Sal Mineo said his memories of James Dean "keep coming as though they're really happening now, in the present, and this isn't going to settle until something drastic happens to me, or until I'm able to clear myself by setting something straight . . ." But he didn't know what it was, and he didn't know how he could do it. In the meantime, "boy wonder" Sal Mineo wasn't surviving but he wasn't going to "give up" the ship or compromise.
I was washing my hands when I looked up into the mirror and Sal was standing to my side. He said, "Hi." I said hello. He said, "I know you, you know.." He was wearing yellow-tinted aviator glasses and apologized that he couldn't remember my name "at the moment," but said, "You were the friend of Jimmy's ... I'd like to talk to you," and his face got red. I remembered a time on the Wamers lot when Sal was walking ahead of Jimmy and me, all of us heading to the commissary, and Jimmy snuck up behind Sal and pinched him on the butt. Sal had Jumped, flustered, then grinned with that same red in his face as now, in Downey's men's room. His hair was very black, and tousled in a Tony Curtis waterfall style nobody wore anymore. He had on a big sport shirt with a huge knot in his red tie. After Rebel, Sal had gotten the big-gun send up toward stardom from Warners, but somehow it was falling flat. Pinching his ass like that had been about the only time Jimmy had made any sort of direct contact with him outside of shooting a scene. With Nick Adams it had been the same way, even with Natalie Wood—Jimmy avoided them. Once off the set, he went out of his way to go in the opposite direction.
Sal seemed a lot taller than he'd been back then. I asked him what he was doing in New York, and he said, "Hiding." I didn't ask him what he was hiding from, and again he said he wanted to talk to me. I said, "I haven't talked about Jimmy to people. We just don't talk about him."
He said he understood that, and then started to say something about Jimmy—he said he remembered "it" very well, though I didn't know what "it" was. "I can't talk about it in here," he said and asked if he could give me a call sometime. I gave him my phone number, and he thanked me and left the men's room. Though I expected him to call, it would be many, many years before we'd make contact again.
I loaned Sal enough to pay his rent. He'd been getting evicted and was skipping out in the middle of the night. What money Sal did earn on a bit part here or there was tunneled into dope. Everything else was gone. He said he thought a lot about suicide, but was too "chicken to do it" himself. He said, "I'm looking for the fast combination, the one that'll do it for me." He conveyed to me that it was vitally urgent that we be in "deep" communication, "an almost spiritual situation," and the talk we were to have had in New York so long ago unfolded over the next few weeks. He had landed the lead in The Gene Krupa Story and Jean Seberg was up to co-star with Sal, but it turned out to be another picture she didn't do. Sal talked about Jean - how she'd been and what she'd become, how she seemed so sympathetic to the Black Panthers, giving them money, hanging around with some really dangerous characters. She'd become like Jane Fonda-only worse, Sal said: "Jane's a phony. It's all a stunt, it's all a front, but Jean's lost her friggin' mind, you know. She isn't the same person she was back then. She just doesn't have her wits anymore."
Sal's tailspin centered on drugs, the same as Janis, the same as Dennis. Sal didn't have that strange look he used to - like he'd been receiving electro-shock. When he came to borrow more money, he had on very low-waisted white pants, almost hip-huggers, and his shirt was open down the front. He'd shaved his body, like Dennis's a^ent Bob Raison used to do, and Sal and I came very close that afternoon to something happening between us.
We spent a couple of hours at my place on Griffith Park, drinking and talking about his "vibrations" to do with Jimmy's spirit. At one point he had an erection showing through his tight pants, and he said, "You see, I can't talk about it without my body reacting on its own ..." I had an impulse to reach across and touch his stomach, and he was waiting for that, but after a minute or so he started rubbing himself through his pants. He said he had to masturbate - he couldn't relax until he did. At that, he reached into his pants and brought out his cock. With his head back, he worked himself quickly, running his other hand over his bare stomach and chest. Then he pressed his cock hard against his belly, both hands covering it as he came onto himself.
I'd never thought about Sal sexually before that day, and never did again. He called my agent a few times and left messages, but we didn't connect. I had not expected him to return the money. Maybe if he got it together and made another picture . . . But as it was, it seemed as though I was paying a whore. Moreover, it seemed that he was getting pleasure or excitement from that feeling.
The "vibrations" were the unresolved conflicts he had about Jimmy and his own homosexuality. Sal had it in his mind that somehow, if we wrote something together about Jimmy-—me helping him with the writing—"we" would bring these conflicts to a head. Then, he said, he could get over the "crash" of his life and move into "living it" on his own terms, instead of "playing it out over someone who's dead." When he'd square himself—kick drugs and get a handle on life—he'd be able to fulfill the creative potential he believed he still possessed. One sad fact he overlooked: the potential was gone. Like Dennis Hopper, he'd drugged it into oblivion. "Jimmy is dead and buried in the ground," Sal said to me. I got to get him off my back because I don't want to join him down there."
Sal's ideas gave me the creeps. I wanted to help, but there was nothing I could do, and I didn't have any more money. In the long run, it wouldn't have made much difference. He was murdered in the garage of his apartment a block south of Sunset. People heard his scream as a hunting knife was plunged into his chest up to the hilt. "Some drug situation," I was told. "No real reason for the murder." A Strip hustler who knew Sal said, "They bagged his hands at the scene. I saw the plastic bags over his hands. His eyes were open, but he was dead."
EXCERPTS from LAID BARE: A MEMOIR OF WRECKED LIVES AND THE HOLLYWOOD DEATH TRIP