Red is my favourite colour – along with black and white, it also happens to be one of the signature colours of Haute Couture.The colour red is at once bold, powerful, flamboyant, daring, exciting and passionate – a physically inspiring shade which focuses attention quickly, whilst inspiring enthusiasm, excitement and creating empowerment; it goes without saying that it is also intrinsically linked to ambition.In different cultures around the world, red represents different meanings – in China for example, it denotes happiness, good fortune and prosperity, in South Africa it signifies mourning and in America it symbolises patriotism.Given its expressive, lively and highly-visible nature, it should come as no surprise to you to discover that the fashion world has used this shade extensively throughout the decades.This feature focuses mainly on the colour’s use in 1950’s haute couture; along with its many other attributes, you will see that red is also an extremely VERSATILE hue!
MODEL ANNE ST MARIE BY WILLIAM BELL FOR AMERICAN VOGUEIMAGE ©copyright VOGUE/CONDÉ NAST
MODEL SUZY PARKER WEARS NORMAN NORELL 1952 PHOTOGRAPH: MILTON H GREENE
VINTAGE SUPERMODEL SUZY PARKER
HARPERS BAZAAR JULY 1953
MODEL EVELYN TRIPP, COAT BY NETTIE ROSENSTEIN, JEWELLERY BY CARTIER
IMAGE ©copyright HARPERS BAZAAR 1953
MODEL JEAN PATCHETT
MODEL FIONA CAMPBELL-WALTER IN DIOR’S ‘RED PEPPER’ 1953
MODEL DORIAN LEIGH
VINTAGE SUPERMODEL DOVIMA
PIERRE BALMAIN SUIT 1956
MODEL ANNE GUNNING
PHOTOGRAPH BY RICHARD RUTLEDGE FOR VOGUE CONDÉ NAST 1954 IMAGE ©copyright VOGUE/CONDÉ NAST 1954
AUDREY HEPBURN ‘FUNNY FACE’
MODEL WEARS RED VELVET CHANEL GOWN 1955
CHRISTIAN DIOR 1957
COURTYARD COUR de ROHAN PHOTOGRAPH ©copyright MARK SHAW 1955
CECIL BEATON PHOTOGRAPH 1953
MODEL DOVIMA FOR MODESS 1953
IMAGE ©copyright VOGUE/CONDÉ NAST
MODEL ANNE ST MARIE WEARS BALMAIN HAT
IMAGE ©copyright VOGUE/CONDÉ NAST
BALMAIN RED LINEN SUIT 1953
PHOTOGRAPH BY RICHARD RUTLEDGE 1953
RED PICASSO STUDIO
RICHARD RUTLEDGE PHOTOGRAPH FOR VOGUE/CONDÉ NAST JANUARY 1958
PHOTOGRAPH BY LEOMBRUNO BODI
IMAGE ©copyright VOGUE/CONDÉ NAST 1958
IMAGE ©copyright VOGUE/CONDÉ NAST
ILLUSTRATION BY ERICA
‘SUMMER IN RED’: FASHION ILLUSTRATION BY ERICA
LOUISE DAHL-WOLFE: COVER PHOTOGRAPH FOR HARPERS BAZAAR SEPTEMBER 1941
IMAGE ©copyright HARPERS BAZAAR 1941
MODEL JEAN PATCHETT TRIFARI ADVERT 1956
IMAGE ©copyright AMERICAN ARTIST 1956
IMAGE ©copyright VOGUE/CONDÉ NAST
MODEL ANNE ST MARIE BY WILLIAM BELL FOR AMERICAN VOGUE
IMAGE ©copyright VOGUE/CONDÉ NAST
IMAGE ©copyright VOGUE/CONDÉ NAST 1949
‘RAPTUROUS RED’ text ©copyright Gary Alston 2013
Laurence Fellows (1885-1964) was one of the most distinguished and revered menswear illustrators of the twentieth century.His distinctive fashion illustrations exemplified a certain aspirational lifestyle prevalent in the 1930’s, a period in which he found his true niche with his visual documentation of the sartorial preferences of a group of very distinguished-looking gentlemen.His ‘French Vogue’ approach to his art was as unusual and ground-breaking as his choice of subject and a total revelation, particularly for American audiences of the day.Eventually Fellows would go on to make an everlasting impression on aficionados of style and exquisite taste everywhere.His unique ‘Continental’ technique was undoubtedly formed by his experience of studying in Europe; originally he had trained in illustration at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, but refined his craft with further specialisation in England and especially France, at the ‘Academie Julien’ under J.P. Laurens.Upon his return to the States at the start of the last century, he moved to Philadelphia where he lived and worked largely in advertising – he was a consummate draftsman (although he adopted a rather simplistic style in this field).He really came into his own however, in the early 1930’s when he turned his hand to far more detailed fashion illustrations for women and men, although his true métier was for masculine subjects.At the time, this particular genre was embryonic and there were very few practising men’s fashion artists; Laurence Fellows used this to his advantage and filled a gap in the burgeoning world of fashion illustration/advertising; he was equally fortunate that ‘Esquire’ magazine launched during this period – a style-bible exuding masculine sensibilities, who used his work in dazzling colour, two-page spreads for many years.Fellows influenced many of his contemporaries with his signature paintbrush/graphics bravura and his work graced the pages of many of the top style periodicals of the day, including ‘Vanity Fair’, ‘Esquire’, ‘Apparel arts’, ‘Judge’, ‘Life’, ‘Cosmopolitan’, ‘The American Magazine’ and ‘McClure’s’.Laurence Fellows died in 1964 and was finally inducted to the Society of Illustrators Hall Of Fame in 2009.His idiomatic legacy survives via his wonderful sophisticated masculine fashion-spoofs of a by-gone era, which continue to exert an animating affect on men (and women) of style and substance everywhere.
Text ©copyright Gary Alston 2013
House Of Retro/Gary Alston makes no claim to the ownership of images shown on this page.
The fabulous and incomparable Ms. Grace Jones has been a major style icon without peers for over three decades in the world of fashion and music.Jamaican-born, she made her name first as a supermodel in New York frequenting the legendary Studio 54, quickly followed by an extended period walking the Paris catwalks, where her overtly stylised, androgynous appearance and equally flamboyant behaviour/manner was more appreciated/understood.Grace signed to Island records in 1977 and they subsequently issued her debut album ‘Portfolio’ that same year.In Europe (as in America) her music was embraced by an adoring, (mainly gay) audience right from the beginning, indeed it was they who helped transform her into ‘The Queen Of Gay Disco’ (pun not intended).Her cult status and reputation for outrageous, cutting-edge style however, truly took off in what is now referred to as her ‘Compass Point Studios’ period.During this era, Grace created a new, signature music style adpated to her own needs from the emerging ‘New Wave’ genre hitting the clubs and charts.She was aided in this endeavour by producers Chris Blackwell & Alex Sadkind who recorded her at their now-legendary Compass-Point Studios in Nassau, the Bahamas, along with the ‘Compass Point All-Stars’ studio musicians .The music created in these sessions would provide the soundtrack for a whole new generation of nightclub-goers (myself included). At the same time, French photographer/artist Jean Paul Goude transformed Grace’s image to startling affect via an overtly-stylised, androgynous, headline-grabbing look, which featured an ‘anvil-like’ haircut, huge shoulder pads and Armani-designed men’s tailored suits.This fusion of revolutionary new sound and production combined with a radical overhaul of her appearance provided Grace with an exciting new identity which electrifyed audiences around the globe; she became a major force in music almost overnight during this era, which would see her release the ground-breaking albums ‘Warm Leatherette’ and ‘Nightclubbing’.She went on to become an actress in mainstream movies with her role as ‘Zula’ – a powerful warrior/bandit – in ‘Conan The Destroyer’ (1984) followed by her turn as the psychotic villainess ‘May Day’ in the James Bond vehicle ‘A View To A Kill’ in 1985.Grace Jones is still a major force in style and music to this day, having influenced many other artists, including Rihanna and Lady Gaga.She has a son from her relationship with Jean-Paul-Goude named Paulo, who in turn blessed her with a granddaughter, Athena.Enjoy this hand-picked selection of Grace at her visual, shocking, stylish and fashionable BEST!
House Of Retro/Gary Alston makes no claim to the ownership of the images appearing on this page.
Connie Francis (born Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero) was the top-selling American female vocalist of the 1950’s and 1960’s.Her recording of Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby’s ‘Who’s Sorry Now?’ propelled her to major international stardom, helped in no small part by her performance of the song on the legendary Dick Clark’s ‘American Bandstand’.In April 1958 her version of ‘Who’s Sorry Now?’ reached #1 in the UK pop charts and #4 in the U.S.Her long and auspicious career in the music and movie business would bring her many highs – and some desperate lows.She was and is a survivor, who will be best remembered for her dramatic and theatrical ballads, through which she developed a very distinctive, sobbing delivery, often sprinkled with overtly emotive, spoken monologues.Ms. Francis retains the distinction of having recorded many of her hits in a staggering FIFTEEN different languages! A true pop icon of her era, she was also the lady who gave us such upbeat hits as ‘Stupid Cupid’ and ‘V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N’, the cult teen movie ‘Where The boys Are’ (which spawned the hit song of the same name) plus she dubbed Jayne Mansfield’s vocals in ‘The Sheriff Of Fractured Jaw’ (1958) for which she sang the dreamy ‘In the Valley Of Love’.Connie Francis still appears onstage – indeed, in 2010 she appeared at the Las Vegas Hilton with Dionne Warwick in a show which was (aptly) entitled : ‘Eric Floyd’s Grand Divas Of The Stage’.This delightful paper doll book is a souvenir from her fabulous 1960’s heyday; released by Whitman Publishing Company in 1963, it evokes the colourful, glamourous and often whimsical outfits of the time and the lifestyle Connie Francis pursued/enjoyed, to perfection.I hope that you will take pleasure in viewing this delicious slice of 1960’s memorabilia/nostalgia; be sure to look for future entries on vintage paper dolls – a genre close to my heart/personal development!
CONNIE FRANCIS CUT-OUTS ©copyright WHITMAN PUBLISHING COMPANY 1963.
House Of Retro/Gary Alston makes no claim to the ownership of the images appearing on this page.
Your eyes will be luminous with joy once you’ve cast your gaze over this fabulous gallery of yesteryear’s Hollywood movie stars.Their allure stems from many factors – beauty, glamour, desirability, grace, magic, fascination, bewitchery and not least – TALENT.The charisma these individuals were blessed with is astounding; collectively they posessed the power to create a dazzling new constellation of their own in the heavens.Watch for future galleries from Hollywood’s golden age, right here on: Lights, Camera, Action!
House Of Retro/Gary Alston makes no claim to the ownership of the images appearing on this page.
FROM GARY ALSTON ~ COSTUME DESIGNER:
The magical and luminescent art of Parisian Haute Couture has reigned supreme over the world of fashion for more than 150 years. Unrivalled and inaccessible it continues to enthral and captivate us.Haute Couture’s savoir faire is steeped in historical tradition. Indeed, it can be traced back to the court of Louis XIV. Ironically, it was a Briton, Charles Frederick Worth, who founded the first two houses of Haute Couture in Paris in 1858. Yesterday’s Haute Couture existed in a more formal world and in answer to the needs of a certain social class, for clothes for their grand occasions, such as gala balls, first nights, embassy and presidential dinners etc. This is the era I sought to recreate when designing Milou’s ‘L’Ouverture’ collection, which features two separate costumes along with the ‘Vent Doux’ dressed doll. My approach to the project was to design outfits for a human being, rather than an inanimate object, whilst uppermost in my mind was the ‘simplicité de luxe’ concept which Milou so perfectly embodies. The results of this endeavour can be seen in the two new Milou designs: ‘L’Heure Six’ – a charming cocktail suit, and ‘Belle Epoque’ – a stunning eveningwear ensemble. Both of these costumes were painstakingly researched and put together using the finest fabrics; in addition, they feature precision tailoring and extraordinarily fine detail rarely witnessed on this scale. The ‘L’Ouverture’ collection is understated, luxurious and timeless and is possessed of its own unique ability to captivate and charm. It was born of a true admiration, respect and fondness for not only a particularly auspicious period in the history of fashion, but for a world and time when good manners, refinement and breeding counted for something. I hope that you will enjoy the fruits of my collaboration with Wendy Roper and Mannequins de la Mode as much as I have.
FROM WENDY ROPER ~ CREATIVE DIRECTOR MANNEQUINS DE LA MODE
“Exclusive is a word that is used too often and applied indiscriminately these days to market a product. But in this small collection of costumes designed by Gary Alston the word fits like a glove. You will not find this quality of design, fabric and construction in the large, mass-produced ranges of doll outfits. In fact, I believe this debut collection for Milou is the best and the finest evocation of the original Theatre de la Mode that there has yet been. Each of the three costumes is a miniature masterpiece of museum quality. Together they form a beautiful and enchanting work of art that will gain in charm and interest as the years go by. Gary discusses at length the fabrics and details that make this collection cohere, but I would like to draw your attention to the lovely vintage colours we have used: antique gold, bronze olive and cafe au lait all classically teamed with black. These subtle and unusual shades evoke so charmingly the immediate, post-war Paris of 1945. To my original vision and design brief for Milou Gary has added not only his creative talent but his extraordinary integrity of execution, coupled with a complete surrender to quality in all its aspects.”
All three costumes in the ‘Ouverture’ collection are linked via their tailored silhouette, colour and fabric. The finest materials have been utilised in their execution – taffeta being the fabric of choice not only here, but for many eveningwear looks during the 1940’s. Attention has been given to the smallest detail – from the most delicate of Miyuki beads to luxurious silk linings. Here follows a detailed description of the two new separate costumes…
A charmingly detailed cocktail suit cut from silk taffeta, featuring a form-fitting jacket with layered peplum waist along with an ‘A’ line knee-length skirt. The jacket bodice is cut with princess seams to provide the perfect fit whilst the double-layered peplum features a contrasting top layer fashioned from an exclusive sequinned cloth (perfectly in scale & lined in taffeta) with a draped sash effect at the jacket waist opening. The short, set-in sleeves are ruched at the centre of their bottom edge (an attractive style of the day) and accented with hand-sewn clusters of miniature bugle beads. This same process of beading forms the three ‘buttons’ on the jacket’s centre front edge. At the neckline a delightful silk contrast forms a draped, scarf effect; the silk is also used throughout the cocktail suit as a lining. The ‘A’ line skirt is cut in the classic style of the era. It sports an inverted pleat at centre front along with a darted waistline for a perfect fit.The ensemble is completed by a draped silk turban with hand-sewn beaded accent and a pair of three-quarter length black gloves.
A stunning eveningwear costume which perfectly captures the look and mood of an era, ‘Belle Epoque’ is actually two designs in one as the evening gown can also be displayed in its own right, sans jacket. The ensemble consists of a strapless evening gown and hip-length evening jacket in silk-taffeta. The evening gown’s bodice is cut in princess seamed panels with a dropped waistline forming a shallow ‘V’ shape at the front and a deeper ‘V’ shape at the back .The bodice is painstakingly mounted with black lace then hand beaded with ‘Smoked Topaz’ Miyuki beads which also trim the lower bodice edges and miniature bow at the bottom of the back bodice. The skirt part of the gown is cut in an ‘A’ line silhouette with centre front seam which opens into a curved edge slit at the centre front hemline. At the back a delightfully gathered godet panel in the centre back seam forms an attractive, flared train effect. The breath-taking evening jacket exhibits all the hallmarks of Haute Couture. Cut in silk taffeta it features a notched lapel, two-piece ‘leg-of-mutton’ sleeves and beaded sash effect at the centre front waistline opening edge. The hip-length bodice of the jacket is darted to fit perfectly over the evening gown. The sumptuous detailing includes mounted, hand-applied lace on the jacket top collar and lapels, the yoke on the jacket front/back and hand-cut lace appliques on the sleeve heads.In addition, the lace has then been hand-beaded with the same Miyuki beads as for the evening gown. On the inside of the jacket there are miniature shoulder pads covered in black lace – in the true Haute Couture manner! Accessories include a luxurious dark brown fur muff lined in the taffeta of the jacket and full-length black opera gloves.
Images ©copyright 2008-2013 Mannequins de la
FROM WENDY ROPER, CREATIVE DIRECTOR MANNEQUINS DE LA MODE:
I am delighted to introduce a different kind of fashion doll to collectors: Milou the Mannequin.Seven years ago, when I started collecting, I searched in vain for a doll that expressed the clean, sophisticated look I had always loved in the work of vintage fashion magazine illustrators.Their graphic and stylised interpretation of human features is a rich but rarely-exploited source of inspiration for doll designers and, yet, to me it seems appropriate and logical that such fashion illustration should become three-dimensional.Milou is the strikingly fresh result of such alchemy.To reflect the pared-down simplicity of Milou’s looks I wanted her costumes to discard all excess decoration, to rely solely on the quality of cut, colour and fabric for their appeal. But to create clothes like this takes rare skill, an ‘eye’ and not a little courage! I first expounded my Milou ‘philosophy’ to Gary three years ago, and he accepted the challenge with enthusiasm. During this time I have gained a profound respect for his skills, talent and flair. The depth and breadth of his knowledge is astounding, while his approach to design is meticulous. He is also a consummate professional – a quality which is underrated these days. But perhaps the highest praise I can give Gary is that he has realised, beautifully, my original vision of Milou.You will have gathered by now that Milou is about quality not quantity. There will only be a very few editions of Milou. Each of her ‘seasonal’ collections will be small but special, and will consist of three or four costumes. It is a more traditional and rational idea of collecting which, I hope, will bring a lot of pleasure to collectors.”
MILOU’S BOX PACKAGING REFLECTS THE ELEGANT SOPHISTICATE
MILOU THE CONCEPT:
Radiating an irresistable charm, Milou the Mannequin invites you to share her vintage Parisian world of elegance, beauty and privilege where well-groomed chic and flawless taste are eternal.It is early spring, 1945.In Paris the soft wind of peace and hope is blowing through the streets and over the rooftops.Exiles are returning.The city is once more buzzing with excitement and anticipation as the legendary House of Mornay re-opens its salon de couture in the Place Vendôme for the first time since 1939.Milou is the première house mannequin.With her aristocratic lineage, her haughty demeanour, her poise and sang-froid, she is the perfect expression of the ‘simplicité de luxe’ ethos for which the House of Mornay is famous.She is a true Parisian Elégante , or as the French might say, “Milou est formidable!”And now, with all Paris Society seated expectantly, a hushed silence descends.A new collection is about to be shown and Milou is about to make her entrance. This is just the beginning….
FROM GARY ALSTON, MILOU’S EXCLUSIVE COSTUME
“I am thrilled to have been given the opportunity to work with Wendy Roper’s company Mannequins De La Mode on Milou the Mannequin.For my part, in order to realise Wendy’s vision, I needed to immerse myself completely in the period; thus followed months of extensive research into the ‘Golden Age’ of Parisian haute couture which Milou represents.Following Wendy’s original brief, my aim was not to produce mere copies of vintage fashions, but rather to take the spirit and mood of an era, and imbue the designs with my own personal handwriting.The result is a unique fusion of styles that is unmistakably Milou. I hope that you will enjoy the fruits of this collaboration, and indulge yourself amidst the rarified atmosphere that is the world of Milou.”
EXQUISITE DETAILING, INTRINSIC STYLE
Milou’s debut costume ‘Vent Doux’ is part of the’L’Ouverture’ spring 1945 collection. It features a breathtaking formal eveninggown in silk taffeta.The silk was dyed especially for this design in order toproduce the unique ‘antique gold/old gold’ colour.The bodice is fitted with asweetheart neckline, gathered at the decolletage and scooped lower at theback.Draped sleeve caps lend a distinctive air.The sumptuous skirt is cut with acentre front flared panel, and gathers softly at the waistline.At the back, theskirt evolves into a full train.The gown is fully lined in silk.The black grosgrain bolero jacket includes puff sleeves, bodice darting, and a snapclosure at the centre front.It is hand embellished with a cluster of coppersequins and a deep yellow spotted feather.In the true spirit of the couture, the jacket is lined with the fabric of the gown.Underneath there is a full length petticoat in grey/green silk, topped with layers of black tulle, the top layerof which is edged with gold satin ribbon.Matching silk camiknickers with blacklace inserts and a tie waist go underneath.Accessories include black threequarter length evening gloves, and black suede peep toe shoes. Milou theMannequin comes complete with a stand and certificate of authenticity.A furthertwo costumes which make up the ‘L’Ouverture’ spring 1945 collection will be
released in 2007.
Salvatore Mineo jr. better known to the world as Sal Mineo, was the exotic-looking, baby-faced American actor whose legend and cult following largely stems from his iconic role as the doomed ‘Plato’ in Nicholas Ray’s 1955 classic of ‘switchblade cinema’ – ‘Rebel Without A Cause’. In this movie he played a troubled high-school kid who falls in love with James Dean (or to be more precise Dean’s character Jim Stark, although there are reports of a real-life love affair between the two off-set).This was the role for which he would earn the first of two Academy Award nominations.
Sal Mineo was born on January 10th 1939, the son of a Sicilian carpenter – Sal Mineo Sr and Josephine Alvisi who had emigrated to the United States to found a coffin-making business. Shortly after Sal was born, the family moved to an old house they had bought in the Bronx, New York City. Sal did not have an easy start in life; in spite of picking up the area’s distinctive accent he was considered an outsider and rejected by the local boys because of his father’s rather morbid profession. Sal attempted to woo the boys over, suggesting to them that his father’s un-finished coffins were in fact filled with candy. Taking the bait, the boys looked inside, whereupon prankster Sal leapt out, sending them running. Needless to say this did nothing to further his cause for friendship. It was only when he accepted a dare to smoke an entire cigar that he was accepted into the local gang and elevated at the same time to vice president!
Sal attended St. Marys – a Dominican Catholic school where he was known as a trouble-maker, but evidently not completely without virtues, for the nuns at the school decided to cast him as Jesus Christ in a play about the Saviour. Sal took to the project like the proverbial duck to water, immersing himself in the character, researching and studying his part. He even improvised his own props when he considered the ones he was supplied with were inadequate. It was this humble introduction to drama which ignited Sal’s desire to become an actor. He may have played Jesus Christ on his high school stage, but elsewhere his behaviour was more akin to the devil; he indulged in frequent fights and various forms of mischief whilst ignoring the nuns. Eventually they had enough and expelled him; with plenty of free-time on his hands he quickly rose to head position of his teenage gang and led a daring heist which was promptly crushed by police. Fate intervened at about the at about the same time when Sal’s mother was propositioned by a man advertising a dance school whose intention was to bring its students to the attention of television producers. Although extremely wary of the offer, Josephine Mineo did not wish to see her son sink from a life of petty theft into that of a bona-fide criminal who would eventually end up in reform school or worse, behind bars. She broached Sal about the offer and he was ecstatic; he began to take classes immediately. Although Josephine’s hunch about non-existent television producers proved to be true, Sal demonstrated a great talent for dancing, so much so that his mother moved him to a more reputable school along with his sister Sarina. One day a Broadway producer came by the school to audition students for a small part in Tennessee Williams’ latest play ‘The Rose Tattoo’. Sal had to deliver the line “The goat is in the yard” to her several times. As a result, He was offered the job at $65.00 per week. At the tender age of eleven he was destined for his Broadway debut.
The play’s initial staging took place in Chicago, whereupon Sal returned to New York for rehearsals. What should have been an exciting experience turned into something of a nightmare as each day when he caught the subway down to Times Square he would be accosted by rival gangs patrolling their ‘turf’ and as a result of fighting back would often arrive at the theatre bruised and bloodied; when he wasn’t fending off violent youths, he was fending off older gay men who, attracted to his exotic good looks, made advances towards him. In the end the threat of a toy gun helped stop the ‘johns’ from hitting on him. After a year on Broadway ‘The Rose Tattoo’ closed and Sal found another small part in a play called ‘The Little Screwball’. Acting was now well and truly in his blood and he auditioned for the role of the Crown Prince of Siam in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s legendary musical ‘The King And I’. Initially Sal was given the role of understudy, but eventually the lead took a holiday and Sal was required to fill in. He was in awe of the renowned actor Yul Brynner (who played the King Of Siam) to the point of being terrified, until he needed help with applying his make-up at which point the had to overcome his shyness as he was told to seek Brynner’s assistance.Sal remarked: “ I was so shy of him, so completely awed, that I never dared approach him, though I very much wanted to. But now that I was to play opposite him, I was more afraid of the man than ever… An important actor like Mr. Brynner wouldn’t want to be bothered with such trifles as telling a thirteen year-old kid how to put on greasepaint”. Sal needn’t have worried; Brynner took the boy under his wing, and when the lead prince left the show, Sal replaced him permanently. At this point Brynner instructed Sal on his acting and his performances greatly improved. Brynner would invite Sal to his mansion on weekends to learn how to water-ski and the pair ended up becoming personal friends for many years.
After ‘The King and I’ closed, Sal sought out work on television. He played small roles in a medical drama entitled ‘Janet Dean, Registered Nurse’ and in ‘Omnibus’ a biographical account of William Saroyan’s life. He played the part of Tony Curtis’ criminal character as a kid in the movie ’Six Bridges To Cross’ – a story about the mastermind of a perfectly executed three million dollar robbery in 1950. Sal was called to Hollywood to dub extra dialogue for the movie (which had turned out poorly on-set). Whilst there he managed to land a part in ‘The Private War Of Major Benson’ about a hard-edged commander assigned to coaching a football team at a boys military academy. It was whilst he was in Hollywood working on ‘Benson’ that the opportunity came for him to try out for his landmark breakthrough role in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’. Directed by Nicholas Ray, ‘Rebel’ was just one of a spate of new movies designed to cash in on the burgeoning teenage market and exploring the topical theme of juvenile delinquency. He was desperate to play the sensitive but troubled teen ‘Plato’ who is smitten/in love with the lead character Jim Stark, as immortalised on-screen by James Dean. Sal’s very distinctive, ‘pretty-boy’ looks set him apart form the other boys who were auditioning; he was asked to do an improvised scene with one of the gang members and was then called back for a reading with James Dean. Sal remarked about their initial meeting: “I thought I dressed pretty sharp for those days in pegged pants, skinny tie, jacket – until Jimmy Dean walked in with his tee shirt and blue jeans. We went through a scene and nothing happened between us. Nick Ray finally walked over and suggested we sit and talk for a while. When Jimmy found out I was from the Bronx, we started gabbing about New York and then progressed to cars, and before we knew it, we were buddies. Then we went back to the script, and this time if went off like clockwork”. Nick Ray harboured doubts about casting Sal as Plato – he did not fit Ray’s vision of the character. However, there was some element in Sal’s performance/appearance which registered positively in Ray’s consciousness as he ende dup offering the role to Sal saying: “Every once in a while a director has to gamble. I’m going to take a chance. You’re Plato.” It is hard to believe today after Sal Mineo’s stunning performance in such an iconic movie that anyone else but him could have played the role of Plato.
‘Rebel Without A Cause’ became a landmark picture; not only did it capture the spirit of a particular age (the mid 1950’s) and generation, but it has continued to do so ever since. It reflected the growing Cult of the ‘Teenager’ who, for the first time in history were exerting influence on their own terms; they were not children or adults but a unique demographic which emerged post world War 11 in a newly prosperous era. Teenagers defied convention through their fashions, their music and their adoption of celebrity idols. James Dean (or to be more precise, his character JIM STARK) emerged as their adoptive eleader.He dressed like them, looked like them, but most important of all he had their problems.The charcter of Jim Stark was a complete contradiction of terms. He was cocky yet insecure – tough yet vulnerable. He disrespected his parents and authority and appeared to live his life in emotional torment. His ‘sidekick’ Plato as played by Sal Mineo was an expression of overt youthful neurosis taken to the extreme with quite obvious homosexual undertones attached. Whilst not a Ménage à trois Per se, the relationship between the movie’s three central characters of Jim Stark, Plato and Judy Phillips (Natalie Wood) explored far deeper and controversial issues. Clearly, Jim and Judy became fantasy substitute parents to the troubled Plato – who was desperate to create his ‘ideal family’. The real controversy arouse in the romantic dynamics of the piece; clearly Jim and Judy were in the throes of an early romance but the homosexual undertones of Jim and Plato’s relationship were just as apparent. In the original script for ‘Rebel’ the concept of a homosexual ’friendship’ was intentional to the point that an original working copy of the script had included a scene in which Jim and Plato kissed. Obviously the Hollywood Censors immediately put heir foot down firmly regarding any ‘deviant’ sexual behaviour; Nick Ray on the other hand, urged Sal to play up his desire for Dean in his acting. Sal was Apprehensive until James Dean said to him : “You know how I am with Natalie. Well, why don’t you pretend I’m her and you’re me? Pretend you want to touch my hair, but you’re shy. I’m not shy like you. I love you. I’ll touch your hair.” Sal began to warm to the feeling until Ray commented that in one scene he “broke the sound barrier”.
There has been much speculation and many rumours over the years regarding a real-life romance between Sal Mineo and James Dean. Dean was well known as a bisexual, And as an individual who blatantly used men and women to further his career. Sal always denied that any physical relationship had occurred between them. According to him he was not yet conscious of the sexual nature of his attraction and feelings towards other men (he admitted to being a bisexual in a 1972 interview which wasn’t published until after his death and it has been noted by some that he only had exclusive male-male relations in his final years).He did however acknowledge that he was in love with Dean at the time of making ’Rebel’ but that his lack of understanding regarding his sexuality prevented him from acting upon it. He is reported to have said once: “If I’d understood back then that a guy could be in love with another one, it would have happened. But I didn’t come to that realisation for a few more years and then it was too late for Jimmy and me.” In today’s more educated and liberal climate reports have emerged of full-blown gay affairs amongst Hollywood’s so-called ‘straight’ movie stars – some of them as legendary as James Dean.which were conveniently and regularly ‘hushed up’ by the Studios who were a powerful force unto themselves. Homosexuality was as rife in Hollywood as it is now – only back then the level of media attention and capability was not as vast and efficient as it is today. Personally this writer would not find it hard to believe (or be surprised) if Sal Mineo did in fact have an affair and physical relations with James Dean. On the surface, the one thing that we can all be sure of is that for the time in which it was produced the depiction of the homosexual romance between Sal and James Dean in ‘Rebel’ was so obvious as to be palpable and it is astounding that it ultimately slipped past the censors of the day. Robert Aldrich and Garry Wotherspoon’s ‘Who’s Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History: From World War II to the Present Day’, nicely sums up James Dean and Sal Mineo’s relationship in ‘Rebel’ thus: “Dean’s loving tenderness towards the besotted Sal Mineo in ‘Rebel without a Cause’ touches and excites gay audiences by its honesty.” As history has proven, ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ was not only an incredible success upon release in 1955, but went on to become an iconic classic of ‘youth’ cinema with its lead player James Dean becoming not only a spokesperson for young people around the world but a legend of cinema and popular culture. He was, and remains posthumously the ultimate rebel. Warner Brothers made an incredible return on their investment as American teenagers flocked in their millions to view the story of their generation told on screen in just two hours. Sal immediately found himself a place in the hearts of teenage girls (and no doubt some boys) everywhere – it wasn’t only Dean who came out of ‘Rebel’ a heartthrob.
With a huge increase in fan interest, Sal’s sister Sarina took over the job of answering his fan mail and had to hire a small staff of other girls to help her. Perhaps more importantly, Sal’s performance in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ had caught the attention of the Motion Picture Academy who nominated him for an Oscar as ‘best supporting actor’.Sal ultimately lost out to Jack Lemmon and his performance in ‘Mr. Roberts’ but he was honoured to have been nominated and his success brought in many other movie offers. His next role post-‘Rebel’ was in novelist Edna Ferber’s ‘Giant’ which once again starred James Dean in what would turn out to be his final screen performance before his trsgic death in a car crash.This time Sal’s role was far smaller, he had no lines and did not appear alongside Dean. He went on to feature with Paul Newman (whom some considered to be Dean’s natural ‘successor’ at the time) in Newman’s 1956 breakthrough screen role ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’ – a biopic about the life of boxer Rocky Graziano. Sal played the part of ‘Romolo’, Rocky’s neighbourhood friend. As his status continued to rise at the box-office, He co-starred in his own movie ‘Crime In The Streets’ which capitalised on both the teen idol and juvenile delinquent themes of the era. Sal emerged from the part of a hardened teenage criminal with a new status as the epitome of cool and earned himself a new moniker into the bargain – ‘The Switchblade Kid’.
In 1956 Sal diversified into music with the release of his first single “Start Movin’” On Epic records. Loyal fans helped place his debut record at number nine on the charts, followed by an eponymously-named twelve track album. Given his Broadway Training in singing and this being the hey-day of the teen idol, a pop career seemed quite a logical progression, but Sal realised that he was not a musician commenting that: “Nobody is going to mistake me for Pat Boone”. He ceased recording music in 1959.In 1959 Sal took the starring role in the movie ‘The Gene Krupa Story’ – a biopic about the famous jazz drummer. This was Sal’s first serious and emotionally mature role; it marked his departure from his previous ‘pretty-boy’ roles. In the movie he was required to time his own movements on-screen in time to Gene Krupa’s recordings, a task that he pulled off very successfully, in spite of no previous formal training.
Sal’s next major role and one which was to earn him his second Oscar nomination was in Oscar Preminger’s classic ’Exodus’ based on the 1958 novel written by American author Leon Uris. Sal played the part of Dov Landau, an angry teenager who had lost his entire family to the Holocaust. He had not only survived the horrors of ghetto life in Warsaw but of the notorious concentration camp ‘Auschwitz‘; with secrets that lead him to the Irgun. It was a meaty role for Sal; although ironically he was the exact opposite of his character’s physical description in the novel, in which he is described as tall with blond hair and blue eyes! Sal’s love interest in the movie was the character Karen Hansen played by young actress Jill Haworth. She is a young Danish-Jewish girl searching for her father from whom she was separated during the war and has subsequently taken up the Zionist cause. There were rumours of a real-life romance between Sal and Jill off-set as they briefly lived together in Sal’s mansion in Los Angeles an continued a warm friendship even after she left his home. Sal was competing for his academy award for Exodus that year along with Chill Wills for The Alamo, Peter Ustinov for Spartacus, Jack Kruschen for The Apartment, and Peter Falk for Murder, Inc. Groucho Marx made a public declaration that his vote was for Sal Mineo after an appalling campaign appeal was launched in favour of Chill Wills. Sal was crushed when Ustinov won for Spartacus. In fact his defeat left him a bitter man (reportedly he was so jealous of Ustinov’s victory that he would curse him if ever his name was mentioned around him) and was to have more long-term repercussions on his future career prospects.
For a young man used to living the Hollywood movie-star lifestyle, rejection came hard to him.His party-boy shennanigans came to an abrupt halt as he ran out of funds. He was forced to ‘lower his standards’ and accept parts in obscure movies and television dramas. One notable movie to emerge from this period however, was the 1965 Joseph Cates-directed ‘Who killed Teddybear?’ in which he appeared with ex-Sinatra squeeze – the South African dancer/actress Juliet Prowse.In this lurid and sleazy slice of American indie noir cinema (which was shot entirely in real New York City Locations) Sal plays the part of Lawrence Sherman, a deviant stalker/busboy/peeping tom who terrorises Juliet Prowse’s character Nora Dain with a series of obscene phone calls. It is a slightly art-house psycho-sex thriller with a cast drawn mainly from Broadway, Hollywood and the Borscht Belt. Elaine Stritch in particular is unforgettable as Marian Freeman, a lesbian nightclub owner lusting after Nora who is eventually murdered by Lawrence. Sal turned in a remarkable performance, oozing eroticism and charisma whilst displaying an edgy menace.The movie has become a cult classic of ‘queer cinema’ amongst gay men and Mineo fans.Although Sal’s portrayal of a serial killer was praised by the critics, unfortunately it didn’t really help him to improve his dwindling screen fortunes; instead he found himself being typecast once again – but this time as a deranged criminal.*
In the era which followed ‘Teddy Bear’ Sal undertook a journey of ‘self-discovery’. Now that he was no longer such a public figure, he was able to explore his sexual identity, travelling the gay haunts of Sunset Strip and engaging in multiple relationships with other young men, although nothing serious or long-term emerged. At one point Sal dated Rock Hudson and there were rumours that he was into sadomasochism.One of the reasons behind this rumour may have been his penchant For wearing leather which could have simply been a fashion preference but at that time in particular was a look attached to S& M aficionados. He also declared to his friends and aquaintances that he had a special attraction to Englishmen. In 1969 a further watershed in his career occurred when he discovered the play ‘Fortune and Men’s Eyes’ written by Canadian playwright John Herbert. It told the story of a young man named Smitty who is sent to prison for six months for marijuana possession where he is transformed into the sexual subordinate of another inmate – the bullying an domineering Rocky (played by Sal Mineo).The catalyst for Smitty’s metamorphosis is a homosexual rape intended to occur off-stage.Sal earned the money to buy the play from gambling in Las Vegas.With Herbert’s approval, Sal moved the play’s pivotal rape-scene to centre-stage (Herbert later regretted his decision). A very young and sexy eighteen year old by the name of Don Johnson (Miami Vice) was hired to play the lead role of Smitty. With the heavy patronage of an enthusiastic gay audience the play was a success when it opened at the Coronet Theatre in Los Angeles on January 9th 1969. However, many critics opposed at Sal’s revision/interpretation of the script and his moving of the ’questionable’ off-stage ‘rape’ to a blatant “gladiator battle in the shower”. The New York Times critic was especially hostile, devoting only three sentences of his review to the actors and the rest of the article to insulting Sal as director. In spite of the adverse critical reaction from the mainstream press, the gay press were very supportive and encouraging. Eventually the play became a big enough hit to transfer To New York City where it opened under the direction of Sal himself.The NYC reviews were less favourable than L.A.s and in less than a year the play closed.
The early 1970’s were a grim period for Sal.Desperate for cash, he appeared in more than 22 television series from 1969-1975, an off-Broadway play called ‘The Childrens Mass’ and three films: ‘80 Steps To Jonah’, ‘Krakatoa, East Of Java’ and ‘Escpape From The Planet Of The Apes’. None of these vehicles earned him any critical acclaim but allowed him to pay the bills. He suffered a huge disappointment when he Auditioned for a part he felt he was perfect for in Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Godfather’. Coppola’s official rejection line was that “Mineo has been around an everyone knows him”. The truth was homophobic and much harsher; Coppola later admitted that another major star in the picture had objected to “acting opposite a faggot”.Although Sal was blacklisted as a homosexual in Hollywood, he never identified as one, stating: “I don’t like being told I can love only a woman or only a guy.” Eventually, in 1976 Sal’s professional fortunes seemed to turn around when he won a starring role in the San Francisco stage adaption of the quirky comedy ‘P.S. Your Cat Is Dead’ as a bisexual burglar named Vito who is caught in the act and held prisoner by the Jimmy – a writer and the man he intended to rob. Jimmy ties Vito up then begins to interrogate him. A frustrated, would-be writer he decides that Vito’s life-story is just what he needs to produce an award-winning book. The play was very Well received, and especially Sal’s performance. The theatre critic Bob Kiggins wrote that : “Mineo all but steals the show with his outlandish, marvellously antic gestures, his facile facial contortions and his robust delivery.” Magazines began to display an interest in him once more with ‘In Touch’ publishing a profile on him entitled: ‘Sal Mineo, The Eternal Original’. Bolstered by his role in a hit play Sal grew in confidence; his debts were mostly settled, he had a far more stable love-life and a group of close friends – however, a fateful coincidence was about to turn his new-found happiness into a tragedy.
On Thursday February 12th 1976 at about 9.30 p.m. Sal returned to the home he rented from celebrity lawyer Marvin Mitchelson at 8569 Holloway from the Westwood playhouse where he was rehearsing ‘cat’. As he stepped out of his car he was accosted by an assailant. A nine year old girl, Monica Merrem, Heard Sal’s terrified shouts of “Oh my God! No! Help me – Please!” from the parking area below her Bedroom window. She was not alone; several other tennants had heard Sal’s cries too, and rushed into the alleyway behind the complex where they found Sal lying on th eground curled up in a fetal position. He was bleeding heavily from his left side. One of Mineo’s neighbours – Roy Evans – tried to revive him with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but Sal was dying – with one deep exhale he passed away.when paramedics arrived the 37 year old star of Broadway and Hollywood was pronounced dead on the spot – From a single stab wound to the heart. The subsequent autopsy revealed several puncture marks along his buttocks (and other places) which were from the result of drug use. There was also evidence of hormone treatments used to restore sexual vigour. Because of the puncture marks detectives initially thought that the murder may be drugs-related, but they abandoned this in favour of a ‘Fag Killing’ theory (perhaps by a spiteful and revengeful lover).Needless to say, an investigation was mounted amongst homosexuals and bisexuals from the entertainment industry, but this did not produce any leads to the murderer and eventually the case was shelved. Incensed fans of Sal and within the gay community accused the police department of homophobia and that they had ruled out other options far too hastily because of their prejudice. The Los Angeles police department rigorously and angrily denied the allegations, and in the meantime there was still no clue as to who murdered Sal.
The investigation became ’hot’ once more when a woman named Theresa Williams came forward, claiming that her husband had killed Sal.Lionel Williams was in jail on charges of cheque fraud. On trial for the murder of Sal Mineo he testified that he’d heard a gang talking about an ‘arranged killing’, but guards from the Michigan prison he was held in reported that they ahd overheard Williams himself repeatedly bragging about killing Sal.The prosecution used witness testimony combined with some physical evidence to bring a charge of first-degree murder against him, but they were on shaky ground. Several witnesses had reported that they had seen a white man with blond or brown hair fleeing the murder scene, not a white man. Whilst the charges were being filed, Theresa Williams committed suicide, which meant that the state had lost a key witness. The knife which matched the physical wound found during Sal’s autopsy was not the original, but a duplicate version created from Theresa’s testimony. In spite of a gaping area of doubt, Lionel Williams was found guilty – but of second-degree murder, along with ten brutal robberies. He was sentenced to at least fifty-one years in prison. Over the years an aura of mystery has enshrouded Sal’s death to such an extent that it has inspired a mystery novel, a play and a couple of murder-theory books.The resulting cult of speculation about who actually did murder Sal Mineo has never abated, as many have expressed doubt that Williams was the killer.One of the theories put forward is that the Los Angeles Police Department merely used the most convenient/accessible lead at the time and played on the jury’s sympathies to close the case once and for all. Williams already held a previous criminal record and therefore was fair game; on ething is for certain – whether he did commit the murder or not, the world had lost a colourful and fascinating actor/entertainer. In an eerie hat-trick of tragic events all three stars of ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ met calamitous and fatal ends; James Dean was killed a month before ‘Rebel’s’ release whilst driving his porsche, Sal was stabbed to death in 1976, and Natalie Wood died in a drowning accident five years after Sal’s demise.By the beginning of the 1980’s all three original rebels were gone – destined to remain celluloid legends forever in the eyes of an adoring but sometimes cynical public.
In spite of the tragic and untimely end to his career, Sal Mineo made his mark on the world of entertainment. He had gone from a poor immigrant child to the heartthrob of a nation then back to a nobody. He had lived life in both squalor and ostentation – rich and poor.His plaintive eyes, dark good looks and exotic allure made him a hot teenage property and he became a pop star for a short while.He began acting at the Tender age of eleven, going from the Bronx to Broadway and then on to Hollywood for his big screen debut in 1955’s ‘Six Bridges To Cross’. That same year he won the first of two Oscar nominations for his role of Plato in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ – a movie of such importance that it bestowed upon him icon status for the rest of his life.If he had never played another role in his long career, Sal Mineo would have been remembered forever for his part of Plato. He relished idolisation, dominated the gossip columns and in later life was amongst the most prominently open gay cultural figures in the U.S.A. His life was one of extremes and he lived it to the full – “Live Fast, Die Young”. This is what he would have wanted.
•Six Bridges to Cross (1955)
•The Private War of Major Benson (1955)
•Rebel Without a Cause (1955)
•Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956)
•Crime in the Streets (1956)
•Rock, Pretty Baby (1956)
•The Young Don’t Cry (1957)
•The Gene Krupa Story (1959)
•A Private’s Affair (1959)
•Insight or Insanity? (1960)
•The Exodus (1960)
•Escape from Zahrain (1962)
•The Longest Day (1962)
•Cheyenne Autumn (1964)
•The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
•Who Killed Teddy Bear? (1965)
•The Dangerous Days of Kiowa Jones (1966) •Stranger on the Run (1967)
•80 Steps to Jonah (1969)
•Krakatoa, East of Java (1969)
•The Challengers (1970)
•In Search of America (1970)
•How to Steal an Airplane (1971)
•Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)
•The Family Rico (1972)
•Such Dust as Dreams are Made on (1973)
•Columbo: A Case of Immunity (1975)
•James Dean: The First American Teenager (1975)
•Start Movin’ 7″ SINGLE (1957)
•Sal L.P. (1958)
‘WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR?’ was banned from British cinemas in the 1960’s; a recent DVD release however has shown that more than forty years on it has lost none of its power to shock, amuse and entertain!
SAL MINEO: ‘LIVE FAST, DIE YOUNG’ Text ©copyright Gary Alston 2013.
House Of Retro/Gary Alston make no claims to the ownership of images appearing on this page; copyright remains with respective owner(s).