What’s Happened To My Son, Sal Mineo!
“I don’t want to be different! I want to be just the same as I was before!” How many times I’ve heard my boy, Sal, say those words since he first went to Hollywood. And when he says them, his eyes flash and his chin sets, the way they always do when he’s dead serious about something.
But he is different. He can’t help it. It’s impossible for a boy to become a famous movie star in two short years and not change!
When Sal came home to the Bronx, after being out in Hollywood there was something new about him—the way he talked, the way he acted, even the way he thought. Anybody could notice the difference. But there are some things that only his family, and I guess his mother, most of all, can see.
You’d have to know Sal as well as I do to understand how much his whole outlook on life has changed. When he was a youngster, playing a walk-on on Broadway, he was anxious only to prove to himself that he could be an actor. “I want to be a real professional,” he’d say, his baby face shining. “I want to be accepted in show business.”
He was eleven then, and as for his career, that was as far as it went. His heroes were Joe DiMaggio and Fred Astaire. He didn’t care about clothes at all. Any old pair of dungarees and a T-shirt would do. He was inclined to be shy with his friends and because he had two older brothers, he always considered himself just “the kid brother.” Even when I gave children’s parties for him, Sal would say, “Mom, why make all this fuss for a little guy like me?”
Well, that’s all gone. It started going when Sal was fifteen, just beginning in pictures. Now, he’s eighteen, and his attitude toward his heroes, clothes, friends and even his family is entirely different. It all came home to me one evening, the last time he came home from Hollywood.
I was putting the supper dishes away when Sal came in and sat down at the kitchen table. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t come over and tease me, the way he usually does, by pulling the bow on my apron open or decorating my head with a potholder. He just sat. I knew he had something on his mind, so I just waited for him to come out with it.
Finally he said, “Mom, I haven’t really hit it yet.”
I could see this was one of those times when a mother ought to give her son her whole attention. I hung up the dish towel and sat down at the table opposite him.
“Why, Sal, of course you have,” I said. “Look at your name on all the theatres. Look at the thousands of fan letters you get every week.”
But Sal only shook his head. “No, Mom, I haven’t proved it to you and the family. I haven’t reached the top.”
I knew what he meant, and I didn’t press my point anymore. I listened while he told me, with that dead-serious expression on his face again, how much he wants to do, how much he wants to develop as an actor, how he hopes some day he can become a fine director as well as an actor. It gave me a little twinge to realize that he isn’t my little boy anymore. He’s grown up. But at the same time, it gave me a good feeling to know that he hasn’t stopped growing. He’s still aiming.
Yes, the days when he used to rave about Joe DiMaggio and practice Fred Astaire’s dance steps on the kitchen floor are a thing of the past. Now, Yul Brynner, Spencer Tracy and Lee J. Cobb are his idols. He watches these mature actors with their individual styles and he realizes how far he can go, too. “I’m a greenhorn compared to those fellows,” Sal often tells me. “They’re polished. They’re great!”
And actresses! When Sal was eleven, girls were just people to be ignored. “Only sissies pay attention to actresses,” he’d scoff. That’s different now! He adores Ingrid Bergman, Anna Magnani and Elizabeth Taylor. And I can tell how carefully he studies their performances, because he’ll come home and describe one of their scenes to me, right down to the smallest facial expression!
I like to hear talk like this from Sal, because when he admires others so much, I know he hasn’t grown too big for his britches. Not that I ever thought he would. I know my boy too well for that. But I can tell you, it’s a real comfort to a mother to know her son hasn’t gotten a swelled head, when he gets so much flattery from so many people, the way Sal does.
But when it comes to clothes, oh how he’s changed! When Sal began getting a toehold on Broadway he began to take a little more interest in his personal appearance. But actually it wasn’t until he made his first movie, “Six Bridges to Cross,” that he grew particular. He noticed other actors around him were always well-groomed and neat, and he suddenly began to worry about his own clothes.
It gave me quite a start when he came home after making that picture, and said to me, “Mom, do you think I can afford to have a tailor?”
“Yes,” I said, trying to hide my surprise. “You’re earning enough.”
At first, Sal grinned happily. Then he frowned. “But I want Vic and Mike to have a tailor, too.”
“No, Sal,” I pointed out. “Your brothers aren’t actors. They don’t need custom-made suits. You do.”
That’s when Sal started to improve his dressing habits. Not only did he become neater, but he developed an excellent sense of taste. I don’t go shopping with him any more. Sal knows how to manage by himself. He selects ties and socks which will match or blend with his suits. He buys sports shirts, slacks, belts so that he can mix them effectively. Today, whether he’s lounging around home or attending a party, my son is always smartly dressed.
But I know Hollywood has done it. A few years ago, any old suit would do and if it hadn’t been pressed Sal wouldn’t notice. Now, Sal’s constantly meeting fashionably dressed stars and producers and, of course, he’s been influenced by their appearances. He’s become so fussy that he not only keeps every garment in tip-top condition, but he separates his wardrobe in two closets—one for his best clothes and one for his sports clothes. The only thing that hasn’t changed is his favorite color. It’s still blue.
In the past, Sal played with kids his own age. Now he likes the company of older boys, twenty or even twenty-five. There’s a reason for this, I believe. Sal has become more mature than the average boy of eighteen. He’s had to adjust to directors and fellow actors twice his age. He’s living and working in a man’s world. Why wouldn’t he want older companionship?
His friends nowadays are the friends of his older brothers, Vic and Mike. They’re college boys, mostly. A bunch of them will gather in our living room, and they’ll sit around by the hour, just talking about anything and everything, and throwing jokes at each other. Sal’s always full of questions, especially if he’s just come back from being out in Hollywood. He wants to know what they’re doing, and all about their plans for their careers. And when they tell him, he’s all ears. I think I know why. Because he spends so much time with people in the movie business, he’s not able to have much time with people in other walks of life, and he misses that. Sal wants to get to know all kinds of people as well as he can. He often tells me, “You know, Mom, I have to get to really know people. You can’t play a part well unless you know how the character is in real life.” And besides that, I think Sal enjoys these “bull sessions” with the boys so much because with them, he’s no movie star but just one of the fellows.
It’s strange, but when my son was on Broadway, he never talked about his work with his pals. Maybe he wasn’t quite sure of his career yet and wanted to be known just as one of the gang. But lately, I’ve noticed that when one of the fellows asks, “Sal, do you have to study your roles a long time?” Sal is happy to explain his work. And the other boys listen at great length. They must admire Sal’s progress and the way he’s handled his career, because they often ask him for advice.
When I say Sal spends more time with older boys, I don’t mean that he’s turned his back on the younger ones. Far from it! One day not long ago, I went downtown with him. He had some business appointments—he’s been awfully busy with the new records he’s been making—and when we came out of a recording studio, there were about eight young boys, fourteen or fifteen years old, who spotted Sal and crowded around him. We were late for our next appointment, but Sal stopped to talk to them, right there in the middle of the street. When I finally managed to catch his eye and hustle him off to a cab, one of the boys called out, “When can we see you again, Sal?” “C’mon out to the house,” he yelled back, “All of you, anytime.”
I’ve always made a habit of entertaining my children’s friends at home. When Sal started acting, I often suggested he ask people he worked with up for dinner. Sal would always make a face and say, “Aw, Mom! Why go to all that trouble?” Today, when a director or a producer wants to talk about a script with Sal, my boy is delighted that I’m ready to entertain his guests. “It’s nice and friendly that way,” he’s often remarked. “People enjoy a good, home-cooked dinner and when everybody’s relaxed, it’s much easier to talk over business. Besides, that’s the way they do it out in Hollywood.”
Hollywood, again! But I’m not complaining. I’m only pointing out Hollywood’s influence on Sal. It’s done a lot for my son—a lot of fine things. When he was younger, little incidents and unexpected setbacks used to upset him. Sal is very sensitive and it was hard for him to accept disappointments like losing out in a play or someone else getting a television role he wanted. But in Hollywood, he’s found out this is part of the game. Not long ago, I heard him say, “You can’t win all the time.” At first, I was surprised. Then I realized my son has learned to be philosophical about show business and not allow setbacks to annoy him.
Sal has learned also to be cautious. This, I feel, is too bad, but I suppose it can’t be helped. There was a time when he listened to anybody and believed whatever they said.
The change came when Sal was out in Hollywood one time and had two weeks of free time, when he didn’t have any work to do, or any lessons. He decided to just take a look around, and see how other people in the business did things. Now, Sal’s a boy who doesn’t miss much. And some of the things he saw, a few times when he could see that actors were being used and pushed around by selfish people for their own profit, really opened his eyes. “Mom, I was shocked,” he told me when he came home. “I just wouldn’t have believed that people could act that way.”
These days, Sal knows that’s all too true, unfortunately. Certain people are constantly approaching him for selfish reasons. Sal has built up a name, and that name means money in one way or another. There are people who ask Sal to appear on their television shows free; others want him to endorse their products; some are anxious for Sal to help them get into pictures; others think they can make a fortune by signing Sal to an exclusive contract.
In order to protect himself, sometimes he’s had to become hard, even impolite in refusing. Sal wasn’t that way two years ago, but of course, he wasn’t famous, either. “The minute I find out somebody wants my friendship for a business angle,” he tells me now, “I drop them.”
His brothers help Sal to see the pitfalls, too. They’re always on the lookout for him, and they’ve often seen dangers that they’ve warned him about. Mike has been traveling with Sal lately. Sometimes, the three boys will sit around the kitchen table until two o’clock in the morning, hashing out Sal’s problems.
Thank goodness, Sal hasn’t changed with his family! He continues to ask advice from all of us—his parents, his older brother, even his little sister. We still have our same family discussions around the kitchen table. And Sal has never felt because he’s a star and making more money than the rest, that he should tell us what to do. When a career problem comes up—should he do a certain movie or sign a certain contract—he wants us all to talk it over. Sal listens to what everyone has to say. We always end up with everybody agreeing on one decision.
Of course, Sal has a great many more problems than he had before. Success is coming so fast. His roles are bigger, he’s earning more, his popularity is rising. He has to be careful which step to take next. When the problems are not too important, he discusses them just with his brothers, Vic and Mike. Certain problems he takes to me or to his father. But the vital ones continue to rate a family conference. And when well-meaning producers and agents invite Sal to talk over his affairs with them, Sal politely refuses, explaining he’d rather ask and take advice only from the Mineos.
Like any mother, I’m aware that Sal has a brand-new problem—girls! I understand, because I’ve seen my older boys go through this early stage. Of course, with Sal being out in Hollywood so much, where nearly every girl is a breath-taking beauty, I fretted a little at first. Maybe, I thought, he’ll fall into a puppy-love romance and take it too seriously. Maybe hell even get married!
“You don’t have to worry about me and girls,” Sal told me one day. “I’ve talked about girls and dating to Vic and Mike. They’ve set me straight.”
“What did they say?” I inquired.
“Just to play it easy,” Sal replied. “Date, enjoy yourself, but don’t give a girl a chance to get serious. As for me,” Sal said, looking very sober, “I’m not even going to think about marriage until I’m twenty-nine or thirty.”
I breathed a grateful sigh of relief. Nevertheless, Hollywood has changed Sal and the girl situation. When he was sixteen, he would phone a pretty girl for a date and not always be accepted, either! Today, Sal has more dates than he can handle. In fact, the girls are always calling him! So we worked out a system. I often answer the phone and repeat the girl’s name so Sal can hear it. If he frowns and shakes his head, I tell the poor creature he’s out. If he nods and takes the phone, I know it’s somebody he likes.
Sal doesn’t prefer older girls, the way he prefers older boys. He’s said to me, “You know what, Mom? A girl of eighteen is a lot more mature than a boy of eighteen!” I’m sure this is no news to any mother who has a daughter. Somehow, girls do have a way of growing up more quickly than boys. So Sal has no problems in that respect.
He does like to date girls outside the business, rather than actresses. “It’s more likely they’ll be simple and sincere,” he says. And of course, he likes them because he doesn’t want to go on a date and wind up spending the whole evening talking shop!
Even the places Sal takes his dates are different. It used to be swimming or the movies. Now, it’s a glamorous premiere or a big party or dancing at some smart night club. I don’t mind the change. This is part of Sal’s life. Not only can he afford it, but I feel he should take girls out to nice places. Hollywood has made the difference.
Hollywood also demands a lot from a young star. Once, Sal had plenty of spare time. At the present, it seems every minute is crowded. Before my son went into pictures, he would sleep nine or ten hours every night. Now, he sleeps eight. He made “The Young Don’t Cry” for Columbia, and “Dino” for Allied Artists, one right after the other. His days are packed—appointments with photographers, magazine writers, studio representatives. At night, he sits up late reading scripts and contracts.
Other things, too, take up his time. Exercising. Entertaining. “I’ve got to keep developing my body,” Sal says. “Mom, have you ever seen Bill Holden or Tony Curtis in bare-chested roles? They look great! I’ve got to have a good, strong chest. Nobody’s going to hire a scrawny kid for a tough part.” So every morning, Sal’s in the back yard lifting weights, doing pushups. By the time he’s twenty-one, I think he’ll have the broadest chest in Hollywood!
Two years ago, a dozen or so luncheons and dinners in restaurants covered Sal’s business entertaining. Now, he’s more or less obliged to invite his Hollywood associates out once or twice a week. “You’re considered a cheapskate if you don’t,” he’s explained to me. But again, that means more hours out of Sal’s busy schedule.
Until recently, Sal enjoyed sketching and painting and really was quite good at it. However, this year, he appeared on a TV show in which he experimented with playing the drums. What happened? Sal became so enthusiastic, he dropped his interest in art, and moved a full set of drums into our small living room! He’s even taking lessons. Last week, when the house was jumping with rhythm so much that all my best china was rattling, he just yelled over the racket, “Don’t worry, Mom! You never know when I’ll need this talent in some picture.”
It seems everything about Sal at the moment is directed toward his career. Once, he loved to play baseball. Now, he cares only about water skiing and horseback riding. Yul Brynner taught him the water sport and gave him his first pair of skis. And there’s horseback riding. Sal used to ride occasionally in New York, but he’s taken it up in a big way in California. He claims every actor should know how to ride well and cites dozens of movies in which the stars have had to leap on a saddle and gallop away. “I want to be ready,” he explains, “if some director asks me to ride a horse.”
In January, when Sal came back from California, he cornered me and declared, “Mom, I want to buy a new home, a big place we can all be proud of.” Well, I know our old house in the Bronx isn’t very grand, but it’s been comfortable and adequate for a good many years. When I started to protest, Sal stopped me. “No, Mom,” he insisted. “I’m making good money. I want you to have a beautiful home. It’s the least I can do for you.”
An eighteen-year-old talking! Well, we called in an architect and figured out costs. Finally, I agreed to the project if Sal and the family each shared fifty per cent of the price. Construction is now under way and sometime later this fall, we’ll have a lovely, new place. It’s being built in Pelham Manor, a ten-room, split-level, ranch-style home with a playroom, a large lawn and a swimming pool in the back. I think it’ll look every bit as glamorous as anything Sal has seen in California!
Sal hasn’t changed in everything. And I’m glad. He still loves good music and is forever toting home new albums. He still reads his favorite adventure stories and biographies whenever he has the opportunity, just as he enjoys attending hit plays and fine movies. But he’s also a great one to roughhouse with his brothers and his pals, playing boyish pranks and cracking jokes. Nothing tickles him more than to sneak unrecognized into a movie theatre with his gang, sit up in the balcony, whistle when the shapely leading lady comes on the screen, shout, “Watch out!” to the hero and hiss the villain.
And Sal’s appetite—that hasn’t changed, either.
“Mom, what’s for supper tonight?” he’ll ask.
“I thought maybe you and your brothers would like to eat out,” I sometimes suggest.
Then Sal makes a face. “You know I hate to eat out!”
“How about a pizza?”
Sal smiles from ear to ear. “Wonderful!”
He still seems to prefer my Italian cooking to anything he can get in a restaurant. His favorite menu, particularly for a Sunday-night snack, consists of vegetable soup, a piping hot pizza, salad, fruit and coffee. When he’s finished with that, he always leans back and grins, “You’re the best cook in the world!”
I guess, above everything, I’m most pleased that Sal continues to attend church regularly. I believe he has the most sincere sense of gratitude for the success and happiness he’s received. Quite a few years ago, I gave Sal a little medal. Even in the roughest movie scenes he plays, I’ve often caught sight of that medal dangling around his neck. I don’t think he ever takes it off. I don’t think he ever will. Things like this mean a lot to a mother.
Yes, Hollywood has changed my son. But not in any way to give me a single gray hair!
—BY MRS. JOSEPHINE MINEO
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE AUGUST 1957