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RIP Mickey Rooney

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4 years ago
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4 years ago
Vincent Yeoh
  • Ghost
    Jun 22nd, 2013

    Mickey Rooney,
    the pint-sized actor who was one of MGM’s giant box office attractions
    in the late ’30s and early ’40s, has died, according to numerous
    reports. He was 93.

    As adept at comedy as drama and an excellent singer and dancer,
    Rooney was regarded as the consummate entertainer. During a prolific
    career on stage and screen that spanned eight decades (“I’ve been
    working all my life, but it seems longer,” he once said), he was
    nominated for four Academy Awards and received two special Oscars, the
    Juvenile Award in 1939 (shared with Deanna Durbin) and one in 1983 for
    his body of work.

    He also appeared on series and TV and in made for television movies,
    one of which, “Bill,” the touching story of a mentally challenged man,
    won him an Emmy. He was Emmy nominated three other times. And for “Sugar
    Babies,” a musical revue in which he starred with Ann Miller, he was
    nominated for a Tony in 1980.

    Both in his professional and personal life Rooney withstood many
    peaks and valleys. He was married eight times and filed for bankruptcy
    in 1962, having gone through the $12 million he had earned. And until
    middle age, he was never able to quite cast off his popularity as a
    juvenile. Nonetheless, Rooney’s highs more than compensated for his
    lows. Via his “Andy Hardy” series of films, the five-foot-three Rooney
    came to embody the virtues of small-town American boyhood. Those films
    and a series of musicals in which he co-starred with Judy Garland made
    him the nation’s biggest box office attraction for three years running.

    Born Joseph Yule Jr. in Brooklyn, Rooney made his stage debut at age
    15 months in his family’s vaudeville act, Yule and Carter, as a midget
    in a tuxedo. His first film role in the silent “Not to Be Trusted” also
    found him playing a midget. Even as a child he demonstrated the ability
    to be a consummate clown and to move audiences with his sentimental
    renditions of songs like “Pal of My Cradle Days.” After his parent’s
    divorce, his mother Nell answered an ad placed by cartoonist Fontaine
    Fox, who was looking for a child actor to play the comicstrip character
    Mickey McGuire in a series of silent comedy shorts. Rooney appeared in
    almost 80 episodes of the popular serial, which continued to be churned
    out by Standard Film Corp. until 1932. His mother wanted to legally
    change his name to McGuire, but when Fox objected, she chose Rooney

    As a teenager, Rooney appeared in many popular films including Tom
    Mix Western “My Pal the King” and, memorably, as Puck in Max Reinhardt’s
    1935 adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” In 1934, MGM signed him
    to a week-to-week contract; his first success was playing Clark Gable
    as a boy in “Manhattan Melodrama.” He slowly climbed up the star ladder,
    appearing in an adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah Wilderness” and in
    “Little Lord Fauntleroy,” “Captains Courageous” and “Boy’s Town,” the
    latter two alongside Spencer Tracy.

    But it was “A Family Affair,” a B-movie adaptation of the minor
    Broadway play “Skidding,” that first brought the world the Hardy family
    and its irrepressible son Andy, “the perfect composite of everybody’s
    kid brother,” according to critic Frank S. Nugent. With the surprise
    success of “A Family Affair,” the Hardy family, which included Lewis
    Stone (replacing Lionel Barrymore) as Judge Hardy and Spring Byington as
    his wife, embarked on a 15-film series of adventures in Americana. As
    star of one of the most successful series in film history, Rooney was
    earning $150,000 a year before his 20th birthday. In 1939, he was voted a
    special Oscar by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences.

    The following year he was nominated for best actor in the film
    musical version of “Babes in Arms” with Judy Garland. “Mickey Rooney can
    act the legs off a centipede,” wrote the critic for the Sunday Times in
    London. It was the first of several memorable pairings with Garland
    including “Strike Up the Band,” “Babes on Broadway” and “Girl Crazy.”

    His performance in the 1943 version of William Saroyan’s “The Human
    Comedy” brought a second nomination, and he played his first adult role
    opposite Elizabeth Taylor in “National Velvet.”

    From 1944-46, Rooney served in the U.S. Army in the Jeep Theater,
    travelling 150,000 miles entertaining the troops and acting as a radio
    personality on the American Forces Network.

    But after the war, Rooney’s attempt to make the transition from
    overaged teenager to full-fledged adult was rocky at best. MGM tried to
    give him a new image, casting him as a boxer in “Killer McCoy”; the
    musical version of “Ah Wilderness,” called “Summer Holiday,” also failed
    to please. The very qualities that had made him an appealing child star
    now began to grate. His energetic cockiness seemed forced and
    egotistical in an adult. The vaudeville-style humor and sentimentality
    were deemed annoying and precious by post-war audiences.

    After settling his contract with MGM in a dispute over not being cast
    in the all-star war drama “Battleground,” Rooney made nightclub
    appearances as he rebuilt his career. His freelance movie assignments,
    such as “Quicksand,” sank without a trace. Only “The Bold and the
    Brave,” a WWII drama that brought him a third Oscar nomination, met with
    any success. The final Andy Hardy drama, 1958’s “Andy Hardy Comes
    Home,” found him as a successful lawyer and new head of the family. It
    was the final and least successful film in the series.

    Rooney also tried directing, helming 1951’s “My True Story,” with
    Helen Walker as a jewel thief, and 1960’s “The Private Lives of Adam and
    Eve,” a complex comedy in which he also starred.

    He experienced somewhat more success in television: He was nominated
    for Emmys for dramatic work on “Playhouse 90” effort “The Comedian,”
    considered a classic of golden-era television, and “Eddie” on “Alcoa
    Theatre.”He also appeared, less felicitously, in the mid-’50s series
    “The Mickey Rooney Show: Hey, Mulligan” on NBC and “Mickey,” which ran
    for a few months on ABC in 1964-65.

    But in 1962, after filing for bankruptcy (the money had dwindled
    through his many divorces and because of his fondness for betting on
    “the ponies”), he embarked on a career as a character actor in films
    including “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Requiem for a Heavyweight” and
    “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” His controversial “Breakfast at
    Tiffany’s” role as Mr. Yunioshi, a buck-toothed broadly comic caricature
    of a Japanese man, did not draw much ire when the film was first
    released but has since been condemned as racist.

    Off the bigscreen, he toured the country on a double bill with singer Bobby Van and in summer stock.

    In 1963, he appeared as the very first guest on “The Judy Garland
    Show” upon Garland’s insistence. And he appeared occasionally during the
    ’60s on comedy/variety shows such as “The Dean Martin Comedy Hour,”
    “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” and “The Carol Burnett Show.” He
    guested on “Hollywood Squares” in 13 episodes between 1969 and 1976, and
    made 15 appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” from

    Norman Lear considered him for role of Archie Bunker, but Rooney
    rejected the project just as Jackie Gleason had. Perhaps he felt the
    role of Santa Claus fit him better: Rooney did the voices for four
    Christmas TV animated/stop action specials over the years. He played
    Santa in “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” (1970), “The Year Without a
    Santa Claus” (1974), “Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July” (1979) and
    “A Miser Brothers’ Christmas” (2008) and also played St. Nick in a 1982
    episode of “The Love Boat.”

    In later years, Rooney continued to work hard and sometimes found
    notable success. He received an Oscar nomination for supporting actor in
    1980 for “The Black Stallion.” He won an Emmy for “Bill” in 1982 and
    drew an Emmy nom for reprising the role in another CBS telepic two years

    In addition to his success in the musical “Sugar Babies,” he made
    popular stage appearances in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the
    Forum” and on Broadway in “The Will Rogers Follies.”

    In 1982 he starred in a short-lived sitcom, “One of the Boys,” with
    Dana Carvey and Nathan Lane. He guested on “The Golden Girls” in 1988,
    on “Murder, She Wrote” in 1993 and on “ER” in 1998; he starred in “The
    New Adventures of the Black Stallion,” based on the film, for 57
    episodes from 1990-93.

    As he approached and then surpassed his 90th birthday, he labored on,
    appearing in 2006 in “Night at the Museum” and in 2011 in “The Muppets”
    feature, among several other films.

    In 1993 he published autobiography “Life Is Too Short”; the next year
    he came out with a novel, Hollywood murder mystery “The Search for
    Sonny Skies.”

    Rooney had battled the major studios and the Screen Actors Guild
    seeking TV residuals for his screen appearances before 1960 without
    success. In 2011 he revealed he had suffered another form of
    victimization. He was granted a temporary restraining order against his
    stepson, who was accused of withholding food and medicine and
    interfering in Rooney’s personal finances, which was subsequently
    replaced by a confidential agreement.

    In March 2011 he testified before a special Senate committee considering legislation to curb abuses of senior citizens.

    Rooney voyaged, as a special guest, as part of the TCM Classic Cruise in January 2013.

    Rooney was married eight times, first and most famously to his MGM co-star Ava Gardner.

    Son Tim Rooney died in 2006.

    Mickey Rooney is survived by wife Jan Chamberlin, a singer he married
    in 1978; son Mickey Rooney Jr. from his marriage to singer Betty Jane
    Rase; son Theodore Michael Rooney from his marriage to actress Martha
    Vickers; daughters Kelly Ann Rooney, Kerry Rooney and Kimmy Sue Rooney
    and son Michael Joseph Rooney from his marriage to Barbara Ann Thomason;
    and daughter Jonelle Rooney and adopted son Jimmy Rooney from his
    marriage to Carolyn Hockett.

    Sep 26th, 2011

    In January he attended a lunch promoting Leonardo Di Caprio, bringing along a grandson who wanted to meet him. Knowing LD collects classic posters, he brought one of his 1930 films and signed it for him.

    He is one of the last to go back to silent movies, where as a little kid he started out (in comedy shorts). 

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    Vincent Yeoh
    Nov 13th, 2012

    I had the chance to meet him when he performed at the West End in Sugar Babies with Ann Miller. He gently admonished me for waiting one hour for him out in the cold behind the theater. What a sweet guy! R.I.P. Mickey!

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    Baby Clyde
    Nov 8th, 2010

    I did the same.

    Waited outside the theatre in London when he was in Sugar Babies. He was late though so didn’t stop.

    About 20 years later I was going back to London from JFK and he suddenly appeared before me in his wheelchair. I just stood and stared. Wanted to go and say hello but didn’t. We’d just come back from Fashion week so had seen all kinds of celebrities all week but I was I was like ‘THAT’S MICKEY ROONEY!!!!’.
    It’s not often you bump into a bone fide Hollywood legend.

    He was a really good actor. Everyone should try and see the TV film ‘Bill’ he’s amazing in it.

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    Nov 4th, 2013


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    Oct 4th, 2011

    With no hesitation whatsoever, I would go on record as
    saying this is Hollywood’s single greatest loss among actors in over a decade. Most people under
    the age of 55 have most certainly been inclined to eye-rolls at the incessant
    self-plugs as the former “number one child star… of the
    wor-r-r-rld” over the years (myself among them), but what Rooney left on
    celluloid speaks for itself down through the decades, way beyond his
    “child-star era.” The fact is, boys and girls, there was a time when
    Rooney was the single most gifted American actor working in film. Not
    Hollywood. In film. Underneath the bravado and chutzpah of “Andy
    Hardy” is the palpable heartbeat of a youngster who’s still getting his
    feet wet in the world, and realizes full well that he needs all the help he can
    get. Look at the youthful Homer in “The Human Comedy,” increasingly
    aware of the often cruel world going on outside his Midwestern hamlet. Look at
    the frustrated, angry men Rooney etched in key supporting roles in the ’50s.
    Look at the latter-day glories on film and television, chief among them his
    Emmy-winning work in “Bill.” Look at the sensitivity mixed into the
    self-awareness on display; sometimes masochistic, sometimes truly and deeply
    disillusioned in a way we’ve seen in a hundred movies, and the boy-man
    nevertheless finds a way to make the moment stirring. And certainly among these
    guises, there was the inexhaustible ENTERTAINER, flying through drum solos,
    pulling out imitations of Gable and Barrymore at the drop of a hat, and
    high-stepping with Garland and Co. as they put on their umpteenth show in a
    barn… Rooney’s impact on Hollywood history would have been significant for
    only one of these categories of contributions. The fact that he left all of
    them in his wake indisputably puts the scales in Rooney’s favor as one of the
    most accomplished representatives of his profession of the 20th century.
    Through a lifetime of slings and arrows, incredible heights of celebrity and
    the doldrums of latter generations shrugging, “Mickey Who?”, Rooney
    dedicated himself to that profession with a vivacity and drive that veterans
    half his age- a quarter of his age- could envy. Yes, Mick, the once-upon-a-time
    “number one child star…. of the wor-r-r-rld,” but so, so, SO much
    more. May he be at peace… we know full well he’ll never, EVER rest.

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    Tyler [Last Name]
    Nov 19th, 2011

    This is beside the point, but he was shooting the Night at the Museum sequel at the time of his death. Are they going to write his character out, or Philip Seymour Hoffman him into the film.

    FYC: Ready Player One. Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, Original Score, Production Design, Director and BEST PICTURE (make it happen Oscars!!)

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    Jan 3rd, 2013

    He truly was an iconic screen presence. I first watched “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” when I was 10, and I loved it, and his scenes were always the most memorable to me. I’ve watched some of his other work since, but I always remember him in that role.

    Come participate in this year's Goldderby Rankings! http://www.goldderby.com/forum/movies/2017-goldderby-rankings/

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    Dec 29th, 2012

    A true legend RIP.

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    Nov 4th, 2010

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    Nov 13th, 2012


    this is Hollywood’s single greatest loss among actors in over a decade”

    Sorry, that was was Elizabeth Taylor.  Then Hepburn, Newman, Brando… 


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    Jul 2nd, 2011

    He seemed like a really nice guy, check out how he presented Golden Globe with Macaulay Culkin. And of course, an amazing talent that did shine in so many movies. I always considered his film presence so bright and enlighting. It’s rather unfortunate he might be remembered for the controversy around his “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” performance.

    He still is the youngest actor to get 2 Best Actor nominations. I feel he will hold that distinction for many, many years. 

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    Dec 1st, 2011

    After 80-year career, Mickey Rooney estate: $18K

    AP 2:23 a.m. EDT April 9, 2014

    Court documents filed Tuesday in Los Angeles show Rooney signed final will March 11.

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — Mickey Rooney signed his last will just weeks before death, leaving a modest estate to a stepson who had been his caretaker, but the actor had no intention of ending his Hollywood career anytime soon, his attorney said Tuesday.


    Rooney’s death Sunday occurred after the actor began to have difficulty breathing during an afternoon nap, attorney Michael Augustine said. The actor had been in good spirits and was looking forward to continuing to appear in movies after filming a scene for the upcoming installment of the Night at the Museum franchise.

    Augustine said Rooney, 93, passed a physical required before he could start filming and his death was due to natural causes, including complications related to diabetes.

    Police and coroner’s officials were informed of Rooney’s death but said no investigation of it was necessary.

    Rooney’s will was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday. It was signed by Rooney on March 11 and called for his stepson Mark Rooney and his wife to be the sole beneficiaries of the actor’s estate, which is valued at only $18,000.

    The actor designated Augustine to serve as the executor of his estate, stating that he did not want any relative handling his final affairs.

    Despite a show business career spanning more than 80 years, Rooney said he had lost most of his fortune because of elder abuse and financial mismanagement by another one of his stepsons. Augustine said despite an agreement for millions to be repaid to the actor, it was unlikely the estate could ever collect on the judgment.

    Rooney’s will disinherited the actor’s eight surviving children, as well as his estranged wife. Jan Rooney will receive her husband’s Social Security benefits and some of his pension earnings as a result of a previous agreement; Augustine said Rooney felt that provided adequate care for her. He said Rooney’s children were in better financial situations than the actor, so he felt it was appropriate to leave Mark Rooney all he had left.

    The star of the Andy Hardy films and Hollywood’s highest-paid actor in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Rooney was a product of the industry’s old studio system and was not entitled to hefty royalty payments, Augustine said.

    Plans are still being made for Rooney’s burial and a possible tribute, Augustine said. An agreement was reached Tuesday not to move the actor’s body from a mortuary until a court hearing Friday that may help determine where he is laid to rest.

    Augustine said that while Rooney has a burial plot in Westlake Village, northwest of Los Angeles, the actor had said recently he wanted to be buried in Hollywood or a veteran’s cemetery.

    “We were going to buy plots,” Augustine said, but the actor “didn’t have any money.”

    He said the family would like to have a small private service, but hopes that a larger celebration of Rooney’s life and career can be arranged with help from film companies.

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