Playwright/Actor Dean Ghaffari On Taking On the Cool Persona of Sal Mineo

An enduring interest in Sal Mineo, the actor who played James Dean’s school chum in Rebel Without A Cause, has led to its most recentincarnation at the Promenade Playhouse in the form of Dean Ghaffari‘s one-man show REBEL WITH A CAUSE – THE SAL MINEO STORY, beginning August 11, 2017.

Dean spent a few moments with us to shed some light on his fascination with this ofttimes overshadowed actor.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Dean!

What sparked your initial interest in Sal Mineo?

I first became acquainted with Sal Mineo in high school, when I took a film class. I saw Rebel Without A Cause for the first time and, although the teacher kept referencing James Dean, I remember I kept thinking there was something rather interesting about Dean’s counterpart. I recall saying to my teacher, “Who is the guy with James Dean?” She replied, “That’s Sal Mineo, who was actually murdered!” His performance as Plato Crawford to me was ambiguous, there was an uncertainty and mystery that compelled me.

Years later, in my early 20’s, I took an acting class with an instructor who was very instrumental for me, who encouraged us to always try and find an historical figure we thought we may resemble, and to try and create an opportunity to play them, as this was a time when biopics were really hot. One day on the street some random person came up to me and said, “Excuse me, has anybody told you that you look like an actor from way before your time named Sal Mineo?” The name, of course, struck a familiar chord with me, and I remembered him from that film I saw way back in high school. I went up to my acting teacher and asked, “Do you think I can play Sal Mineo?” The next day he brought me a bio on Sal Mineo. And that was what kicked it off for me.

Any specific characteristics of his that you can relate to? 

Although there are contradictions between myself and Sal, at the same time we have many shared traits, the same dreams and goals. The need to be accepted!

You have been honing this one-man show with stage readings at the Macha Theatre in West Hollywood, the Ice House in Pasadena and the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre in NoHo. What significant tweaks have you incorporated into this production at The Promenade Playhouse from your previous editions?

I think every time one revisits a piece, it’s a chance to rediscover the material. And hopefully try to evolve through experience. I think I have really expanded the piece as a whole, in terms of embellishing some of the characters that were significant in Sal’s life. As the story progresses, I’m going to have a few wardrobe changes to suggest the times in which he was a part of. There are also a few technical changes that were added. As well as, a couple of additional scenes I’ve written.

What periods of Sal Mineo’s life does your play cover?

I start from the time he was eight, from working with Yul Brenner on Broadway in the KING AND I to meeting and developing a friendship with James Dean. From struggling with his homosexuality, and the constant need to find an identity, to make a comeback and overcome his downfall. Mind you, the play is based on his life, however, there are some fictional aspects to the material.

Which of Sal Mineo’s films and television roles have you seen and/or studied? 

Rebel without a Cause, Exodus, Somebody Up There Likes Me, The Gene Krupa Story, Who Killed Teddy Bear, etc.

 Have you ever seen later productions of FORTUNE AND MEN’S EYES or P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD that Sal was associated with?

I never have, however, I’ve read both plays. They were pretty controversial for those times. It reminds me how ahead of his time he was. He truly was a “Rebel With a Cause.”

You brought your Sal to the St. Luke’s Theater Off-Broadway. Was your first Off-Broadway experience everything you thought it would be?  Anything take you by surprise?

It was a very humbling experience. NYC audiences have a far greater energy for Theatre than any other audience, and that’s infectious. One guy came up to me after the show and said, “We New Yorkers can be tough, but keep in mind we will always listen.” Walking down Time Square on my way to the theatre and seeing the marquees with the names of all these great actors that I admired up in lights, like Al Pacino, one can’t help but be inspired. And my particular audience couldn’t have been more gracious, there was a community of people from the Bronx that came to see my show. There was such a sense of pride coming from his hometown. One person said to me, “I haven’t heard Sal Mineo’s name in over 30 years, so when I heard there was a play about him, I couldn’t miss it for the world.” For me, that’s what it’s all about!

You will be returning to Off-Broadway this September for the United Solo Festival. What will that event encompass?

United Solo is the largest solo show festival in the world. Actors come from all over to perform their solo shows. I’m very excited and humbled for my show making its return to NY. Tom Waters (my Director) has a lot of Broadway and Off-Broadway connections coming to see the show, so he’ll be  promoting REBEL WITH A CAUSE for a possible move to NY for an extended run Off-Broadway next year!

I see on your resume, you list under your special skills – ‘film historian.’ Would you elaborate on that skill?

My passion for film history stems from my love of acting. I would never have had any knowledge of that had I not wanted to be an actor. I teach it, and I have been involved in various classical movies screenings in my community.  

Any other celebrities you’d like to tackle as a one-man show?

No one in particular, however I’m always open for suggestions.

What would you like your Promenade Theatre audience to leave with after you take your curtain bow?

I’d like them to leave the theatre having learned some things about who Sal Mineo really was. About how hard he fought to come out from under the shadow of James Dean, and how hard he had to fight what it meant to “come out.” To learn of all the fears and insecurities that came with having so much fame at an early age and the pressure to stay on top. And what it must have been like to have discovered his homosexuality the moment he fell in love with James Dean. The toll it took on him by having to hide it and fight it for years, and the toll that coming out and also aging into an adult actor took on his career.

Thank you again, Dean! I look forward to meeting your Sal.

My pleasure. Thank you!

For REBEL WITH A CAUSE – THE SAL MINEO STORY‘s ticket availability and schedule through August 26, 2017; log onto www.promenadeplayhouse.com

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