Monday, April 7, 2014


Mickey Rooney, the pint-size, precocious actor and all-around talent whose more than 90-year career spanned silent comedies, Shakespeare, Judy Garland musicals, Andy Hardy stardom, television and the Broadway theater, died Sunday at age 93.

Los Angeles Police Commander Andrew Smith said that Rooney was with his family when he died at his North Hollywood home.

Smith said police took a death report but indicated that there was nothing suspicious and it was not a police case. He said he had no additional details on the circumstances of his passing.

Rooney started his career in his parents' vaudeville act while still a toddler, and broke into movies before age 10. He was still racking up film and TV credits more than 80 years later — a tenure likely unmatched in the history of show business.

"I always say, 'Don't retire — inspire,'" he told The Associated Press in March 2008. "There's a lot to be done."

Among his roles in recent years was a part as a guard in the smash 2006 comedy A Night at the Museum.

Rooney won two special Academy Awards for his film achievements, and reigned from 1939 to 1942 as the No. 1 moneymaking star in movies, his run only broken when he joined the Army. At his peak, he was the incarnation of the show biz lifer, a shameless ham and hoofer whom one could imagine singing, dancing and wisecracking in his crib, his blond hair, big grin and constant motion a draw for millions. He later won an Emmy and was nominated for a Tony.

"Mickey Rooney, to me, is the closest thing to a genius I ever worked with," Clarence Brown, who directed his Oscar-nominated performance in The Human Comedy, once said.

Rooney's personal life matched his film roles for color. His first wife was the glamorous — and taller — Ava Gardner, and he married seven more times, fathering seven sons and four daughters.

Through divorces, money problems and career droughts, he kept returning with customary vigor.

"I've been coming back like a rubber ball for years," he commented in 1979, the year he returned with a character role in The Black Stallion, drawing an Oscar nomination as supporting actor, one of four nominations he earned over the years.

That same year he starred with Ann Miller in a revue called Sugar Babies, a hokey mixture of vaudeville and burlesque. It opened in New York in October 1979, and immediately became Broadway's hottest ticket. Rooney received a Tony nomination (as did Miller) and earned millions during his years with the show.

To the end, he was a non-stop talker continually proposing enterprises, some accomplished, some just talk: a chain of barbecue stands; training schools for talented youngsters; a Broadway show he wrote about himself and Judy Garland; screenplays, novels, plays.

Rooney was among the last survivors of Hollywood's studio era, which his career predated. Rooney signed a contract with MGM in 1934 and landed his first big role as Clark Gable as a boy in Manhattan Melodrama. A loanout to Warner Bros. brought him praise as an exuberant Puck in Max Reinhardt's 1935 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, which also featured James Cagney and a young Olivia de Havilland.

Rooney was soon earning $300 a week with featured roles in such films as Riff Raff, Little Lord Fauntleroy, Captains Courageous, The Devil Is a Sissy, and most notably, as a brat humbled by Spencer Tracy's Father Flanagan in Boys Town.

The big break came with the wildly popular Andy Hardy series, beginning with A Family Affair.

"I knew A Family Affair was a B picture, but that didn't stop me from putting my all in it," Rooney wrote. "A funny thing happened to this little programmer: released in April 1937, it ended up grossing more than half a million dollars nationwide."

The critics grimaced at the depiction of a kindly small-town judge (Lionel Barrymore) with his character-building homilies to his obstreperous son. But MGM saw the film as a good template for a series and studio head Louis B. Mayer saw the series as a template for a model American home. With Barrymore replaced by Lewis Stone in subsequent films and Rooney's part built up, Andy Hardy became a national hero and the 15 Hardy movies became a gold mine.

Rooney's peppy, all-American charm was never better matched than when he appeared opposite his friend and fellow child star Garland in such films as Babes on Broadway and Strike up the Band, musicals built around a plot of "Let's put on a show!" One of them, the 1939 Babes in Arms, brought him his first Oscar nomination. He was also in such dramas as The Human Comedy, 1943, which gained Rooney his second Oscar nomination as best actor, and National Velvet, 1944, with Elizabeth Taylor.

But Rooney became a cautionary tale for early fame. He earned a reputation for drunken escapades and quickie romances and was unlucky in both money and love. In 1942 he married for the first time, to Gardner, the statuesque MGM beauty. He was 21, she was 19.

"I'm 5 feet 3, but I was 6 feet 4 when I married Ava," he said in later years. The marriage ended in a year, and Rooney joined the Army in 1943, spending most of his World War II service entertaining troops.

Rooney returned to Hollywood and disillusionment. His savings had been stolen by a manager and his career was in a nose dive. He made two films at MGM, then his contract was dropped.

"I began to realize how few friends everyone has," he wrote in his second autobiography. "All those Hollywood friends I had in 1938, 1939, 1940 and 1941, when I was the toast of the world, weren't friends at all."

His movie career never regained its prewar eminence. The Bold and the Brave, 1956 World War II drama, brought him an Oscar nomination as best supporting actor. But mostly, he played second leads in such films as Off Limits with Bob Hope, The Bridges at Toko-Ri with William Holden, and Requiem for a Heavyweight with Anthony Quinn. In the early 1960s, he had a wild turn in Breakfast at Tiffany's as Audrey Hepburn's bucktoothed Japanese neighbor and was among the fortune seekers in the all-star comedy It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.

Rooney's starring roles came in low-budget films such as Drive a Crooked Road, The Atomic Kid, Platinum High School, The Twinkle in God's Eye and How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.

But his later career proved his resilience: The Oscar nomination for Black Stallion. The Sugar Babies hit that captivated New York, London, Las Vegas and major U.S. cities. Voicing animated features like The Fox and the Hound, The Care Bears Movie and Little Nemo. An Emmy for his portrayal of a disturbed man in the 1981 TV movie Bill. Teaming with his eighth wife, Jan, off-Broadway in 2004 for a musical look back at his career called, fittingly, Let's Put On a Show.

Over the years, Rooney also made hundreds of appearances on TV talk and game shows, dramas and variety programs. He starred in three series: The Mickey Rooney Show (1954), Mickey (1964) and One of the Boys (1982). All lasted one season and a co-star from One of the Boys, Dana Carvey, later parodied Rooney on Saturday Night Live, mocking him as a hopeless egomaniac who couldn't stop boasting he once was "the number one star ... IN THE WOOORLD!"

In 1983, the Motion Picture Academy presented Rooney with an honorary Oscar for his "60 years of versatility in a variety of memorable film performances." That matched the 1938 special award he shared with Deanna Durbin for "bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth."

A lifelong storyteller, Rooney wrote two memoirs: i.e., an Autobiography published in 1965; Life Is Too Short, 1991. He also produced a novel about a child movie star, The Search for Sonny Skies, in 1994.

In the autobiographies, Rooney gave two versions of his debut in show business. First he told of being 1½ and climbing into the orchestra pit of the burlesque theater where his parents were appearing. He sat on a kettle drum and pretended to be playing his whistle, vastly amusing the audience. The theater owner kept him in the show.

The second autobiography told a different story: He was hiding under the scenery when he sneezed. Dragged out by an actor, the toddler was ordered to play his harmonica. He did, and the crowd loved it...


  1. David,
    A lovely tribute to Mickey. : )
    Also wanted to let you know how much I love your new blog layout and design.
    See ya soon!

  2. First, our precious Shirley, now Mickey. We are losing our beloved stars much too frequently these days.

    Rest in peace, dear Mickey. We will miss you. Thanks for leaving so many great films for us to remember you by.

    By the way, David, I am thrilled that your time of unemployment wasn't long. Congratulations on the new job. Hope it's your best job ever!!

  3. Thanks. I'm excited and scared at the same time.

    Regarding the blog, I wish I could get my right margin fixed. :(

  4. A fine tribute to an amazing whirlwind of talent. and his personal life was almost as amazing as his showmanship !