Monday, November 28, 2016

Sal Mineo in Fortune and Men's Eyes in 1969. He's raping a young Don Johnson.

The film is based on a 1965 play by John Herbert. In 1947, a 21-year-old Herbert was imprisoned in a juvenile prison in Canada for four months for wearing drag. During this time, he witnessed numerous rapes and saw how sexual slavery played a significant role in the prison. Herbert wrote a play based on his experiences in 1965. He created the role of Queenie based on himself.

The play is about Smitty, a 17-year-old heterosexual who is imprisoned for possession of marijuana. Smitty's cellmates are Queenie, a drag queen; Rocky, a hard-core felon; and Mona, a 20-something gay man whom Rocky regularly fucks. Smitty witnesses the brutality of prison life as new prisoners are raped and the bullies in prison trade and barter the sexual favors of weaker, effeminate men. When one man complains, the guards beat him mercilessly. Rocky finds Smitty attractive, and comes on to him repeatedly, each time more strongly. Rocky pledges to protect Smitty if Smitty puts out. Queenie is bitter that Rocky's attentions have turned to Smitty, and Mona tries to comfor Smitty by reciting poetry. Eventually, Rocky rapes Smitty off-stage. Queenie then goads Smitty into beating Rocky, and Rocky is defeated. Rocky turns his sexual attentions to Queenie, who rejects him. A guard breaks up the fight and takes Queenie off to be whipped. Smitty then propositions Mona, who also turns him down: "You're looking for a girl, not for me." Smitty takes this in stride. The play closes as Smitty listens to Queenie's moans as he's brutally whipped, and Smitty announces to the audience that he's seizing power in the prison.

Herbert couldn't get the play produced in Canada. A theater critic sent the play to a friend in New York City. It fell into the hands of Dustin Hoffman, who workshopped the play at the New York Actors Studio in 1966. (Hoffman Rocky, and Jon Voight played Smitty.) The play premiered off-Broadway at the Actors Playhouse on February 23, 1967, and ran for a year. A road version played in Chicago, San Francisco, Montreal, and Toronto.

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Sal Mineo made his film debut in 1955, in Rebel Without A Cause. But his career was pretty much over by 1960 after he made Exodus. He made just three films in the 1960s, most of them bit parts: The Longest Day (1962), as a Native American in Cheyenne Autumn (1964), Uriah the prophet in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)... His only starring role was in the slasher film Who Killed Teddy Bear (1967), which bombed.

To resurrect his career, Mineo decided to stage Fortune and Men's Eyes in 1969 at the Coronet Theatre in Los Angeles. Mineo made several changes, including putting Smitty's rape on screen and having Smitty masturbate to Queenie's whipping at the end. Mineo directed and played the role of Rocky, while Don Johnson played Smitty. Michael Greer played Queenie.

Mineo's production was so well-received that the play was turned into a film. Herbert wrote the screenplay, for which he made even more substantial changes. It largely bombed.

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