“When I first got there, the streets were empty,” actor Sal Mineo said. “Well, it was a cold, rainy day and I figured that maybe only a few kids would show up. At eight, I looked out and almost fainted. There was no longer a street, just a mass of people waiting. For Me!”
That was the start of Mineo Mania. The 17-year-old actor’s success in Rebel Without a Cause earned him an Academy Award nomination and the love from thousands of girls. The day he discovered how successful he had become was that surprising day at the New York premiere for Crime in the Streets in 1956.
Screaming girls crowded the theater entrance, which made it difficult for Mineo and his family to leave after the premiere. The fans held traffic for nearly 30 minutes until police pulled him back inside the theater.
“My clothes were ripped and after it was all over you couldn’t recognize me,” Mineo said. “It was just wonderful!”
The New York fan response and critical praise for his role as a juvenile delinquent in Crime in the Streets was the same at the film’s Los Angeles premiere. The members of Mineo Mania screamed at the sight of their idol that they even made it hard for the film’s actors to be heard while interviewed by the press.
Even when Mineo chaperoned at his sister Sarina’s eigth grade graduation, the ceremony was interrupted by fans who almost tore him apart. To fuel Mineo Mania, many interviews and photoshoots were scheduled to feature the popular teen idol.
Despite his success in Rebel Without a Cause and Crime in the Streets, the actor’s mother thought he should not continue to play delinquent characters and he should consider working on music.
When the opportunity came to appear in the 1956 film Rock, Pretty Baby as the drummer Nino Barrato, Mineo took the chance. He wanted to play the drums in the film so he took two weeks of lessons. He showed off his drumming skills that year in The Perry Como Show. His favorite drummer was Gene Krupa so there was no doubt he would not miss the opportunity to play his idol in The Gene Krupa Story in 1959.
Mineo’s first single – “Start Movin’” – was released in 1957 and it reached number nine on the Billboard charts. The song earned him his first gold record after it sold more than 1.2 million copies in less than two months.
The Mineo household was flooded with fan mail and ringing with telephone calls from teenage girls (since the information could be found in the telephone directory), which caused the star’s mother to hire two full-time secretaries.
Mineo Mania would continue up to the 1960s as the idol starred in more movie roles and recorded other singles, such as “Make Believe Baby,” “Take Me Back,” and “Save the Last Dance for Me.”
Mineo was killed 40 years ago in West Hollywood on Feb. 12, 1976.
“Sal Mineo is the only boy I know who blushes,” said Rebel Without a Cause co-star Natalie Wood. “He’s like a happy, tail-wagging puppy who loves everyone and who has no doubt that everyone loves him.”
Read more about Sal Mineo in the biography by Michael Gregg Michaud.