SPECIAL MEET & GREET WITH THE AUTHOR AND COURTNEY BURR DATES FOR THE LOS ANGELES AREA.
January 10, 2011. Book signing at Antebellum Gallery, 1643 Las Palmas Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90028 (323) 856-0667. Free screening of "Who Killed Teddy Bear?".
January 14, 2010. Book signing at Books Inc. 2275 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94114 (415) 864-6777 (www.booksinc.net) Special Guest: Courtney Burr
January 22, 2011. Book signing at Book Star, 12136 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, CA 91604 (818) 505-9528. Special guest: Courtney Burr. Ample free parking.
THE FOLLOWING IS AN INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR MICHAEL MICHAUD, BY JOHN SEGER. EXCLUSIVE FOR SALMINEO.COM
John: I’d like to start out by asking how long you have been a Sal Mineo fan?
Michael: I’ve been a fan since I was about ten years old. I didn’t know him in a ‘contemporary’ way, though. I had a tiny, portable black & white TV in my bedroom and I’d watch the late show on Friday and Saturday nights. I saw Rebel Without a Cause, and instantly indentified with Sal’s “Plato” character, though at the time, I didn’t fully understand the connection I experienced. I was taken with Sal and began to watch for his films on the late show.
John: What are your top 5 favorite Sal Mineo movies, and why?
Michael: Rebel Without a Cause(1955), and Exodus(1960), first. These three films best display his remarkable ability to project a vulnerability and innocence that is sympathetic and appealing, and still be masculine with an edge of defensive aggression. He was a teenager in the fist two films, and his acting skills were like none other seen at the time. He represented a new type of young, male lead. It was an image that no one else could duplicate. The Gene Krupa Story was the first film he pursued, packaged, and helped to write. It marked the beginning of a paradigm shift in his professional life. It was a vey “adult” role for him, and a role he thought very important during his transition from child star to young leading man. Who Killed Teddy Bear?(1965) is interesting in many respects. Taken in the context of the time it was made, it’s a very daring, challenging and brave film for Sal to have made. He was trying to claim some independence and a new sense of personal identity in his professional choices. The movie was a failure, but he was proud of the effort.
John: What made you decide to write a biography about Sal? When did it begin?
Michael: I was satisfying my own curiosity. I wanted to know more about his life and there was nothing written about him of any note or accuracy. I began the project ten years ago, in 2000.
John: What was the most surprising thing you learned while doing research for the book?
Michael: I didn’t know the full scope of his career which included theatre, television, motion pictures, popular music recordings and radio. I was also surprised and happy to learn he was able to lead a full private life.
John: If you had one word to describe Sal, what word would that be, and why?
Michael: Fearless. And you’ll have to read the book to find out why.
John: You obtained wonderful input from the lovely Jill Haworth, and Courtney Burr. Was it difficult getting them to participate at first?
Michael: Courtney hung up the phone on me. Twice. When we finally met, we gradually worked through trust issues (very understandable), and then worked toward a common goal. It was difficult to get to Jill as well. She, naturally, was very guarded, but by the time I reached her, Courtney had been talking with me for a year, and Jill’s (and Sal’s) long-time buddy, actor Michael Anderson Jr. had flown to Los Angeles and spent two weeks with Courtney and I. That helped built a bit of trust with Jill, but still it took a long time conversing and getting to know each other on the phone. Courtney is interviewed for about 5 minutes in the A & E Biography of Sal, but other than that, he has never talked publicly about his life with Sal. Jill has never talked about her relationship with Sal before. They were very forthcoming, sharing diaries, letters, telegrams, photographs, and memories.
John: How do you view Sal’s iconic status to the gay community, and what he represents to the gay community?
Michael: I’m not sure I’m fully aware of Sal’s iconic status in the gay community. It would be based on here-say and speculation, until now. Sal had no interest in being anybody’s poster boy, but he lead his private life the way he wanted. He knew the dangers in publicly “outing” himself at the time, so he denied being gay when actually asked the question in the press. His career was on the skids anyway, and such a revelation would have made it absolutely impossible to work. However, he didn’t live in the shadows. And the career choices he made, the theatrical and film projects he pursued were a subliminal " coming out ". And gay men and women know better than anyone else how to read between the lines. Though life today is a bit easier for gay, lesbian and transgender folks, there was still an element of homophobia in the swinging ‘60’s and 70’s. It was one thing to experiment with sexuality at the time, but something different again to actually proclaim yourself homosexual. Young people who watched Sal on the screen, especially in Rebel Without a Cause, could easily see the confusion, fear, lust, and wonderment in the eyes of a teenage boy when he fearfully begins to experience feelings and attractions that he didn’t fully understand. No one played the part better than Sal, and that’s why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role. And he was the youngest actor to be so nominated at the time.
John: And how do you view Sal’s iconic status to everybody in general? What do you feel made him such a legendary icon in the film industry?
Michael: His numerous performances as a vulnerable, loving, and defensively aggressive young man were, and remain, appealing to both women and men. He did not play characters who engendered fear in his audience. Instead, his characterizations generated strong feelings of compassion and affection.
John: Sal had so much respect for James Dean. Not just as a co-star, but as a friend. Would you say he idolized Jimmy to an extent?
Michael: As a child, Sal’s acting training in New York was very conventional. He was not exposed to “method” acting until he worked with Nick Ray and Jimmy Dean. Sal didn’t necessarily subscribe to “method” acting, but he was stunned by the improvisational style of work practiced by Ray and Dean. He learned many lessons from them both on the set of Rebel Without a Cause. Dean befriended Sal, the New York outsider, on the lot at Warner Bros. Their friendship grew, but professional obligations made it nearly impossible to see each other after Rebel wrapped.
John: Michael, there are a number of fans that feel that Lionel Williams was not Sal’s real killer. Tell us your opinion.
Michael: This was a question/issue I wanted to settle once and for all with my book. I spent days studying the murder investigation files, coroner’s reports, and murder trial transcripts. All of this is recounted in the book. I believe Lionel Williams killed Sal.
John: Sales of the book have been very good on Amazon. I also am impressed it hit #1 at Book Soup in Hollywood. And I know this book will become a long-term seller with legs. The press has showered the book with across the board fantastic reviews. This must really make you happy, both in regards to your hard work on the book, and helping continue Sal’s legacy and body of work. Can you elaborate on your feelings here?
Michael: After ten years of work, I am certainly gratified by the good notices. I hope Sal’s fans like the book. I was always most concerned with what Jill and Courtney would think, since so much of Sal’s story is their own story, too. I’m most happy that both Jill and Courtney are thrilled with the final product. Courtney has accompanied me to book signings, and Sal’s fans have been thrilled to meet him. Jill is with us in spirit. She talks to us both just before the signings, and she gets photos after each event.
John: What plans are in store to keep interest and publicity going on for the book?
Michael: I was interviewed for " The Advocate " magazine. The February 2011 issue will include some great photos, too, and will be on news stands the first week of January, 2011. I’m about to be interviewed on the Bloomberg Report for NPR. The program will be broadcast in mid-December. I’ll be signing copies of the book at Antebellum Gallery on Las Palmas in Hollywood on Sal’s birthday, Monday January 10. There will be a free screening of Who Killed Teddy Bear?, there as well. Courtney and I will be in San Francisco from January 14-16. We’ll be signing at a public event at Books Inc. (2275 Market Street in S.F.) on Friday night, January 14 at 7:30 pm. We’ll be hitting other stores as well while in the Bay Area. Courtney and I will be signing at Book Star on Ventura Boulevard at Laurel Canyon in Studio City on Saturday, January 22 at 3 pm. And the beat goes on….
John: Do you see a possible theatrical movie based on Sal’s life eventually? And do you think such a film has potential to tap the box office vein?
Michael: We’re currently (for the last six months) negotiating a film deal. Hollywood is a complicated business though, so keep your fingers, toes and eyes crossed.
John: What would you like to say to all the fans reading this interview right now?
Michael: Hi, there. Tell your friends about the book. It makes a great gift, too. This is the first, only, and most complete story of his life and career ever published. It’s important to maintain good sales to insure any foreign country publication. Also, big sales generate more interest in Hollywood and help secure a movie deal. A huge thanks to Sal’s fans, many of whom have contacted me personally. Check me out on Facebook and see a gigantic photo gallery of Sal. Thanks, again!?