homos go, we’ve tried to run the gamut from the strong and dashing leading men like Rock, Raymond and Monty who were a little harder to spot, to the fags who used rock and roll (or disco) as the excuse for their queerness like Elton, Freddie and the Village People, to the shrill queens of TV talk show, sitcom and game show fame like Truman, Charles and Paul. But today’s history lesson looks into that probably more elusive category, the sensitive, brooding, proto-Emo actor in the vein of Brando or Tony Perkins.
James Dean & Sal Mineo
1931 – 1955 1939 – 1976
Both were gay and arguably tormented about it, and there’s evidence enough that they had some kind of affair with each other. In between they both are said to have gotten it on with bisexual Rebel Without a Cause director Nicholas Ray (who was rumored to have had Sal stay with him frequently at the Chateau Marmont during filming and who also screwed Natalie Wood before all was said and wrapped). The iconic movie was rife with homoerotic undertones, and to modern eyes Jimmy and Sal’s characters were obviously attracted to each other. But as Germaine Greer writes, “In the 1950s homosexuality was so far off the suburban radar that Jimmy Dean could give us all the visual clues, and we would see nothing.”
Occupation: Both were stage and film actors, with Dean starting out at the Actors’ Studio, but only Mineo lived long enough to do gigs on shows like What’s My Line, I’ve Got a Secret and Toast of the Town. Jimmy: 7 out of 10 gay points. Sal: 8 out of 10.
Appearance: Jimmy dressed the part of the sensitive type and molded his style after Brando, who also got to play rebel roles. He was also a gorgeous guy who was fawned over by men and women alike, and played that to his advantage whenever he could (we’re especially turned on by John’s Gillmore’s tales of homo-ish talk by Dean and a story of drunken fumbling and cocksucking). Sal was less rugged but cute, with a fall of curls over his forehead a la Tony Curtis. He waited til the 70s to grow a cheesy moustache. Jimmy: 7/10. Sal: 8/10.
Demeanor: Jimmy was sullen, brooding, a little more shy and harder to crack, but friends often referred to his Kerouacian “open-ness” in relating to others; Sal was more gregarious and fey. As a dance instructor once told his mother, “The kid’s graceful.” Jimmy: 6/10. Sal: 7/10.
Beards: Studio PR people spread rumors about Jimmy being with several costars, and he had a not-fully-consummated affair with Italian actress Pier Angeli, who later killed herself and claimed that Jimmy was the only man she ever loved. Jimmy also is said to have claimed he had his dick sucked “by the five most important men in Hollywood.” Sal was attached to costar Jill Haworth at one point, but spent most of his adult life fucking dudes. Also, he directed what was essentially a gay porn flick in 1969 about homosexuality in prison, starring Don Johnson, called Fortune in Men’s Eyes. Jimmy: 8/10. Sal: 9/10.
Minstrelsy: One thing you could never call James Dean is a gay minstrel. He died too young to have suffered the indignities of a faltering career like game show appearances. Sal did the full circuit of talk and game shows, and in his last days, before being murdered in a West Hollywood alley under arguably hate-crime-like circumstances, he was performing as a gay burgler in a play called “P.S. Your Cat Is Dead.” Jimmy: 2/10. Sal: 8/10.
Jimmy: 30 points – Low Burn (see scale)
Sal: 40 points – Steady Blaze
They were both “different” in the language of the 50s, and neither quite had the raw force of Brando on screen. If we learned anything from this look at two gay vague rebel-types from the Eisenhower era, it’s that we probably would have killed ourselves too if a) we could only manage to have furtive sex after hours of drinking and talking through our sexuality, or b) like Pier Angeli, we ever made out with Jimmy Dean and he dumped us.
Now some videos, starting with a screen test for East of Eden in which Jimmy says to Paul Newman “kiss me” and kind of sounds like he means it, and Newman replies, “Can’t hurt.” Also director Elia Kazan asks the two to get nose to nose. (Hint: the sound doesn’t kick in until 00:08.)
Here’s another screen test, this one from Rebel Without A Cause, featuring Natalie would sitting back and watching some of that homoeroticism between Sal and Jimmy.
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