Month: November 2019

SalmIn 1955, Warner Brothers released ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ starring the late film icon James Dean (1931-1955).  And though the film cemented Dean’s legacy in Hollywood, the actor tragically died the month before the film’s release in a violent car crash while en route to Salinas, California.  In death, Dean became the poster boy for the new sense of rebellion sweeping across America.  In the film, he was joined by actress Natalie Wood (1938-1981) who played the role of Judy and Sal Mineo (1939-1976) in the role of Plato.  The film was a hit and is considered a classic.  The enormous success enhanced the careers of the three stars and Mineo quickly became one of Hollywood’s hottest new stars.  The Italian kid from the Bronx had arrived with charming good looks and acting skills to match.   For the next twenty-one years, he would leave his mark on Hollywood and television before his tragic departure on February 12, 1976.  In just thirty-seven years, he had lived what could be considered for some, a lifetime.   I knew of Mineo before reading this book but there was much about his life that I was completely unaware of.  This book came up as a recommendation and I decided to see for myself, why Mineo is still revered.

Author Michael Gregg Michaud presents the story of Mineo’s life, based on meetings with his former lovers, friends and interviews Mineo gave during his career.  The story begins in the borough of the Bronx in New York City where Salvatore, Sr. and Josephine Mineo welcome their youngest son Salvatore, Jr. into the world on January 10, 1932.  As we see in the book, from an early age Mineo was a performer and it was destined that he would later make it to Hollywood.   But before the film industry came calling, he was a young kid in an immigrant family trying to make ends meet in the city that never sleeps.  Michaud takes us back in time to the early 1930s post-depression.  The Mineo family story highlights the challenge faced by many immigrants making a life in America then and even today.  The struggles and successes of Salvatore, Sr., are a prime example of the attainability of the American Dream.   He and his wife do whatever they can for their children and Sal would need and benefit from their never ending support.

The story moves along as a typical biography until Sal is offered a role on Broadway at the age of eleven.  As the roles start to come in, the pace of the book picks up as we follow Sal along his path to stardom. Guided by his mother Josephine, he climbed up the ladder to stardom.  Michaud wisely inserts Sal’s own words which gives the appearance that he is telling the story along with Michaud.   The book does not come off as simply a collection of facts.   By the time Sal made to Hollywood, his life took twists and turns that no one could have ever anticipated.  Michaud covers it all brilliantly and tells Sal’s story in a way that keeps the pace of the book moving just right and at no point did my attention wane nor did I ever feel that Michaud had strayed off track.  The book is focused and stays on point.

One surprise that I did find in the book was the topic of Mineo’s sexuality, of which I had very little prior knowledge.   The revelations are eye-opening and even shocking considering the time period in which Mineo lived. However, he was undoubtedly a free spirit and Michaud captures it in the story.  Readers that are more on the reserved side with regards with sex might find the book a bit of challenge to read.  While there are no graphic details of sex provided, it does feature prominently as Sal matures in manhood.  The idea of normal becomes subjective and it is up to the reader form their own opinion about Sal’s adventures.  I can say that as I read the book I was reminded of the novel ‘Giovanni’s Room‘ by James Baldwin (1924-1987). The author here offers no personal opinion and rightfully remains neutral.  He is simply telling Mineo’s story and does it  showing both the star’s bright side and also his dark side.

As to be expected,  other Hollywood stars make an appearance in the book including Yul Brynner (1920-1985),  Jill Haworth (1945-2011) and Don Johnson.   The story begins in the Bronx, but as Sal moves through life, we follow him to California, France and even London as he searches for the next big project.  There are highs and lows, which show just how difficult it can be in Hollywood to stay relevant.  Michaud addresses Sal’s inability to get work through the words of those who knew Sal best and Mineo’s words on why he believed Hollywood was not knocking on his door.   Today we call it typecasting and it is a vicious cycle many actors work hard to avoid.

As we approach 1976,  you can feel that something is about to change in Sal’s life.  His casting in ‘P.S. Your Cat is Dead‘ after two prior auditions brightened his spirits. On February 12, that spirit was dimmed when the lives of Sal Mineo and Lionel Williams intersected and changed history.  Michaud discusses the crime, the investigation and the trial that followed.  However, it is not an exhausted analysis of the legal proceedings but rather a summary of what happened after Sal’s death with regards to the law and his family.   The encounters between Sal’s family and Courtney Burr are tense and telling.  Mineo was quite open about his sexuality and Burr had an intimate role in Sal’s life.  But incredibly, Mineo was never officially “out of the closet” .  And he was not the only star with a voracious sexual appetite as many of us know.  The tales of Hollywood sexual scandals are endless.  And I think back to my father who has always said “they don’t call it tinsel town for nothing son”.  Sal was free, open and lived with no regrets.  That is a lot more than many of us can say for our own lives at times.

Michael G. Michaud has written what I believe is the definitive biography of Sal Mineo.  It is an incredible story with a sad ending.   A star was taken too soon but this book ensures that along with his films and television appearances, that Sal Mineo is never forgotten.  Had he lived, we can only guess as to where his career would have taken him.  But regardless, he was and is still considered one of the greats from a pivotal time in the history of Hollywood.  He is gone but certainly not forgotten. Great book.

ASIN: B003F3PMN4

Biographies

Newman JFK Vietnam March 29, 2019, marked the forty-six anniversary of the departure of the last remaining United States troops in South Vietnam.  Two years after their departure,on April 30, 1975, Siagon fell to North Vietnamese forces as Hanoi tightened its grip around the country.  By the time the war ended, fifty-eight thousand American soldiers had lost their lives in Vietnam.  North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong losses were estimated to be well over one million.  Civilian deaths were even higher in number but despite the large numbers of casualties, North Vietnam refused to surrender and was determined to achieve reunification.  The withdrawal of American troops was a sobering reality and cold hard truth:  the American effort in Southeast Asia had not succeeded.   To this day, there are many people who still wonder how and why the United States became entangled in Vietnam.   The defeat of French forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 should have served as a reminder that military might is not always a guarantee of success.  In January, 1960, President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) took office and from the beginning of his administration until his death, the issue of Vietnam continued to fester like an open sore. Kennedy died before he could implement any further plans regarding Vietnam and took many secrets with him to his grave.  But declassified documents and political memoirs shed much light on what was really happening in his administration as it grappled to combat the growing Viet Cong menace.

Author John M. Newman is currently in the middle of a multi-volume set regarding Kennedy’s murder. I have reviewed three of them so far and eagerly await the publication of the next volume.  The books are incredible and the amount of information Newman provides is nothing short of staggering.  But as we see here, he a long time player in the game and in 1992, this masterpiece was released.  If you have seen the film ‘JFK’ by Oliver Stone, you will recall the scene where Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) meets the character who calls himself “X” (Donald Sutherland).   What many viewers may not know is that Newman helped Stone create those scenes.  His research served as the basis for the dialogue between the two as X enlightens Garrison to many dark secrets surrounding Kennedy’s plans on Vietnam.  The scenes are moving but do not come close to telling the entire story.  This book however, does that and more and should be on the bookshelf of any reader who has an interest in the Vietnam War and in particular, its origins.

Newman takes us back to 1961 as the Kennedy Administration is recovering in the wake of the Bay of Pigs debacle.  The seeds of distrust had been sown and when the Joint Chiefs of Staff began to press him on Laos, Kennedy was wise to the game.  But the generals had a backup plan and if Kennedy would not go into Laos, then Vietnam was next on the list.  However, the generals had a tough road ahead and knew that the young president would not give in easily to their demands.  As a result a pattern of deception developed and before long Kennedy and his own administration were at odds over American foreign policy in Saigon.   The depth of that deception will surely surprise many and still has me shaking my head in disbelief.   I had been aware of many facts in the book but Newman brings even more to light.

The book is exhaustively researched and the information contained within it will cause shock and anger.  But what I liked the most about the book is while Newman makes the case for what Kennedy was thinking about Vietnam at the time of his death, he is also frank about where Kennedy made mistakes that helped contribute to an already precarious situation.  In all fairness to Kennedy, he never had the opportunity to defend himself regarding his decisions on Vietnam.  But the paper trial he left behind, shows definitive actions he took and intended to take as he grappled with South Vietnam and a cabinet that had split down the middle.

The key to understanding how the deception started is to understand how intelligence was being gathered in Southeast Asia.  Newman breaks down the various divisions in military command and the role of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  Kennedy’s advisors are also on the hook and the actions of several of them add even more shock value to an already incredibly eye-opening account.  The realization that members of  his administration were deeply divided and at odds with each other, hovers like a dark cloud over the story as the crisis in South Vietnam unfolds.  All of the members of his administration are now deceased and we can only wonder as to why they committed some of the actions that they did.

No book about Vietnam would be complete without a discussion of Ngo Dinh Diem and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu.  Both played a critical role in the development of the war and Newman provides a thorough explanation as to why the brothers were important to American success in Vietnam and where they went terribly wrong. The coup that resulted in their deaths, changed the course of history and gave the war a new face.  A few weeks after their assassinations, Kennedy himself was assassinated.  And although there is no proven link between the two events, actions of several figures in high positions in the time period between the two murders are quite suspicious and will surely cause readers to take notice.

As I read through the book, I paid particular attention to the National Security Action Memos (NSAMs) signed by Kennedy regarding his policy on Vietnam.  They speak volumes and should paint a clearer picture of the forces he was up against.   National Security Actions Memos 55, 56, 57 and 111 are pivotal for they directly addressed many of the pressing issues Kennedy was facing at home and abroad.  The author discusses each so that the reader can easily understand the many nefarious elements that had been influencing foreign policy in some of the most scrupulous of ways.  I

Seasoned readers might be wondering where Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973) fits into the story.  His role is covered here and the suspicious actions on his part are paid close attention to.  The war escalated greatly under his administration but we can only wonder how much Johnson knew and Kennedy did not.  Newman does not discuss any Kennedy assassination theories or give any attention to any suggestions of LBJ being complicit in the crime.  But what he does show is that the vice president certainly had an agenda of his own and it would be shown after the events in Dallas.  National Security Action Memo 263 is one of the book’s most critical moments and readers should pay extremely close attention to this part of the story that highlights the stark differences between the late and sitting presidents and their views on the raging conflict in South Vietnam.

A common question I have heard from Vietnam veterans and others who lived through the war is why were Americans being sent 13,000 miles away from home to fight a war against a country many of them had never heard of?   It is a critical question and I believe that Newman has many of the answers they seek.  By no means is the book a complete account of the war. In fact, I believe a better overall account of the entire conflict would the best-selling ” The Pentagon Papers: The Secret History of the Vietnam War“.   The authors there discussed Kennedy’s administration but concluded that they could not say for sure what Kennedy would have done regarding Vietnam due to his assassination in Dallas.  Newman takes it further and I believe that he clears up much of the mystery surrounding Kennedy’s record on Southeast Asia.

Many years have passed since the Vietnam War ended but for millions of veterans, the wounds and dark memories remain.  Some were sent to Vietnam not yet twenty years of age to a foreign country in which death was prevalent.  They watched their friends die in gruesome manners and were exposed to the horrors of war in a conflict that did not seem to have an endgame.  North Vietnam and the Viet Cong showed Washington that it would not be an “easy” war.  Hanoi was determined to succeed in unifying the country and no amount of United States pressure or troops would change that mission.  In the end, Hanoi did succeed and America was left to wonder what went wrong.   As we move forward as a nation, let us not forget the tragedy of Vietnam which serves as an example of the dangers of misguided and intentionally deceitful foreign policy that changes nations and history.  Newman absolutely nailed the subject in this incredible book that will surely satisfy anyone who decides to open it up.

ASIN: B01N7YNXQ6

Vietnam War