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Apr 30 2011
The Twinkie Defense: An Interview With Courtney Burr Comments (12)

IMG_9459Meeting Michaud (left) and Burr (right) in Los Angeles

In February, following an interview I did with Michael Gregg Michaud, the author SalMineoBio of Sal Mineo: A Biography, I was pleased when he introduced me to Mineo's partner, Courtney Burr. Burr had been with the actor for years at the time of his tragic stabbing death and had provided Michaud with many invaluable insights into Mineo's personality because he "just wanted the story of what happened in our lives to be truthful and to reflect even the things some people might find strange."

I met with Burr, once looked down on as Mineo's "twinkie" and now a respected acting teacher in his sixties, and Michaud at the 2010_1130_courntey_burr_sal_mineo_onstage_sunday_new_york_florida_1974RSZD-237x300 Universal Hilton in Los Angeles on brisk day, but was immediately warmed by Burr's gift of gab. His story holds interest not only as a peek into the private life of Mineo, but as a candid look at how two men fell in love and made it work until it was taken away unexpectedly.

Continue reading to be regaled with Burr's memories of his lover's artistic vision, to find out if Mineo identified as gay, to get pissed off at how the Mineo family mistreated him after Mineo's murder, to get dish on the infamous Broadway version of Harold and Maude and to hear what it was like directing first Oscar winner Janet Gaynor...

TEgVgsVjjX3lSal Mineo, 1939—1976

Boy Culture: What was your opinion of all the books written about Sal prior to Michael's book?

Courtney Burr: I was so offended and there was so much misinformation that when Michael called me I hung up on him—twice. I just said, “You know what? I’m not interested.” ‘Cause I didn’t believe
anybody. No matter what. And all the months and years right after Sal was killed, I got a lot of calls from different people saying, “Oh, I wanna do it,” and I’d say, “Well, what interests you?” and of course it was always the sensationalism of his death and all of that stuff. I wasn’t interested. I mean, it offended me again. So they just went and wrote shit anyway. So it really offended me. There were things about me in half the books that were completely inaccurate, there were so many things about Sal that were completely inaccurate and stuff about our relationship.

It was really important to me that if anything was gonna be written, that it was truthful—I wasn’t gonna hide anything, you know? For some people, some of that honesty they really appreciated—I got e-mails and different things from people who said, “I really appreciate that you would write about your life together and your personal life with so much openness and honesty.” And that’s what I wanted it to be. I’m not ashamed of any moment of my life at all. He [Michael] keeps telling me I should be, but I’m not. [Laughs] So I wanted that to be true and I wanted it to be the truth both about our relationship and Sal’s life, which was an extraordinary life. Which, when Michael finally got me to stop hanging up on him, he told me what his interest was and how long he had respected Sal as an artist and really felt he should be fulfilled which was something I always wanted to see done.

227738_10150174210699106_700379105_6652850_3869994_nBurr (left) and Michaud

BC: What made Michael's approach different?

CB: He’d already done four years of research, which, the other thing about these other books is they took half of their information from Conversations with My Elders [book of interviews with closeted stars !BnB,9,!!Wk~$(KGrHqYH-DQEtyRCSF7jBLhyDrmSRg~~_35 by Boze Hadleigh whose authenticity has been challenged] and half out of this other person Susan Braudy’s totally misinformed book [Who Killed Sal Mineo?], and blah-blah-blah—I guess she wrote hers as a novel didn’t she? Yeah, but using everybody’s name as if it were accurate and it wasn’t. And I had told her I wouldn’t do an interview with her, and so she showed up at my door—and this was really a short time after [Sal's murder]...When she came to see me I said, “Look, I’m not gonna tell you anything,"—the way that appeared in the book, I believe, but certainly in the article, was that I didn’t want to say anything because I thought it would interfere with my inheritance from him or the money that I was gonna get from him, that I was fighting the family for it. And I thought, “Well, that is the biggest joke,” because there was no money—there was nothing in terms of that. Obviously, there was a time when Sal had money; I didn’t know him during that time at all. [Laughs] It was during a very different sort of financial situation.

So it was really the fact that Michael had really approached it from the right point of view. Starting at the early part of his life he had done so much research, like an archivist. In fact, he knew more about Sal at this point than I did—[my information] was mostly personal, but all of the things that Sal had accomplished as a young man, as an actor, those were not things that we spoke a lot about, Sal and I, Sal-sings because ours was, you know, basically what was going on between the two of us. I mean, I knew of them, but, I mean, he knew every detail, you know, in terms of every TV show, every interview...Sal rarely talked about his singing career because he was not happy about that. I think he was cognizant of the fact that some of those choices weren’t so smart for him and that may have in some way impaired his career later on because people sort of looked at him, “Well, is he really an actor or is he a teen idol?” You know what I mean? And so he was not proud of that.

BC: You helped Michael by reaching out to Sal's former lover, the late Jill Haworth. [Haworth, who created the role of Sally Bowles in Cabaret on Broadway after having been Mineo's lover during her teen years, passed away unexpectedly in January.—Ed.]

Sal-mineo-jill-haworth-sal-mineo-6989137-747-533Young lovers

CB: Because I knew how important Jill was in Sal’s life. That was his sort of boy-girl, at the age he was, that he got to have with a girl, a woman. 'Cause he went out on lot of dates with Playboy bunnies and whatever, but I don’t now that he had sexual relations with them all. In fact, in almost every interview you’ll notice that he keeps saying, "I just wanna have girls who can have fun." It was a much more social thing, though there were clearly a lot of women that he did have sexual relationships with.

Mili-gjon-sal-mineo-and-jill-haworth-in-scene-from-exodusThat "boy-girl thing"—Mineo & Haworth

It was not as a beard because, as I say, he didn’t have any awareness. And even after I knew him, there were times when he had sexual relationships with women. Infrequently, but it still happened. So it wasn’t like something he just tried to hide…Sal never hid anything. I never knew Sal to hide anything, and he certainly never hid a damn thing from me—I knew about all of the people 'cause he didn’t need to hide things.

I said to him, "You do what you gotta do." And part of that was what attracted me to him, that he was that passionate and interested and that flawed. It’s always nice to know that the other person you’re with is flawed as well as you. [Laughs] When they’re too perfect, it’s scary.

MailedD74Rough trade or husband material?

BC: Did you know anything of Sal when you met him?

CB: No. I had no idea. The first time I read his name was in a review of Fortune and Men’s Eyes when it opened at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York. My upbringing was a little strange; it was sort of a more European upbringing. My family, we didn’t associate with very many people, except people-who-came-over-from-Europe-type-of-thing, and I was in private school. So I didn’t really…I had never heard of him, I’d never seen any of his movies.

But anyway…that was the first time and what it talked about was how Sal had changed the original script in terms of bringing it up to date, and I said, “How dare these obnoxious Hollywood actors…” because I was very theater, “…I mean, taking a script and tampering with it.” Well, shortly thereafter I went to see Fortune at the Manhattan Theatre Club—I was so stunned and blown away by the experience. It was really one of the greatest things I have ever seen on stage as far as being exciting and sensual and disturbing all at the same time. One minute you were laughing your ass off and another minute you were gasping [gasps] in despair. And I always remember at the end of the first act, the lights dimmed and nobody moved. Everybody sat there stunned. And then everybody sort of quietly filed out and then you thought, “Okay, that was the first act, what can they possibly do in the second act?” And then everybody came back in and it was really thrilling—his direction was superb and his changes were absolutely right on. It wasn’t until later on when I had read the actual original by John Herbert that—this was supposed to be a bunch of convicts and of course there were no swear words in it and one of my favorite phrases was, “If you do that again, I will carve my initials in your gizzard.” I went, “Oh, my God!” And of course the first line in Sal’s production of Fortune was, “Where the fuck is my chess book?” and it sort of took off from there.

PreviewScreenSnapz001The late Michael Greer

And of course he added the whole thing where Michael Greer got to do his performance in drag to entertain the guys in the cell, which was not in the original, and it was superb. I mean, it just, again, it got you laughing and laughing and laughing and took you to another place just before some really terrible things were gonna happen. So it was beautifully directed by him and I thought, “Oh, God…”—I decided I really wanted to play Smitty. Mark Shannon had done it in New York. “I just said, "Aw, I’ve gotta play that role.” Some other friends said, “Oh, I don’t think you’re gonna be able to do it.”

SalMineo-DonJohnson They were auditioning for either a Toronto or San Francisco, I did audition for it, and the first time I saw Sal—and I had no image, I didn’t see any pictures beforehand—I was so stunned at his appearance. He’s not terribly tall and he had a sort of Pancho Villa mustachio thing and a funny hat on and purple Levi’s so tight that you could see the veins in his legs, let alone anything else. I thought, “Oh, my goodness…what an incredibly unattractive man.” Isn’t that ironic? [Laughs] But he was very quiet and really a gentleman. And I had been warned by other people in the business, “Well, you know what happens if you’re gonna audition for him, you know, they want some favors.” I thought, “Really?” And at that point, those people who were saying it, I was engaged to be married—to a woman—and they were sort of, “You better be careful,” and I’m thinkin’, “Realllly? Okay, I’ll be really careful.” [Laughs]

EeaaThe cast of Fortune and Men's Eyes

But when I saw him I didn’t have any feeling of attraction, physically—boy, did that change. As I say, his hair was very long…But he was such a gentleman at the audition. We worked on—I did what I’d been asked to do and then he spoke to me a while and then I made an adjustment that he asked me for and then he said, “Well, do you have any scars or parts missing? Because you are gonna have to be in the nude.” And I said, “No,” and I thought, “Here it comes, I’m gonna have to take off all my clothes.” He said, “No, would you just lift your shirt so I can see your torso?” So I said, “Sure.” Little did I know that that was also because he had a slight fetish about navels…I guess my navel passed. I hope it wasn’t just my navel! But anyway, so, from there, it was, you know, I ended up being hired for that and I went out to San Francisco; it worked out we didn't go to Toronto because John Herbert had fled—because of the Vietnam War—had fled the country and gone to Canada so he couldn't be drafted and they said that's not right because he could actually interfere with the production. So as long as he was stuck up in Canada we were fine, so we ended up opening in San Francisco.

BC: What was your experience with theater at the time?

CB: I had seen a lot of theater, and I've seen a lot of theater since then. I've traveled all over the world, I saw theater in London—when Sal and I lived in London, I went to the theater at least three times a week. Because I was from New York, I went to the theater a lot. And even here in Los Angeles, one year I saw 174 productions here in Los Angeles alone despite traveling and going elsewhere. So I've always loved the theater, been interested in theater.

My grandfather [Courtney Burr, 1891—1961] was actually a famous producer in the theater. He produced The Seven-Year Itch, Sailor Beware, Fifty Million Frenchman—he produced for 30, 40 years. Odd thing is I only met him twice, because when my father went off to serve in World War II, he was married to a very beautiful model named Gilla, and while he was away he said to his father, "Take care of her," and he did, and he came back only to find his father was sleeping with his wife and they were having a relationship and so that—[neck-cutting noise and gesture]—damaged their relationship. So when I was born, you know, I didn't, it wasn't, "Let's go see Grandma or Grandpa." They were divorced anyway, my grandmother and grandfather. 

There were two times. The first time, my father was taking me by myself so he could meet his grandson, and when we arrived at his apartment on Park Avenue he was hung-over and had forgotten we were coming and came to the door in a bathrobe and disheveled and my father was furious and he grabbed my arm and off we went—so that lasted about 30 seconds, I think.

And the second time was when he had a production of Jane Eyre on Broadway, and there's the big fire scene, people were fascinated—he practically burned the theater down. I thought it was the Cort Theatre, but I'm not sure. But anyway, we showed up there for a matinee, he invited us to go to a matinee, and it was my father, my mother and my half-brother. We arrived and what do you think? He forgot again and the performance was sold out. He was there! He was there at the theater. And he went, "Oh! I forgot..." So we turned and left. So those were my two experiences about my grandfather.

Although he was pretty infamous as a playboy in his life, even though he'd been married. And when I was producing a play out here at Theatre West producing a play, a man stopped me on the street, I was out looking at the marquee or whatever the hell it was, and he said, "Oh, I'm looking for Courtney Burr," and I said, "Well, that's me," and he goes, "No...it must be somebody else in your family, because my mother, Courtney Burr, Sr.—" and I said, "Well, it must've been my grandfather," "—proposed to my mother in San Francisco and she refused him, and he said, 'Well, at least have dinner with me one more time.'" And he picked her up in his Rolls Royce, which he'd had shipped out there, and he rented a ferry, one of the ferries in San Francisco, and the orchestra of the Fairmont, I think, and had a chef make them dinner and it was just the two of them, the orchestra, the chef and whoever was serving the food until dawn, the next morning when the sun came up. And she said, "And I refused that man! And he did that for me." So he was very much the showman and did all of that. What was interesting, she probably didn't know he was married still to my grandmother. But anyway, it sort of has a double side to it, him, as so many things did.

Mine2fMineo as Plato in Rebel Without a Cause

Mine2g BC: Having heard so many rumors about Sal's sexuality and so many insinuations that he might have been with James Dean and others from his early career, I was surprised to read in the book that Sal was actually a late bloomer as far as you knew.

CB: Everybody's so shocked by that!...Most of the gay people he first met would be backstage at The King and I and that sort of thing and he'd think, "Well, that's not me..." I don't think there was any trigger. It is what happened.

BC: And you yourself were engaged to a woman when you met Sal.

CB: Oh, no. I realized I was attracted to men when I was seven. I mean, I was completely aware of that. And I was sort of curious as to what would happen when I—you know, when I got older and started dating, going out with women—and I thought, "Okay." It was easy for me to socialize with women, but I wasn't sure whether I would have any sort of real sexual attraction. And I was surprised because most of my relationships with women, and I had a good number of them, were really based on friendship, if we got along really well, and that sort of camaraderie and energy, it seemed very logical to me to express that physically as well. And I had absolutely no difficulty or challenges in doing it, and I enjoyed it—I really enjoyed the physical part of it. But it wasn't the same as my attraction for men; it was a much, my attraction for men was a much deeper...but I thought, originally, the thing that surprised me, and this was changed by Sal, was I thought it was mostly physical.

Vintage-sheet-music-P8144880 So in my family, there had been, obviously, people, and my relatives had been married and then they had lovers or whatever. In fact, one of my grandmothers, is a famous composer, Dana Suesse, who wrote "You Oughta Be in Pictures"—she was married to my grandfather, and she had a female lover who was a writer, and eventually she left my grandfather for her. So growing up in this environment, I thought, "Oh, sure, I'll get married, have kids, and I'll have these passionate, exciting relationships on the side with men." I just saw it really more as a physical attraction at that point, and that's where it sort of originated, but when I met Sal, because I hadn't been initially physically attracted to him, but once I started to get to know him, and that's what I'm talking about, when there's a personal connection for me, sex is an extension of that intimacy for me, and I...so Sal and I started talking. We didn't jump into bed right away, like he would have liked to.

BC: How long did you work together before that happened?

CB: Probably, like...three weeks? [Laughs] It sounds like [sarcastically] "such a long time!" but in show business that is a long time. Also, he, when he got up there they found out he had hepatitis so the doctors said, "You can't do anything." In the meantime, my fiancée is arriving in San Francisco—it was really like a farce itself. Unbelievable. So, but Sal, as I say when I first met him, the thing that impressed me was what a gentleman he was, how charming he was, how gentle, how vulnerable. And somehow, in our conversations we really clicked and, well, became very intimate in our conversations quite quickly. And the thing that surprised me was what my emotional connection to him was. It wasn't, you know, immediately sexual, because we hadn't even gone to bed. But I realized, and we drove down to Carmel where my real grandmother, my birth grandmother, lived, who was my father's mother, and that's when I realized I was in love with this man.

Now, I know that sounds absurd, it sounds like a bad Hollywood movie, but I knew because I had had relationships with women, I had had relationships with men, and this was different. This was like [gasps], "Holy shit, I'm in love with him." I didn't dare say anything because I didn't know if he was interested in me, but I recognized at that moment when we were out at Pebble Beach, a sort of misty afternoon, foggy and everything, "I can have an emotional connection to a man." And that changed the whooole dynamic for me. And I was 21 then, so while I had been involved with men, this was my first emotional connection of that sort of depth that I realized, "Oh, my God, I can actually fall in love with a man and this is the beginning of it." It was my first professional production and a lead role in that, and then I'm supposed to be getting married for the first time and I realize I'm in love with a man...it was a little overwhelming!

PreviewScreenSnapz001zMineo & Don Johnson in Fortune and Men's Eyes

BC: How did your actual relationship begin?

CB: Because he had hepatitis, he wasn't allowed to work with us for the first week and a half or two...I had gotten an apartment quickly because we had arrived and were put up at the YMCA—such a cliché—and then they said, you know, "Find your housing." So I crossed the street not knowing—all that private-school education—they said, "That's the Tenderloin District!" and I said, "Oh! That's good!" [Laughs] I was thinking that's where all the butcher shops were. I honestly sounded stupid. So I got this apartment with a Murphy bed and everything and they approached me and said one of the other actors who was playing Mona in it, Erik Pierce, didn't have a place to stay, would I mind if he slept on the sofa? I said, "No. Not at all."

So Erik Pierce comes over, we started talking, da-da-da-da, the next thing you know we're in bed together and I'm going, "Okay..." This is obviously before I had any awareness about my feelings for Sal. And the next morning—this is sort of in the book—so the next morning I go to the theater and Erik comes over and he goes, he says, "Sal's really pissed—I told him about what happened." I go, "Why would you do that?" This is my first professional production and the director knows all this personal shit? It was inconceivable to me, you know? I was like, "Why in the hell would you say anything to him?" He says, "Oh, we had a bet who would get the straight guy first." I go, "You both are nuts." [Laughs]

So Sal's ego at that point—he was not happy. And I was afraid that that would interfere in terms of I'd get fired, even. So he called us both to his apartment that night and he was pissed, he said, "This rehearsal sucked!" and da-da-da. But I knew, I could see that it was much more his ego in terms of that he didn't win that bet. And the fact that there had been some sort of sexual interplay. But anyway, that was where it started and he sort of challenged me and said, "When you're ready, and you really want"—since I was into this now, he knew—said, "you know, when you wanna play with the big boys," blah-blah-blah, all that stuff.

So one thing led to another, but because he had hepatitis, we spent a lot of time having lunch together and walking around San Francisco and Sausalito and, uh, it was interesting—there were a lot of things about him that I related to. There was a part of him that was out there and there was a part of him that was really separate. That's who I feel I am—I can be around people, I can be very social, but I need my space, I need my time alone. It's really important for me to hear my own head and things like that and I've always needed that time—and so did Sal. So when that happened in our relationship, it never threatened me. Of course, a lot of times in relationships, others, the moments you need time [it's], "What's wrong? What? What?" They need that constantly; we didn't need that. There was a lot of internal life that I saw that I related to. And I just, I can't explain it other than the fact that I knew—I knew instantly.

Eea

And it was a really challenging moment because here I am, I'm starting out as an actor, I fall in love with someone who's a well-known actor? I mean, one of those stupid things. I go, "God, this is one of those moments in movies where they go, "No, I'm gonna give it up because I want my career and I'm going forward!" and da-da-da-da. That was it. I thought, "What's more important to you right now?" And I thought, "You know what? I'm in love with this man. I want, you know, I want that. I want that experience, and the rest I'll just have to deal with." Which I did have to deal with!

It had...on a personal level, it had really only positive things for me in terms of the fulfillment that I got from it, the whole adventure that the two of us had—a lot of ups and downs, but that's life. That makes that whole story; it just doesn't go smoothly. There were a lot of different things in it. But it was tremendous. I wouldn't trade a minute of it for any type of success. It was really great. And the two of us got to grow as young men and as young gay men at the same time. Me because I was only 21 and I'd sort of just come away from school and parents and everything, and Sal because he was still adjusting to his sexuality even though he was 30—but he'd been out for a while. But it was funny because I looked so young and he liked the idea that he was the corruptor and I said, "Sal—I've been out longer than you have!" So I sort of played the angel.

Exodus-1960-02-gExodus (1960)

Sal Mineo Exodus BC: Your whole relationship was possible due to meeting on Fortune and Men's Eyes. Despite the enduring appeal of Rebel Without a Cause and his Oscar-nominated work in Exodus, would you say Fortune might've been his proudest achievement?

CB: Well, you know what, they're so different. As an actor, I think he really respected—in fact, he didn't, when we filled out our passports when we were traveling, he never put "actor," he always put "artist." Because I think that's what he thought. And I think in the area of acting, I think he was extremely proud of Rebel and Exodus, both. I mean, Exodus meant a lot to him, and I'm not sure if that wasn't because there were underpinnings there that he hadn't gotten in touch with in terms of what happened to the kid who was raped in Exodus. But I think certainly as a director, he’d directed other things but he was certainly proud of Fortune. He related to it on so many levels. He wanted to direct Borstal Boy and did direct The Medium…was it in Chicago? [It was in Detroit.—Ed.]

Fortune definitely was his directorial achievement that he was proudest of at that point.

2010_1130_courtney_burr_sal_mineo_onstage_tender_trap_florida_1975RSZD-252x300Burr & Mineo in a production of The Tender Trap, Florida, 1975

BC: Sal seemed to be living with a fair amount of transparency regarding his sexuality. Wasn't that highly unusual in the '60s and '70s?

CB: Yes. However, if you’d asked him, ‘So you’re gay?’ he would say, “I don’t believe in labels.” And it wasn’t because he was trying to hide the fact that he was gay, he was just offended by the idea that someone would say something that would define him him a limited way. “Actor” defined him in a limited way…”artist” was what he felt he was, and he truly was….seeing some of his drawings, he wasn’t particularly good at that aspect of being an artist but [Laughs] he could sing and act and direct and write and everything that interested him...it’s the same thing as living life. To say you’re gay, in some way he sensed that as a limited perception of him.

BC: So you two never engaged in games like leaving places at different times or otherwise hiding out?

CB: Never. Never, never, never, never, never never. The only thing that happened for us that was done was me. And that was when Yul Brynner was doing a play here in Los Angeles and I had already suffered the impact of being a young actor associated—and also being nine years younger than him, and looking very young, I was perceived as very much a twinkie, which of course when I met these people I immediately would launch into conversation to impress on them the fact that I was well educated and traveled around the world, blah-blah-blah-blah-blah. Which they weren’t particularly fond of; they would’ve much preferred that I were a twink. But Sal loved it. Sal really embraced it. Sal and I were friends as well as lovers and that’s the way we were.

But anyway, Yul was doing a play at the Ahmanson and Sal said, "Let’s go back and say hi to Yul," and I said, "I don’t wanna do that." When I would meet these people, just because historically it was so true, I could see that they were perceiving me as that. So I said, "When I meet Yul Brynner, if I should meet him, I want it to be under professional circumstances so that he will regard me in that way, not, 'Oh, I remember you, you’re that guy he dragged…and maybe that’s why you’re in the business.' It was not the reason I had been in the business or studied in New York or had done anything I’d done at that point. And I didn’t want it to be, so I wouldn’t go backstage with him.

I knew when I made that decision that I was going to have to deal with that, but there were times when it really would overwhelm me so I would say, "I’ve gotta go back to New York and have my own life because I feel like I am losing myself in your life." Which, if that hadn’t existed, there were times when I needed to go, which hurt him in a way, but he understood. It’s like there were times when he needed to do the things he needed to do to fulfill his ego and his vulnerabilities and flaws and I’d say, "You’ve got to go for it."

SafariScreenSnapz003Age 18

BC: Do you think his being so open cost him work or even friendships back then?

CB: One afternoon he decided, "Fuck it—I'm gonna call Natalie." I mean, they were obviously close—Natalie Wood—and call them [Natalie Wood and husband Robert Wagner] at home and he called them up and they said, "Well, come on by the house," and he said, "Good, I'm gonna bring my friend Courtney," and they went "uhhh" and he went, "Okay, well, maybe another time. And he was so shocked! It was clear that they thought…because he had done a few silly things. 

One Christmas, he and Elliott Mintz, who was a friend of his, took a whole bunch of kids from the Gold Cup, which was a bar/hang-out for hustlers, and took these kids to Nate and Al’s for Christmas dinner, so that was not perhaps the wisest choice. So obviously his reputation of being around young kids and being gay wasn’t so secretive, but I don’t think that that was it. I think it was much more that he had been so in the spotlight when he was young, and the whole American point of view goes through...when he did it, there were these interesting ethnic people and then that look changed at the same time that he’d been seen so much. And so his look, his type, wasn’t as hot as it had been in the ‘50s, early ‘60s. The new look, the Dustin Hoffmans, the things that were coming in, was replacing what was a strong suit for him before.

Salmineo2There were fewer parts for "exotics" in the late '60s and early '70s

15302 And then the fact that he had all this teen idol stuff…I know Jimmy Kirkwood, when they were doing P.S. Your Cat is Dead in Chicago, and Peter Brown, who was associate with that production, they just couldn’t believe he could pull it off in a way that people would take seriously…which was unfortunate. He opened in San Francisco; Jimmy, everybody came to him and said, "Boy, did we made a mistake!" He was wonderful. Everything that was strong about him as an actor, he could bring in to that production—and he did. And that would have been really nice to see how that would have affected him when he came back into Hollywood.

BC: Do you think Sal was on the verge of a comeback at the time of his death?

CB: He was a wonderful director, but I think if he’d gotten the roles he wanted, like in The Godfather, which Al Paicino, a young, unknown, up-and-coming actor—it was certainly a role he could’ve played, and he said, "I’m ideal for that!" Midnight Cowboy...he was devasted—they wouldn't even see him. There were other roles he could’ve done and instead they started casting him as drug dealers…that Pancho Villa thing, I could understand...I don’t mean that against Pancho Villa, but it just was not a great look for him.

Tumblr_l4rlnmRX861qb0kmjo1_400"Pancho Villa" gets frisked entering the Manson trial

X So many of those B-list actors doing Dancing With the Stars, people whose careers have come to a complete halt or their political careers, any sort of career, and it’ll give them a little screen time and so they get into these things. So many of those big old epics that they used to do, you’d go, "Oh, I haven’t seen that person in years!" and you’d go see the film to see what they were doing, like The Greatest Story Ever Told, Krakatoa East of Java (even though it was west of Java...it’s too mind-boggling), which of course they all did because they wanted the money, but I don’t know if it was a smart idea. There are actors today I go, "Wow, what great careers, how smart they are in choosing what it is they’re doing." It’s not about affording to be smart—be smart! Because in the end, you’re going to end up with nothing. It’s going to end. Look how many well-known people live their life in a state of destitution. I know so many stars who are absolutely penniless because of management and not getting the right work and they’ll do anything now to get money. You need to learn to live in a way and make choices that also fulfill you. I know it’s easy to say that, but….

BC: Do you spend much time wondering what Sal would be doing today when you see various movies or TV shows? Like, "Gee, he'd be great in that..."?

CB: You know what? I don’t, actually, and I don’t know why. As far as being an actor, again, if he’d made the right choice, then there would have been parts there for his career to move forward again in terms of being hired for jobs that required a really good actor—not a name, not a popular icon, somebody who was a really fine actor who brought something not every other actor could, in terms of his vulnerability and his availability as a person.

He stopped growing right there, so when I see him, even though I know now he would be 72!—which is hard to imagine—again, I always see him as he was then, as if he stopped at that moment. I’m sure he’s looking down on us deeply grateful for not necessarily being remembered at 72.

BC: Would he have eventually had his, "Yep, I'm gay," moment? Would he be officially out today?

CB: I think he would be…the difference is while I am gay, I am many other things. But politically, I have always been really outspoken and 100% gay in terms of my choices. But there are some environments I don’t feel comforatable in, and by "comfortable," I just found that things that were of interest to certain groups. I would get invited out to Fire Island and found it was just about tea parties, what you were gonna wear and everybody imitating every line in every gay movie they'd ever seen…it was a nightmare. I found it so incredibly uninteresting. Then somebody would say, "Ohhh, you were at the wrong houuuse," so I would go back and I never made it an entire weekend out there. To me, that was not interesting. I prefer being in a more diverse group. My parent would say, "Well, why would you wanna live in the city? Why not here, in lovely Connecticut?" and I’d say, "Because it’s the fuckin’ same in Connecticut—everybody goes out in their station wagons on the weekend to get peat moss for their lawns!" and to me it was the same old thing over and over again on Fire Island. There were some wonderful people there, but the social environment was not stimulating to me.

Sal and I preferred to be by ourselves. I still prefer to be by myself. I teach, I have a lot of students, I work around a lot of creative people during the week and then I don’t wann aknow them on the weekend. I love to be close and then I need my space. The two of us really spent much more time by ourselves and we would go off on adventures and do things. My relationship with my dog now, I can’t imagine being somewhere more exciting than with the two of us. [Laughs]

He just wasn’t gonna allow it, being defined by anything. He thought he could change and be different at any moment.

MineosalMineo and his brother were laid to rest together

BC: At the time of his death, you were a longtime couple. Did you have serious issues regarding his estate and shared property? These things are a big deal to this day for gay people, so I can't imagine what it was like 35 years ago.

CB: In terms of the family, they were very gracious—I know they knew, because it’d been a lot of years that we’d lived together and traveled and they were very nice to me. I especially liked his father, his sister Serena was very nice, Victor was a nice man—for a while! That changed at Sal’s death. And his other brother Michael, Mike, I was not fond of. He was very much a user, a rodent. The worst thing was a lot of things Sal and I had talked about, Sal had said, "Oh, if anything should ever happen to me, I want this to happen and that to happen..." Well, this all being pre-AIDS for instance, nobody was thinking about anybody dying—we were in our twenties and thirties, for God’s sake, which is a lesson for anybody alive today. In your twenties—whenever!—get all your papers in order because nothing is more painful than when something unexpected happens, as it did, and I suddenly had absolutely no control and no authority to intercede.

The family were given complete power, so they decided they wanted to put him on show and have him made up so people could see him in his coffin and Sal—when his father died, his father's coffin was open—he said, "I never want that to happen to me...it’s barbaric ," but his family was Catholic, so he was in this pasty sort of makeup and people were putting things in his hands and touching him. I felt so powerless. I wanted to yell, "Get back!" and I couldn’t do that. I was angry also at both of us for not being smart enough to have foreseen that something could have happened to us. All of that legal stuff should have been put down so I could have put a stop to things like that. But I couldn’t, I didn’t and so I felt a bit shamed that I wasn’t standing up for him in a way.

The family were very nice as far as having me at the funeral and everything, but I already felt like an outsider. There was no thing set up for people who’d been in gay relationships, no recovery for them. Again, that came up more in terms of the social framework of the AIDS crisis. Then, suddenly, people were losing their friends at such a young age, "Wow, we need places for people to grieve, mourn, have support groups."

I felt like I was just dropped. I’d always relied on him for support, and he was gone so I was even more isolated. The thing with the family, even though the apartment was in my name here in L.A.—I had signed the lease because Sal's financial situation was dubious—when the murder took place, they cordoned it off and they wouldn’t let me in. The family…I could understand during the investigation, but I felt that I should be the first person let in, but I wasn’t. They let the family in first with some sort of BIG GUYS from New York who came in and took all my letters to Sal and burned them in the bathtub.

When I found out they’d been allowed in the apartment first, I was enraged. I didn’t know the law, but it was already done. It wasn’t like there was anything of great value, but anything that they thought would have pointed to his sexuality, any magazines or anything else he had around, they burned all that.

Then they asked to meet me at the Sunset Hyatt and so I went over there with my little briefcase and put it under the table. And they said, "We want all of Sal’s letters to you," and I said, "Those are mine." They said, "We don’t care, and you better not do anything to damage his name." I said, "Well, they’re back in New York in a safe deposit box in a bank." They were actually under the table in my briefcase during that whole meeting! I don’t know why I brought them. I think, first of all, they weren’t in a safe deposit box yet and I was worried somebody might do something to them. I had them. They were right there...never forget that they were under the table.

Everyone was trying to strong-arm me and that felt miserable. I felt so isolated and much more alone than I would have...not that I wanted to have a lot of people around me.

FarleyJaneRoddyRoddy McDowall (right) with Jane Powell and Farley Granger—don't assume he's gay!

BC: In the aftermath of his murder, what did you do professionally?

CB: I didn't know where to go, where to turn. And then I moved back to New York and I started working again in the theater. For two months afterwards I did a summer tour with Donald O'Connor in Charley's Aunt, whatever, so I started working again.

And then, the following spring I get a call from a director I'd worked with and he said, "I'm gonna do a production of Camelot with Rock Hudson, and I think you would be great as Mordred." Now, I'd done two plays with the director—I'd never met Rock before—and I said, "Oh, yeah...I've never done a musical." Most of the plays I'd done before had been theater and they were really juicy, juicy parts as well. And so I had said, "Yeah, that sounds great. Where do you want me to audition?" He says, "Rock's gonna be in New York," so when Rock came in I met him and I auditioned and I got the part, which didn't surprise me—it's not that challenging an actor role, but it's a fun one and they decided to cut out the [singing] "Seven deadly virtues..."—it's a little namby-pamby—because originally in the play there was a great speech, almost like a Shakespearean speech, "How dare you reject me...I'm gonna kill you," whatever, "I'm gonna get you for this," to Arthur.

So I go, "This is great." They're going to rehearse in Los Angeles, because Mordred doesn't come in until the end of the first act, so Rock was going to work on that for a week or two, whatever it was, and I was gonna come in at that point and joint them, et cetera.

So before I even leave, I got a call from the director weeks later and he goes, "Have you ever known Rock before?" and I said, "No, of course not," and he said, "Well, why would he wanna 'have lunch' with me in Los Angeles [about you]." I said, "I have no idea." And he said, "Can you think of anything?" and I went [small gasp], "Roddy McDowall." Roddy had a crush on Sal and all this stuff and things escalated—Roddy was a bit suburban in his approach and didn't think Sal should be seen [in gay situations] out in public, which is ridiculous because Roddy went out to certain public clubs and certainly restaurants and I had known him through two in New York, but he was jealous and there was friction between us. As far as he was concerned, I barely existed.

So when he moved to Los Angeles, he invited us over for dinner. At this particular dinner, Sal was talking about how we had gone dancing at a gay club and Roddy became very upset about it. And it was clear that he assumed we were at that club because of me. Again, his twinkie sat next to him quietly, humbly, with his hands crossed and of course I hadn't shut up since the whole thing had started. Clearly he thought I was the one, but it was Sal who wanted to be out at the clubs. That thing he had with Jill as a woman, he wanted to have with a young kid at that age, so part of his fascination was that and part of it was he loved the attention of these young kids. "Wow, you're Sal Mineo!" 

Roddy said, "I'm really offended when I'm invited to an all-male party," and I said, "Why?" and he said, "Well, how dare they assume I'm gay." I went, "Assume? Really, I don't understand. What makes you think they assume you're gay just because they invited you to a party with all men? If you were invited to a Medium_youletmewin.flv party with all women, would you think they think you're a lesbian?" [Laughs] He was not happy about that. And then he mentioned some thing about dancing, and I said, "What are you talking about? Zorba the Greek, men have danced together." He said, "No. I wouldn't dance with a man." And I said, "Why not? You fuck 'em." [Stage gasp] He went apoplectic! The next morning he called Sal and said, "I never want that young man in my house again."

So having known that , it did not concern me at all because I was not impressed with him.

When Sal died, there was a memorial service and I thought, "Well, I should at least call Roddy and let him know there's gonna be a memorial service at Billy Belasco's house." So I called Roddy and I said, "Hi, Roddy, this is Courtney, and I just wanted you to be aware that there will be a memorial service should you want to come." And he said, "I can't, and I wouldn't anyway—it's because of people like you that Sal's dead." And he hung up the phone on me. This is from another gay person, right? So flash forward to the Rock Hudson production of Camelot.

MORDRED I said, "The only person I can think of is Roddy McDowall." Roddy played Mordred [pictured] on Broadway with Richard Burton and Julie Andrews. I'm sure he was thinking, "He's going to step into my role? Please!" I said, "I can only think that that's what it is," and I told—Stockton Briggle was the director—I told him and he said, "Good. Warned is forearmed." So he goes to the luncheon and sure enough, at the luncheon, Roddy McDowall is there and he is trying to have Rock convince the director to have me fired...as I am trying to get on my own feet and move forward in my life after Sal—unbelievable. Two gay men, knowing...it's staggering to me! So Stockton pretended he didn't know what was going on and said, "What's the problem?" and Rock said, "Well, Roddy says this guy is really bad news." And they started bad-mouthing me, saying all the things Roddy had said. Roddy said, "He is one of the most despicable human beings I have ever known," just foaming at the mouth. He was not subtle. And he said, "Really? Have you ever seen him work?" and he said, "No, I haven't. But I hear he's a good actor." "Yes, he did two plays for me and we made a lot of money. He's good and that's why we asked him to do it." and he said, "If he's as despicable as you say he is, he's gonna make a wonderful Mordred."

And so, I ended up staying in it! But again, when I go into rehearsal, I'm already aware that this whole conversation about me has gone on. It's not like I'm walking into an environment that's a creative-ensemble thing. I know Rock is gonna be watching and looking to validate what Roddy had said. The day I arrived, i go to the theater, the rehearsal hall, and they're going to run the first act and I'm going to come in at the end of the first act, then that afternoon we're going to do it for Rock's friends because they'd been working on it.

I watched them rehearsing. Rock was a very sweet man and had a really nice personality and persona, but his acting range was not huge. I did not in any way feel impressed or intimidated, more than anything else. So what happened is they go through it and I come in and I have the script—I mean, I hadn't had a day of rehearsal. Usually, I just wanna see what kind of chemistry will happen between us, so I'm watching him and I get two lines into it and Rock stops and says, "Is that what you're gonna do onstage?" and my jaw dropped. And Stockton jumped up and said, "And are you gonna direct my play?" So I was so stunned. But again, the thing that I knew would be at the center of this, Rock couldn't contain it. 

!B+ITIGg!2k~$(KGrHqF,!k0Ey+jC0-3,BM-v,iNwUw~~_3Original Camelot program from 1976—that king was a nasty queen!

So we go through it and then we break for lunch and we're gonna do the run-through for these people. Well, I have a photographic memory, so it was easy for me to, by the time we came out after lunch, to have memorized the whole thing. I was so angry...I was so hurt...I was just so...I walked on set when we were doing the run-through for all these people and I looked at Rock and I threw the script across, onto the floor, and I looked at him and knowing what I knew I banged my chest and I said this whole fabulous speech, "How dare you!!!" and his eyes widened. Every night, that was my rage. I just let him have it.

Washington D.C., where we were touring, they said, "You must see this production, but not for its star, Rock Hudson," and another reviewer said you should see this for this young actor Courtney Burr who could outdo any villainy Roddy McDowall attempted on Broadway," so that was sweet. But it never took away my astonishment. In terms of the "gay community," where was the support or understanding no matter what petty bullshit had happened before? It was staggering to me. And to me, it was evidence later on, when Rock could actually have sexual relations with somebody—I sound like the president, Clinton—have sex with a kid and not let him know he was sick and then pretend it was something else. Because that's what their mentality was—they were on a separate, higher-up level because of all the attention they got, and these other people were way, way below them. Like serfs.

And I have to say, to Sal's credit, nothing like that ever happened. We went into this thing as equals, and in some ways we respected each other's strengths that we didn't have, do you know what I mean? There was always respect involved in there, something I found really lacking with the well-known and their secret little liaisons.

Rainer-mcdowellMcDowall's last public appearance in '98 as Luise Rainer's Oscars walker

All of that came out with Sal's death, and it was eye-opening, disappointing, disturbing and troubling. 

BC: How long have you been teaching acting?

CB: Fifteen, sixteen years? Where I am now, I just finished my thirteenth year. Who knew? I had no idea I would be interested in that. I produced a couple Broadway shows—The Effects of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds at the Biltmore, Hair's first theater when it opened on Broadway, and then Harold and Maude with Janet Gaynor, and as a result of that I ended up directing her in On Golden Pond. I had done so many different things—producing and directing and writing—so agents I met over the years said, "I have a client, would you mind working with them a little bit?" So I did that and then I went on location for a couple of shows and coached some people who were playing a lead for the first time, things like that.

BC: You worked with the first Oscar winner!

CB: Janet Gaynor was really great. I wish I had directed her in Harold and Maude. We had Bobby Lewis [Robert Q. Lewis], who was a famous director, Three Sisters at the Actor's Studio, Brigadoon...he also became an acting teacher; Meryl Streep was one of his students at one point. He was a huge director! He was so wrong, however, for Harold and Maude, it was the most Maude-lin thing you've ever seen, which is why Walter Kerr wrote, "And this, too, shall pass."

JanetGaynor with co-star Keith McDermott—a long way from Oscar

I got involved when Glynis Johns was playing that role, and she and my step-mother had grown up together so I thought, "Oh, this'll be great! She's done it in Canada, it was a huge success, it'll be fun; yes, I'll do it." So I came in as co-producer and was bringing in the last money. I thought, "Bobby Lewis...big name! He's gotta be a fantastic director."

!CEcI1dQCWk~$(KGrHqUOKiME0ovYh)+hBNR35fhi4Q~~0_3 In the meantime, while I was doing that, getting the money, I came back to New York and they told me that Glynis had been fired or they'd had differences and so she had gone and that Janet Gaynor had been hired. And I thought, "Well, why would they do that?" I asked Glynis and she said, "Well, they wanted to dress me up in all this fancy shit!" and she says, "I wanted to go to a used-clothing store and grab shit out of that—I'm supposed to be improvised." They wanted something a little more glamorous, and when Janet Gaynor was there, she's also a big star, so it was really gonna be glamorous. So they had Florence Klotz, who was a big, famous costume designer on Broadway—beautiful-costume designer—do the costumes, and each one of them cost $15,000 or something utterly ridiculous. And because Janet's neck was starting to show age, they all had to have chiffon scarves...Only to find out when they actually started rehearsing that she couldn't get in and out of the costumes so two-thirds of them had to be eliminated, already having spent the money to have her design and make them. She had bad feet, bunions—who knows?—so all of her shoes had to be done by hand.

I go to the first rehearsal on stage and when Maude dies, this giant paper daisy comes [stomping noises]—"What the hell is that?"—out into the middle of the stage. And Maude was supposed to have died sitting up in her chair, not a young woman, then was supposed to get up, dead, and hobble her way forward and stand behind the daisy—I jest not. That is the hokiest, most ridiculous thing you could possibly imagine! Just like Springtime for Hitler, the audience is sitting there stunned, mouth agape, I was sitting there stunned, mouth agape, going, "I can not believe that!" And of course she was hobbling, but she has to look down because she's afraid she's going to fall off the stage so she's suddenly alive again. It was horrific.

SHow honest is Burr? So honest he admits to being a Harold and Maude producer!

So I immediately got on the phone to Bobby Lewis and said, "What are you doing?" And he said, "Are you kidding? You can hear a pin drop!" I said, "Yes, because the audience is stricken in disbelief!" It was one of those moments when you're seeing something so terrible that nobody dares to make a sound because everybody's gonna start laughing uncontrollably. The whole idea was, "Life, death—you live it, then your time's up, you're 70, you should check out, you're an encumbrance to the human race after that." And he had her sit with her pictures and weep...it was the most sappy...the music was sappy, everything he did was sappy and old-fashioned—it was a nightmare.

Because I wasn't a general partner, I couldn't have legally done anything, which I would have—I would have fired him. That was one of my big lessons—I would never do anything as a producer that I didn't have total control over. Of course, the reviews reflected my point of view in all of that.

But I did love meeting her—she was a delight. And I did love directing her in On Golden Pond. An interesting thing happened with that. In On Golden Pond—there's that great scene with the daughter, who's really angry at the father, and there's a scene with the mother who says, "You have to leave if you can't be nicer to your father," and blah-blah-blah. And I really had to fight with Janet, "Janet, just once, do as I've directed you, really let her have it, 'What a brat you are!' blah-blah-blah,'" but she said, "But I'm known to my public as this person...I don't want them to think I'm mean." She was a dragon! Capable of being a dragon. But not to her public. I said, "Just once, do it." And she did it once, ripped her to shreds. And when she stopped, the audience spontaneously burst into thunderous applause, which had never happened and I said, "See, Janet? It needs that! We're waiting for this girl to get it from you." And every night after that it slowly got sweeter and sweeter and sweeter and sweeter and sweeter...Actors! They just don't trust themselves sometimes. But I loved working with her other than the fact that she let this other stuff get in her way sometimes.

I've had an amazing career. I actually came out here to L.A. to do a show at the Ahmanson, Noel Coward's Hay Fever with Celeste Holm and oh, a fantastic cast, and it was a great time, and that was when my addiction to New York broke. The weather was beautiful and it was quiet compared to all the noise in New York and I went, "I'm being crazy, it's great out here." And I decided to stay. I kept my apartment for a long time just because I couldn't let it go and eventually I let it go. I love being out here. I loved New York, I enjoyed it and I did everything I could do there.

CHRISTOPHER RIORDAN BC: What's it like meeting fans at the book signings?

CB: The interest is from people from Sal's time to young people. One guy, Christopher Riordan [pictured], who'd known Sal before and worked with him on Somebody Up There Likes Me, he'd been out and Sal had been not particularly approachable. I don't know if Sal felt comfortable around gay people right away. And he said, "But years later, when I met him, he had changed, he'd become so relaxed with who he was, and Courtney, I think that was a result of you, because he wasn't alone. Because you could go out together, that made him feel more comfortable." That was very nice to hear from him. I hope I had that influence on him.

Then, it was interesting to me when we did a signing in San Francisco because that's where my relationship with Sal started, when we were dong the play, and to go back there with the book...I was talking about feeling just dropped into the universe when he died, and it wasn't something that I could just go, "Hi, I was Sal Mineo's lover..." nor did I want to. It'd never been something that I had looked upon as being advantageous to me in any shape or form except in my heart, in my relationship with him, so the years had gone by but to come now with a book that I really respected, that told his story, and to be signing books and be able to say, "Yeah, there's his story," it really gave me a feeling of closure. [His death] left me wide open, almost like, "Did it all happen, really?" because the friends that I had known through him vanished out of my social circle and the new ones I was making through him, it wouldn't be something—except to the most intimate friends—to tell them what I was going through.

To finally be able to see it in print, to be able to tell the story of what had gone on between us, was a tremendous feeling. And it was for Jill, too. We both talked about it in terms of...it's there now. 

SafariScreenSnapz002A few issues to work out

BC: And the book certainly is honest...no whitewashing here!

CB: There was no whitewash...there certainly wasn't! I wondered, "Oh, my students are gonna read this???" But I had one student, a girl, who said, "I found it so fascinating and was so impressed with you being so open about your life."

Long before the book came out, I used to always tell my students at some point in the first class that I was gay. Because we'd be constantly talking about relationships and I didn't want to say, "You've got to be open about your relationships!" and sit there and not be open about myself. Invariably, suddenly people I hadn't even thought of in terms of that would eventually come out in terms of saying they were gay, and it made them so much more comfortable to feel they could be who they were.

SafariScreenSnapz001Reader Ricky Villa-Abrille Flores with Burr (left) and Michaud

Young actors are still very nervous about that in this town. A lot of times, at least back then, some of the gay poeple in the business , because they were afraid of who would pinpoint them, they were worse than any straight people...it's so disappointing. Grow a pair, guys! It opens up everybody to be who they really are, which is my whole goal. That's the one thing they can bring to acting that nobody else can bring, that's not even on the page, is their life, is who they are, who they are as a human being.

We don't need actors, we need human beings.

Teddy3Sal Mineo—artist and human being

   

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