Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Switchblade Kid: The Life and Death of Sal Mineo

On Screen

Following the closing of "The King and I," Sal played in a weekend series called Omnibus. During one of the CBS series, Sal played a matador in the adaptation of Hemingway's "The Capital of the World" He played alongside Anne Bancroft and Leslie Nielsen in the production, which was directed by Yul Brynner. Once again, Sal profited from the direction and acting techniques taught by his mentor. The part won him praise and led to several other television roles.

Between 1954 and the beginning of 1955, Sal appeared once as an emergency patient in the television series called Janet Dean, Registered Nurse and in an Omnibus television production as the character of Señor Cortez in "A Few Scenes Out of the California Boyhood of William Saroyan." He also appeared in the televised plays "Juvenile Gangs" and "The Trees" at the Philco Playhouse, later that year. Sal's reputation as an exceptional actor was gaining recognition and his career was on the verge of taking off in a new direction.

Sal Mineo
Sal Mineo (Associated Press)

Sal was not the only Mineo family member who had an interest in acting. His older brother Mike also aspired to be an actor. One day he accompanied his brother Mike to a casting call for Universal International's film Six Bridges to Cross. Sal went to offer support and advice because it was Mike's first-ever audition. Mike was to audition for the part of Jeff Chandler, who allegedly masterminded the true-life robbery of an armored car. 

During the audition, Sal was surprised when he was picked out to read, following a director's hunch. After one week Sal was called up by the casting director and asked to play the role of the young Chandler in the upcoming movie. Tony Curtis was chosen to play the lead role of the adult Chandler. Within weeks, Sal began working on his first movie, playing the role of the young hoodlum in the streets of Boston.

During the final stages of making the movie, Sal had to travel to Hollywood to complete the soundtrack for the film. While there, he auditioned for another part playing the character of a cadet colonel in a movie starring Charlton Heston called The Private War of Major Benson. Again, the young talent was awarded the role in the new movie and began filming soon after the completion of Six Bridges to Cross.

Sal, now 16-years-old, was beginning to make an impression on movie audiences nationwide. His good looks and talent captured the hearts of young Americans and caught the eye of professionals in the entertainment industry. When the movie was finished, he delayed his trip back to New York so that he could audition for another role in a new and upcoming movie.

Rebel Without a Cause
Rebel Without a Cause

Warner Brothers Studios was in the process of casting actors for the Rebel Without a Cause. The lead character named Jim Stark was to be played by a new talent named James Dean and the part of Judy was awarded to 16-year-old Natalie Wood. The casting director for the movie was still looking for actors to play the role of Jim Stark's friend Plato. It was the character Sal longed to play.

During the audition, Sal was asked by the director Nick Ray to read for the part of Plato three times. The first time Sal read alone for the part, and on the second and third occasions he was paired with James Dean. It wasn't long before the chemistry between the two young actors began to develop. Sal was chosen to play the part of Plato. It was a role that would win him great acclaim and popularity.

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