Monday, April 7, 2014

Godspeed Mickey Rooney

Legendary actor Mickey Rooney died yesterday, 6 April 2014. He was 93 years old.

Mickey Rooney was born Jospeh Yule Jr. in Brooklyn on 23 September 1920. His father was vaudeville comedian Joe Yule, who would later go onto appear in the "Jiggs and Maggie" movie series. His mother, Nellie, was also a vaudeville performer. Mickey Rooney began his career in entertainment when he was only 17 months old, appearing in his parents' vaudeville act.  His parents eventually divorced and his mother took him to Hollywood. Young Mickey Rooney made his film debut in the short "Not to Be Trusted" under the name "Mickey McBran" when he was only six years old.

It was around 1927 that cartoonist Fontaine Fox advertised for a boy to play the role of Mickey McGuire (one of the characters from his comic strip Toonerville Folks) in a series of live action films. Young Mickey Rooney was cast in the role. Beginning in 1927 with Orchids and Ermine, young Mickey Rooney appeared as Mickey McGuire in 78 different "Mickey McGuire"comedies. He played the role until the mid-Thirties. It was in 1932 that he adopted the stage name by which he would become famous. That  year his mother wanted to take him on a tour of vaudeville theatres as Mickey McGuire. Fontaine Fox objected to this and as a result he became "Mickey Rooney". Starting in 1939 Mr. Rooney took over the voice of the animated character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. He continued providing the voice until 1932.

In the early to mid Thirties Mickey Rooney played other roles than those of Mickey McGuire and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. He also appeared in such films as The Beast of the City (1932), Sin's Pay Day (1932), Fast Companions (1932), Officer Thirteen (1932), The Big Cage (1933), The Life of Jimmy Dolan (1933), Broadway to Hollywood (1933), Half a Sinner (1934), and Blind Date (1934).

It was in 1934 that Mickey Rooney signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. His first film with MGM was Manhattan Melodrama in 1934. In the film he played Clark Gable's character as a boy. Over the next few years he appeared in the films Reckless (1935), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935). Ah, Wilderness! (1935),  and Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936). It was in 1937 that Mickey Rooney first appeared in what might be his most famous role, that of Andy Hardy in the film the film A Family Affair. A Family Affair proved to be immensely popular, particularly because of young Mr. Rooney in the role of teenager Andy Hardy. The film's success would lead to an entire series of "Andy Hardy' films. Thirteen more "Andy Hardy" films were made between 1937 and 1946, with one more film made in 1958.

 It was also in 1937 that Mickey Rooney made his first film with an actress who would become a frequent co-star in his movies. The film was Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (1937) and the actress was Judy Garland. In the late Thirties Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney appeared together in Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938), Babes in Arms (1939), Andy Hardy Meets Debutante (1940), and Strike Up the Band (1940). In the late Thirties Mickey Rooney also appeared in the films Captains Courageous (1937), Slave Ship (1937), Live, Love and Learn (1937), Love Is a Headache (1938), Boys Town (1938), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939), Young Tom Edison (1940), and Rodeo Dough (1940).

Mickey Rooney was at the height of his career in the late Thirties and early Forties. He was the top box office earning star for the years 1939, 1940, and 1941 according to Quigley Publishing's annual Top Ten Money Making Stars Poll. He continued making the popular "Andy Hardy" films well into the Forties. He also made three more films with popular co-star Judy Garland:  Babes on Broadway (1941), Girl Crazy (1943), and Words and Music (1948). He appeared in such films as Men of Boys Town (1941), A Yank at Eton (1942), The Human Comedy (1943), National Velvet (1944), Killer McCoy (1947), Summer Holiday (1948), The Big Wheel (1949), Quicksand (1950), The Fireball (1950), and He's a Cockeyed Wonder (1950). During World War II he served in the United States Army. He earned the Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and World War II Victory Medal. Mr. Rooney also entertained the troops in both the United States and Europe during and following the war.

By the Fifties Mickey Rooney's career had declined from its height in the late Thirties and early Forties, although he still appeared frequently in films. During the Fifties Mr. Rooney appeared in such films as My Outlaw Brother (1951), The Strip (1951), Sound Off (1952), All Ashore (1953), Off Limits (1953), A Slight Case of Larceny (1953), The Atomic Kid (1954), The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), The Twinkle in God's Eye (1955), The Bold and the Brave (1956), Francis in the Haunted House (1956), Magnificent Roughnecks (1956), Operation Mad Ball (1957), Baby Face Nelson (1957), A Nice Little Bank That Should Be Robbed (1958), The Big Operator (1959), The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (1960), and Platinum High School (1960). In 1958 Mickey Rooney appeared in one last Andy Hardy film, Andy Hardy Comes Home (1958).

It was in the Fifties that Mickey Rooney made his television debut in 1952 in an episode of Celanese Theatre. He had his own sitcom, The Mickey Rooney Show, from 1954 to 1955. He also guest starred on The Milton Berle Show, The Colgate Comedy Hour, Schlitz Theatre, Playhouse 90, Producer's Showcase, December Bride, The Phil Silvers Show, Wagon Train, and G.E. Theatre. Mr. Rooney also appeared on stage in a production of Sailor Beware.

The Sixties saw Mickey Rooney appear frequently on television. He had another sitcom, Mickey, which ran from 1964 to 1965. In 1964 he appeared as a guest on two episodes of The Judy Garland Show. He also guest starred on such shows as Checkmate, Hennesey, Naked City, Frontier Circus, The Dick Powell Theatre, The Jack Benny Programme, Alcoa Premiere, Pete and Gladys, The Twilight Zone, Burke's Law, Rawhide, The Ed Sullivan Show, Combat, The Lucy Show, The Fugitive, The Hollywood Palace, The Dean Martin Comedy Hour, The Jean Arthur Show, and The Red Skelton Show. He provided the voice of Santa Claus for the classic Rankin/Bass Christmas special Santa Claus is Comin' to Town (1970).

During the Sixties Mr. Rooney appeared in such films as King of the Roaring 20's: The Story of Arnold Rothstein (1961), Everything's Ducky (1961), Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), The Secret Invasion (1964), Twenty-Four Hours to Kill (1965), How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965), Ambush Bay (1966), L'arcidiavolo (1966), Vienna (1968), Skidoo (1968), The Extraordinary Seaman (1969), The Comic (1969), 80 Steps to Jonah (1969), and Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County (1970). He appeared on stage in productions of The Tunnel of Love, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and The Odd Couple.

The Seventies saw Mickey Rooney appear in such films as The Manipulator (1971), Richard (1972), Pulp (1972), The Godmothers (1973), Thunder County (1974), Ace of Hearts (1975), From Hong Kong with Love (1975), Rachel's Man (1976), Find the Lady (1976), The moon and a murmur (1977), The Domino Principle (1977), Pete's Dragon (1977), The Magic of Lassie (1978), Arabian Adventure (1979), and The Black Stallion (1979).  Mr. Rooney appeared frequently on television. He reprised the voice of Santa Claus in the Rankin/Bass specials The Year Without a Santa Claus and Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July. He guest starred on the shows Dan August, NBC Follies, Night Gallery, The Hollywood Squares, and The Merv Griffin Show. He appeared in the TV movie Evil Roy Slade. He appeared on stage in productions of Three Goats and a Blanket, Hide and Seek, W.C., See How They Run, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Sugar, and Alimony. He appeared on Broadway in Sugar Babies.

In the Eighties Mickey Rooney starred on the short lived sitcom One of the Boys. He guest starred on such shows as The Love Boat, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Colour, and The Golden Girls. He appeared in the TV movies Bill, Bill: On His Own, O'Malley, and Home for Christmas. He provided the voice of Tod in the animated feature film The Fox and the Hound (1981) and Flip in the animated film Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989). He appeared in Odyssey of the Pacific (1982), Lightning, the White Stallion (1986), and Erik the Viking (1989). He appeared on stage in Show Boat, The Laugh's On Me, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and The Sunshine Boys.

In the Nineties Mickey Rooney starred on the TV show The New Adventures of the Black Stallion. He guest starred on such shows as Jack's Place; Murder, She Wrote; Full House; Kung Fu: The Legend Continues; Conan; and ER. He provided the voice of Talbut in the animated series Kleo the Misfit Unicorn. He appeared in such films as La vida láctea (1992), Maximum Force (1992), The Legend of Wolf Mountain (1992), Making Waves (1994), Outlaws: The Legend of O.B. Taggart (1994), Revenge of the Red Baron (1994), Killing Midnight (1997), The Face on the Barroom Floor (1998), Sinbad: The Battle of the Dark Knights (1998), Babe: Pig in the City (1998), and The First of May (1999). He appeared on Broadway in The Will Rogers Follies and elsewhere on stage in Lend Me a Tenor, The Mind with the Naughty ManCrazy for You, and The Wizard of Oz.

From the Naughts into the Teens Mickey Rooney appeared in such films as Topa Topa Bluffs (2002), The Last Confederate: The Story of Robert Adams (2005), Night at the Museum (2006), The Yesterday Pool (2007), Wreck the Halls (2008), Lost Stallions: The Journey Home (2008), Saddle Up with Dick Wrangler & Injun Joe (2009), Gerald (2010), Now Here (2010), Bamboo Shark (2011), Night Club (2011), The Muppets (2011), Driving Me Crazy (2012), The Voices from Beyond (2012), and The Woods (2012). Reportedly Mr. Rooney has a cameo in the upcoming Night at the Museum 3.

Today when people think of Mickey Rooney they inevitably think of him as either Andy Hardy in his younger years or a lovable curmudgeon in his later years. And there is no doubt that he was very good in these roles. If Mr. Rooney's Thirties and Forties vehicles in which he played a teenager and his later films as a congenial, if occasionally cranky, oldster are popular, it is perhaps because of Mr. Rooney's sterling performances in them. That having been said, Mickey Rooney was so much more than Danny Churchill in Girl Crazy and Gus in Night at the Museum. He played many more roles than the All-American teenager or elderly gentleman.

Indeed, many people don't realise that Mickey Rooney starred in a few films noirs in the late Forties and early Fifties. What is more, he sometimes played roles in film noir that were as far from Andy Hardy as one could get. In The Strip (1951) Mickey Rooney played a Korean War veteran (with a good deal of psychological baggage) turned night club drummer who becomes involved with a gangster running a numbers racket. Even further away from Andy Hardy is Baby Face Nelson, in which Mr. Rooney played the lead role. As Baby Face Nelson one would never think Mickey Rooney made his name playing the All-American teenager. Mr. Rooney's Nelson is angry, violent, and homicidal.  Mickey Rooney excelled in the few films noirs he made, proving that he could play much more than Andy Hardy or Gus.

Of course, one does not have to watch his films noirs for examples of Mickey Rooney's good performances beyond playing teenagers and old men. Mickey Rooney made frequent appearances on television in the Fifties and Sixties, often playing characters quite different from those he had played in his best known films. In the Checkmate episode "The Paper Killer" Mr. Rooney played a cartoonist with a giant ego and an unhealthy dose of paranoia. In the Combat! episode "Silver Service" he played a truck driver in the Army who runs a crooked dice game. In the Kraft Suspense Theatre "The Hunt" Mickey Rooney played a homicidal small town sheriff who lets his prisoners escape simply so he can hunt them down and kill them. One of his best television performances was in two episodes of  Wagon Train in which Mr. Rooney played Samuel T. Evans. Evans was actually very close to the sorts of characters he had played in films (bungling and a little bit goofy), but Mr. Rooney made the role unique.

While Mickey Rooney may be best remembered for Andy Hardy and similar roles, as well playing lovable old men in later years, the truth is that he played a number of different roles throughout his career, some of which were quite different from young Andy. What is more he gave a number of great performances throughout his career. While Mickey Rooney was a leading man for much of his career, in reality he may perhaps be best considered a character actor. After all, such was Mr. Rooney's talent that he could play a typical American teenager (in his younger years), a kindly old grandfather (in his older years), a swindler, a neurotic, or a homicidal maniac and do all of them well. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

did you mean andy hardy instead of andy rooney?

I wanted to tell Mr. Rooney of my appreciation for his work. If you havent seen, "Summer Holiday" you have missed out on a nice movie!