the aforementioned The Gene Krupa Story.) Among the heavyweight Exodus ensemble of Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint, Ralph Richardson, Peter Lawford, Lee J. Cobb, Hugh Griffith, Gregory Ratoff, Felix Aylmer, David Opatoshu, Marius Goring, George Maharis and 15-year-old Britisher Jill Haworth (the future Cabaret star who played Dov’s love interest and would become Mineo’s lifelong friend), Mineo was the only cast member to earn an Academy Award® nomination, at 22 the youngest person to have racked up two acting nods. On March 16, 1961, he won the Best Supporting Actor Golden Globe Award from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, raising his profile for the upcoming Oscars®. Michaud recounted: “‘First I was America’s juvenile delinquent,’ Sal joked, ‘now I’m all things Jewish.’” In the following week prior to Oscar® night, Mineo “was honored by the Valley Chapter of Hadassah at Temple Beth Hillel in North Hollywood, California” and “narrated a program of music and interviews for radio station WNBC to celebrate Israel’s 13th anniversary as a nation.” When presenter and Exodus co-star Saint opened the envelope on Oscar® night to reveal Spartacus’ Peter Ustinov as the winner in his category, Mineo put on a brave face but his many profilers through the years assert the actor was from that moment on bitter about the loss – and his subsequent career never reached the heights of his Ray and Preminger projects before his tragic murder 15 years later. When experiencing Exodus in visually stunning 1080p on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray, try not to be shattered and moved by Mineo’s key scenes in which Dov confesses his shameful “crimes” as an Auschwitz prisoner or reveals the tender center of his vengeance-encrusted heart to fellow combatant Karen (Haworth) – and more likely be awed by the power of a blazing talent cut brutally short.