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Who Killed Sal Mineo?

By Kyle Hemmings

Sal Mineo has a sister he calls his "little pigeon." She is twenty-two, and on most days, she stays in bed, hugging a teddy bear that can speak her thoughts. Without it, she is mute. Sal Mineo has named the teddy bear "Mr. Grommet." In fact, Sal Mineo bought Little Pigeon that teddy bear when she was very little, after she learned about the death of her parents.

At first, Mr. Grommet kept her from crying at night. Then it became something else. The two grew to be inseparable in so many ways. At times, Sal Mineo was even jealous, then, dismissed the thought as ridiculous. When Mr. Grommet speaks, his electric eyes light up. Sometimes, Mr. Grommet will say things like, "Sal, I'm out of underwear. Be a dear, would you?" Or, "Sal, I'm hungry. Could you throw something in the oven?" When Little Pigeon is in a good mood, Mr. Grommet will say something like, "Sal, I love you. You're the best brother a girl could have."

Mr. Grommet has no noticeable character flaws.

Sal Mineo promised his mom and dad before they died in a car accident that he would take care of Little Pigeon. When he was busy in his acting career, playing roles like Tonka or Gene Krupa, Sal Mineo went through a slew of housekeepers. If he came home and found his sister crying, or if Mr. Grommet said something like, "I don't like this one. She thinks I'm mental for keeping a teddy bear," Sal would dismiss them on the spot. But now that Sal Mineo is mostly unemployed, (being too old to play troubled teen-agers), he devotes most of his time to keeping Little Pigeon comfortable.

In fact, Sal Mineo's bedroom is next to Little Pigeon's. Sal Mineo has drilled secret peepholes, both in the wall that separates their rooms and in the bathroom door. This way, he can keep an eye on her when she's not looking. Whenever Little Pigeon exposes her breasts, as in say, washing herself, or stepping out of the tub, Sal Mineo blushes and looks away.

Sometimes Sal Mineo has nightmares that Little Pigeon will fall getting out of the tub. She will hit her head against tile, become unconscious, and when she wakes up, she will talk in the high-pitched mechanical voice of Mr. Grommet. She will tell Sal Mineo how much she hates him. She will no longer recognize him as a brother. She will rip Mr. Grommet to shreds. Pieces of plush and velveteen and electric parts will litter his thoughts of her.


One day, Sal Mineo meets a man in a bar. The man introduces himself as Jim Stark. He says he has many connections in the movie industry and has slept with many stars on their way to the top. He claims that Monroe was by far his best lay. Sal Mineo opens up to him about his flagging movie career. He says one day, I have so many scripts coming in and the next, I have nothing. Sal Mineo invites Jim Stark over to his house, the small mansion in Bel-Air.

In the basement, a private projection room, Sal Mineo shows Jim outtakes of the movie,
Rebel without a Cause. His heart races when he shows Jim the scene where Sal, playing Plato, a disturbed teen-ager, looks up to James Dean with gleaming awe-struck eyes. In that scene, Plato tells James Dean that he is so brave for standing up to those leather-clad bullies. James Dean tilts his head and gives Plato that modest James Dean smile, a smirk really-one that young girls would die for.

"Do you see, Jim," says Sal Mineo, "do you see how I reached out to American audiences? Thousands of teen-agers were shaped by my performance. I grabbed the heart of young America. Now, now they've forgotten me. I'm burning for a comeback."

Jim Stark rubs his eyes. He tells Sal Mineo that he has an aunt who is an assistant to a producer.

"They're looking for a monkey in a
Planet of the Apes sequel. It's not much. It won't win back your old fan base. But it's a good way to start over. You gotta start somewhere."

Sal Mineo refreshes Jim's tall glass of Mimosa Lady, on the rocks.

"No, Jim. I won't start small. I've already been there. I was thinking of auditioning for the next James Bond Film."

Jim laughs and throws his head to one side.

"Sal, you're too short and the producers want an Englishman."

Sal Mineo reminds Jim that Alan Ladd wore lifts in his movies and that Pernell Roberts had to take speech lessons to flatten his dialect.

Later, Sal Mineo offers to show Jim some porn films from his private collection: Lady Chance getting happy with two men in penguin suits, a guy with crazy eyes acting like Jerry Lewis, in top hat and plaid suit, getting humped by Bayou Bristol, Betty Paige getting whipped by two midgets in masks. Or if you prefer, Sal Mineo adds in an off-the-cuff manner-men on men.

Jim Stark shakes his head.

"No, I don't prefer guys doing guys. Although I must admit that in my days as a coffee boy to directors, I did lower my standards on more than one occasion.

Sal Mineo flashes a ravenous smile, throws Jim a wink.

They leave to go upstairs. Jim Stark has stated that he has a long day tomorrow.

In the living room, Jim Stark hands Sal Mineo his business card and tells him he'll be in touch. Sal Mineo gazes into Jim's eyes as if to say I want you to stay.

Suddenly, there are footsteps down the long staircase. Little Pigeon stands stiff, holding Mr. Grommet.

"Who is he?" says Mr. Grommet.

"Just a friend from one of the auditions," says Sal Mineo.

"I didn't know you were going to one," says Mr. Grommet.

Feeling flushed, Sal Mineo turns to look at Jim Stark. He notices how Jim's eyes are now transfixed upon the sight of Little Pigeon in her pink cashmere robe, her soft dark curls. His eyes widen and his lips stretch out but form no sound.

Little Pigeon's eyes grow small, turn frightened. She runs up the stairs.

"I didn't mean to scare her," says Jim Stark.

"It's alright," says Sal Mineo. "She's just afraid of strangers."

Jim Stark heads for the door. He takes one quick look back at the stairway. Once Jim Stark is in his white Cadillac, Sal Mineo waves to him.


It is a warm sunny afternoon. On the sidewalk, every other face is shielded by sunglasses. Important looking men sporting hairy chests and medallions saunter in floral-designed shirts and loud splashy shorts. Movie stars promenade in disguise. There is the feeling, at least to Sal Mineo, that an ocean is somewhere nearby.

At the Moon Over Mexico bar, Jim Stark makes an offer to Sal Mineo. He explains that he will use his pull in Hollywood to land Sal a heavy role in the new Sam Peckinpah movie on the condition that Sal allows him to date his sister.

"She's the most exquisite thing I've laid eyes on since Tuesday Weld," he says, swirling a stirrer in his Lady Dowager, chilled.

Sal Mineo stares at the bar then up at Jim. Trying to explain the situation, Sal Mineo uses both hands, fingers close together, thumbs in the air.

"You don't understand, Jim. She's a very special person. But she has problems. She's not like you and I. She doesn't go outside. Without me, she can't be herself."

Sal Mineo takes a sip of his drink. Jim Stark swivels in his seat, folds his hands. His eyes focus upon Sal Mineo's with the intensity and blistering determination of a lawyer who has never lost a case.

Sal Mineo spreads his fingers and his hands make up and down motions.

"It's like this. One time, years ago, I got her a job in a restaurant some twenty minutes from here. Do you know how long she lasted? Three days. Three days. That's all."

He holds up three fingers. Jim's eyes roll down and back up.

"She burned six trays of orange muffins. The manager took special pains to demonstrate everything. Then she dropped a large pot of pancake batter and was missing for an hour. A waitress found her hiding in a stall in the ladies' room. She was crouched on the toilet seat. She was shaking."

Sal Mineo bows his head, runs his hands across his white chinos, studies his Italian loafers.

"But in some ways, she's special. I mean, like she draws. She loves to draw. Do you know what she draws, Jim? She draws pictures of little children, a boy and a girl. Children playing under sunshine. There's a little dog and a house. Just like the one we lived in back in Brooklyn. And. . .sometimes, she even draws me. I mean it's our secret. But sometimes I pose for her. I could sell her drawings and I would get good money. But I can't, Jim. I won't"

Jim Stark downs the rest of his drink. He rises and says that the offer still stands. He says that he likes a challenge and that he is a sucker for beauty, in whatever form. He leaves.

Sal Mineo swings around, faces himself in the mirror, stares into his own dark soulful eyes. He grips his glass so hard that it might break. But it doesn't.


It's been a bad day. Sal Mineo has just auditioned for a voice-over in a new Disney feature. He read for the voice of Cha-Cha, the magic squirrel, who hides and protects a mysterious acorn with secret powers. Sal Mineo believes he has flunked the audition. A woman with thick black glasses and cropped, red-dyed hair, said, "We'll be in touch." Those words felt like the end of his life.

In the center of the living room he stands, brushes back his thinning hair, considers growing a handlebar mustache. He wonders: Would Little Pigeon approve? He is thinking of bypassing Hollywood and staging a play somewhere, about gay men in prison. The play will earn him new respect as a serious artist. He will once again win the love of the critics.

Suddenly, a scream pierces through the ceiling. A series of them. Sal Mineo rushes upstairs, afraid of what he will find.

There, on the floor, Jim Stark, naked from the waist up, lies bleeding, writhing on the floor. Over him Mr. Grommet stands, holding a stiletto knife. Blood oozes along the edges.

Sal Mineo grabs the knife from Mr. Grommet and attempts to turn Jim Stark on his side. He looks up at the bed. Mr. Grommet is now sitting in Little Pigeon's lap. She is wearing a long nightgown. Her mouth is down-turned and her eyes are frozen.

"He tried to climb into bed with me," says Mr. Grommet. "He tried to touch my breasts and kiss my face. This is what happens when you bring strangers into this house, Salvatore."

Sal Mineo runs to the bathroom, pulls some fresh towels off a bathroom rack, and presses them against Jim Stark's wounds. He dashes to the telephone to call an ambulance.

His words are rushed and jumbling. As he speaks, he looks back at Little Pigeon. Her brown-blossom eyes send secret messages to him, some decodable, some not.


In the hospital room, Sal Mineo sits across from Jim Stark's bed. He has learned from the nurses that fortunately, Jim's wounds are not serious. Sal Mineo leans forward as Jim mumbles something, fading in and out consciousness. Sal Mineo studies the clear IV tubings and a printed warning over the bed that Jim Stark cannot be turned on his back. It is a private room.

Jim Stark opens his eyes and blinks. He is facing Sal Mineo. Jim studies him as if a stranger, then, slowly, he smiles. He tries to prop himself up on one arm, but Sal Mineo waves one hand to signal not to.

"Sal, I've been having the strangest, fucked-up dream. I keep seeing that teddy bear of your sister's. It keeps telling me to stay away. It keeps stabbing me."

Jim Stark's eyes widen, stare at Sal Mineo who is sitting poised, legs-crossed.

"Can a teddy bear stab you, Sal? Is that possible?"

Sal Mineo rises from his chair, stands close to Jim's bed.

"No, Jim. That's not possible. It's just silly. It's just the painkillers they've been giving you. They're making you dream silly thoughts."

With lips parted, eyes unfocused, Jim Stark looks up at Sal Mineo. It is a look that cries for a sense of cohesion.

"Now, Jim. I don't want you worrying about anything. I'm going to use some of my parents' inheritance to help cover these hospital bills and throw you something extra. And you know what, Jim? I'm going to invite you back to my house. I want us to stay friends because that's important to me. You won't have to be afraid of my sister because you'll never visit her again. I'll be there. My sister cannot deny me my friends. And you're going to get me that role, Jim. Because you owe me that. After all, you tried to rape my sister. I think it's just a big misunderstanding. That's all it is, Jim. We're going to start fresh all over again."

Sal Mineo works up a smile. He bends over, kisses Jim on the cheek. Then, he slides one hand under the sheets, under Jim's hospital gown, rubs Jim's naked thigh, up and down.


It is the morning of Little Pigeon's birthday. Today she is twenty-three years old. Sal Mineo gently pokes her shoulder. She wakes and yawns. Next to her, Mr. Grommet opens his eyes and says, "Good Morning, Handsome."

"Do you know what day it is," says Sal.

Mr. Grommet rubs his eyes. Little Pigeon lifts her head, tilts it slightly.

"Today is the birthday of the most beautiful princess in the world. Here. I have a present for you."

Sal Mineo has already ordered her a special ten-layered cake, but this present is the best one he can give her. For months, he has prepared this gift.

He takes her by the hand. Mr. Grommet dangles from her other one.

He leads her to their parents' bedroom, which has stayed closed for years. Inside, he turns around and puts one finger to his lips.

"You must be very quiet," he says. "They don't like being startled."

He opens a trap door, crouches. Little Pigeon does the same. Then, he turns on a dim overhead light.

The secret room is full of teddy bears, all sizes and shapes, multi-colored. They are composed of all kinds of fabrics: nylon, velveteen, wool, rayon, corduroy, suede, real and fake fur. Their eyes are huge and smiling. Sal Mineo introduces each by name: Sooty, Rupert, Pudsy…

Mr. Grommet's electric eyes light up.

"Oh, my God," says Mr. Grommet, "we have brothers and sisters. A whole world of them! Our own private neighborhood."

Sal Mineo looks lovingly at his sister. She places one hand on his face, then kisses him square on the lips.

"Can they talk?" asks Mr. Grommet, whom Sal Mineo imagines is blushing all shades of teddy bear plush.

"No. They're just teddy bears. They do what teddy bears are supposed to do. They're just cute and cuddly."

Sal Mineo grips his sister's hand. Harder.

"Don't you think it's time you gave up Mr. Grommet? He's getting old. He's getting tired. He wants to die. He wants you to speak without him. It's his last gift to you."

Squeezing Mr. Grommet to her chest, Little Pigeon fumbles, crawls out of the small room. Sal Mineo follows her out.

"Wait!" he cries.

She is standing at the far window of their parents' room where she holds Mr. Grommet against her cheek. Mr. Grommet, nestled against Little Pigeon, faces Sal Mineo, as if to mock him with that innocent smile.

"You're a big girl now, Little Pigeon. You must learn to do the things that big girls do. You must give up Mr. Grommet. He's all used up. You can have all the teddy bears in the world. But Mr. Grommet must go."

Little Pigeon's body softly sways in the shaft of sunlight streaming in from the window.

"I'll never die. I'll never grow old, Salvatore. You know I'm a very special teddy. I can't be replaced. I'm part of this family and always will be," says Mr. Grommet.


Sal Mineo is posing nude for his sister. She is sitting up in bed, making charcoal marks across a large rectangle of paper. At times, she smudges lines, then, tears up the paper, starts a new one.

Sal knows he makes a brilliant model. He was told that when he was younger. His body is slender and firm, his waist chiseled, his legs toned, shapely.

On the floor, Mr. Grommet studies Sal Mineo from one angle, then, walks to the other side, and with hairy paw under chin, analyzes the pose from a different perspective.

"Salvatore," says Mr. Grommet, "I want to draw you with an erection. Now, listen carefully. Say the first thing on your mind that will get you excited."

"A what? What did you say?"

At first, Sal Mineo is shocked. He has never heard that word uttered from the lips of Mr. Grommet. Then the thought hits him. The projection room.

"Little Pigeon. You've been sneaking downstairs, haven't you? You've been watching those naughty movies."

Little Pigeon offers a slow, painful smile. She peers down at Mr. Grommet, who is looking up at Sal Mineo with those big teddy bear eyes.

"Please don't ever do that again. Stay out of my private projection room."

Little Pigeon refuses to meet Sal Mineo's hard gaze.

"Now please rephrase that question," says Sal Mineo.

"Alright. What is the most beautiful thing that first comes to mind," says Mr. Grommet.

"Okay," says Sal Mineo, "let me see. . ."

"No no," says Mr. Grommet, "no thinking. The very first thing."

Little Pigeon keeps making charcoal streaks across paper, then rips them up.

"Jim Stark. . .No. I didn't mean that. I don't know why I said that."

Little Pigeon looks up at Sal. Her face is slightly red, saddened.

"This isn't working," says Mr. Grommet. "I want to draw you reclining. Get on the floor. On your side."

Sal Mineo obliges, head supported by one cupped hand, his legs crossing over.

"Okay. Let's try a different perspective. Get on your back. Place both hands behind your head."

Sal Mineo turns on his back. A smile drifts over his face.

"Pull one leg up. Be relaxed. I magine you're in a sunny field of daises and clover," says Mr. Grommet.

Sal Mineo draws one knee up. His head is arched back, elbows pointed to the ceiling.

"Close your eyes," says Mr. Grommet in a hushed tone.

He does. He is dreaming of Jim Stark, naked as he.

For some reason, Sal Mineo can no longer hear the sound of charcoal marking, scraping the paper. He is tempted to open his eyes and shift positions, but he knows that for a model, the worst one can do is to ruin the artist's concentration. A drawing will never get done.

The thrusts are powerful and sharp. They rip into the ground of daisies and clover, into the thin film of memory unraveling, into his flesh. At first, he imagines that it is Jim Stark who is being knifed and not himself. Sal Mineo screams, opens his eyes. Mr. Grommet stands over him, holding the same knife that once cut through the flesh of Jim Stark.

"You've lied to me, Salvatore. Just like you've been watching me, I've been watching you. I have four eyes, you know. I've seen you and that Stark fellow sleeping together in the den room. You've been performing sex acts on the couch, haven't you? You once made a promise, Salvatore. You would only love me, and I would only love you. Promises are not made to be broken. Else, what's the sense of making them?"

With teeth clenched, Sal Mineo takes one long agonizing look at his sister.

Little Pigeon grabs the knife from Mr. Grommet. She begins to stab him in repeated strokes until he is nothing more than a scatter of plush on the floor. She turns to stare down at her brother, still writhing.

"Are you happy now, Salvatore? Mr. Grommet is dead. Tomorrow, I shall go shopping. I will buy myself expensive dresses and become an actress. I will play the parts of delicate girls, who will become stunted exotic trees. The most beautiful Hollywood men will smother me with affection. Aging actresses will take me under their wing. Audiences across the world will adore me. They will fall in love with the sound of my silky wispy voice. A velvet voice. My own puppet."

Gazing past the pool of blood, Sal Mineo lingers on Mr. Grommet's eyes, detached from the body, glassy, staring up at the ceiling.

He struggles to crawl across the floor. The thrusts, he believes, have penetrated his chest. He is dizzy, losing so much blood. He writhes and struggles towards the bathroom, but for God knows what. Then, he thinks of the telephone in his room. He tries to stand, his arm reaching for, missing the handset by a good half-foot. He crumbles to his knees, the way Plato did in that scene from
Rebel Without a Cause, where he is mistakenly shot by the cops.

This is Sal Mineo's last performance, his final celluloid thought-that this is truly the end of a short, and at one time, very promising career.


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