Rebel Heartthrob: Sal Mineo

[Director] Ray was aware of Dean’s bisexuality and encouraged the actor to use it in certain scenes. Dean instructed Mineo, “Look at me the way I look at Natalie,” for their intimate scene in the Getty Mansion. It had to be subtle. A Production Code officer had written in a memo to Jack L. Warner on March 22, “It is of course vital that there be no inference of a questionable or homosexual relationship between Plato and Jim.” — Vanity Fair

Warner Brothers may have forced a happy ending onto Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without a Cause, but if you read between the lines, the relationship between Judy (Natalie Wood), Jim (James Dean) and Plato (Sal Mineo) was hardly ’50’s wholesome.

Nor was 16 year old Wood’s affair with Ray, who was also bisexual.

You can see the trio’s sexual tension in both their screen-tests and in scenes from Rebel Without a Cause. 

Ray also took an interest in young Dean, choosing him for the part of teen rebel over the likes of Marlon Brando:

Sal Mineo — so affecting as the essentially fatherless outcast Plato — later commented that he had portrayed the first gay teenager on film. There are little clues: the photograph of Alan Ladd taped to his locker door, his longing looks at Jim Stark, his disguised declaration of love in the abandoned mansion.” — Vanity Fair

But it’s Sal Mineo’s turn as disturbed teen Plato that marks an important moment in Hollywood history: he was the first gay teen on the big screen. He was nominated for an Academy Award for the role. In real life, Mineo was one of the first openly gay actors in Hollywood. He paved the way for media acceptance of gay and lesbian teen narratives.

Here’s Mineo in 1974, talking to Dick Clark about the impact of Rebel WIthout a Cause.

“Until that film, teenagers really didn’t have an identity” — Mineo, on Rebel