I am far from being a child of the '30s or '40s, so I have to admit I
never really got Mickey Rooney. As a kid he kind of creeped me out
because I didn’t know if he was a child or a grown-up. As I got older,
he seemed to always be angry about something, and as he got older it
seemed he was completely out of it, but people kept putting him on TV
and interviewing him anyway.
Rooney was born Joe Yule, Jr., on
September 23, 1920, in Brooklyn, New York. He first took the stage as a
toddler in his parents' vaudeville act. He made his first film
appearance in 1926, playing a little person in Not to Be Trusted
There, see, a little person. Child, adult, who knew?
reached new heights in 1937 with A Family Affair
, the film that
introduced the country to Andy Hardy, an all-American teenager. He would
go on to play the character in nearly 20 films, making him the #1 box
office attraction by 1939. Other films helped to boost the young star's
career as well, including Lord Jeff
, Boys Town
, and A Midsummer
. In 1938, Rooney received a special miniature Academy
Award for his "contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and
personification of youth" for his work on the Andy Hardy film series.
Little did the Academy know that at the same time, Rooney was taking
his “spirit and personification of youth” to Norma Shearer. He had been
severely reprimanded by MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer for having a
torrid affair with Shearer on the set of her film Marie Antoinette
where the two would hole up in her trailer for hours on end. Mickey was
18 at the time. Norma was 38 and had recently been widowed by MGM studio
exec Irving Thalberg. Mayer managed to avoid the story becoming public,
and it was not revealed until many years later, when Rooney gave the
explicit details in his autobiography. Mickey had some game.
Teaming up with Judy Garland, Rooney also appeared in a string of
musicals, including Babes in Arms
and Girl Crazy
. He and Garland,
who had first worked together in an Andy Hardy movie, became good
friends. "We weren't just a team, we were magic," Rooney once said. He
also appeared with Elizabeth Taylor in the now-classic National
. After serving in the military during World War II, Rooney took
on a variety of roles, but none of them matched his earlier successes on
the big screen.
Off-screen, Mickey Rooney was well-known for his
rocky love life and multiple marriages. He tied the knot eight times,
including a brief union with Hollywood beauty Ava Gardner in 1942. The
two were married only one year. Wonder if it ever bothered Sinatra that
he got Mickey’s sloppy seconds. (Thirds, for that matter: she married
Artie Shaw in between.) In 1944, Rooney was married for a second time,
to beauty queen Betty Jane Rase, and the couple had two sons. Rooney and
Rase divorced in 1949, and just six hours after their split was
finalized, he married his third wife, actress Martha Vickers. They had
one son. Mickey was quite the playa.
On the heels of his divorce
from Vickers, he headed to Las Vegas to marry actress/model Elaine
Mahnken Devry. They were married until 1958, and just hours after their
divorce, Rooney tied the knot again, marrying model/actress Barbara Ann
Thomason, whom he had four children with. Damn, Mickey, you a balla!
Their marriage ended tragically when Thomason’s lover killed her in a
murder-suicide. Soon after the tragic event, Rooney married Thomason’s
friend Margaret Lane, but the relationship lasted only 100 days. In
1969, he married Carolyn Hockett, and they had two children. They
divorced in 1975 and three years later Rooney married his eighth and
last wife, singer Jan Chamberlin. They separated in 2013, about a year
before his death. There is no doubt, Mickey could pull some major trim
in his time, and didn’t bother with condoms.
In 1961, Rooney
appeared in Breakfast at Tiffany's
, starring Audrey Hepburn. His
bucktoothed portrayal of Hepburn's Japanese neighbor Mr. Yunioshi draws
criticism to this day for its offensive racial stereotype. Rooney said
he was playing the role for laughs and never intended to offend
Although he experienced a career slump in the late
1960s and 1970s, Rooney was considered for the role of Archie Bunker on All in the Family
. He staged another comeback in 1979's The Black
, which brought him an Academy Award nomination as Best
Supporting Actor. Around this time, he also wowed theater audiences in a
revival of Sugar Babies
with Ann Miller on Broadway. The pair took
the hit show on the road as well.
In 1981, Rooney won an Emmy
Award for his portrayal of a mentally challenged man in Bill
critical acclaim continued in 1982, when he received an honorary Academy
Award "in recognition of his 60 years of versatility in a variety of
memorable film performances."
Mickey Rooney continued to act into
his 90s. He appeared in such films as Night at the Museum
with Ben Stiller, and The Muppets
(2011). Outside of performing, he
used his distinctive voice to speak out about elder abuse. In 2011, he
testified to Congress about the issue. The actor knew first-hand about
the victimization of seniors. Rooney filed suit against his stepson
Chris Aber, the son of his eighth wife Jan, claiming that Aber and his
wife verbally and financially abused him. The actor stated that the
couple misled him about his own finances, using his funds to cover their
expenses while denying him needed food and medicine. In 2013, the suit
was settled with a $2.8 million judgment in Rooney's favor.
Mickey Rooney, whose career spanned nine decades, died in his Los
Angeles home on April 6, 2014, at the age of 93. When Rooney's will was
filed, the actor's estate was valued at only $18,000. I’m guessing he
never saw a dime of that $2.8 million. In his autobiography, Life is
, he said, “Had I been brighter, the ladies been gentler, the
liquor weaker, the gods kinder, and the dice hotter—it might have all
ended up in a one-sentence story.”
Well, Mickster, here’s one
for me and one for my homie . . . oh, and two points each for Alan,
Busgal, Dead People Server Curator, Exuma, Garrett, Headless Horseman,
Joan Harvey, Kathi, King Daevid, Moldy Oldies, RH Draney, Walking Dead
Dude, and yours truly . . . Where's My Damn List?
--Where's My Damn List?
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