Friday, November 23, 2012

Mickey Rooney; Born For Stardom

Star Quality

Young Mickey Rooney
All child stars have to grow up, but Mickey Rooney, the most famous of them all, took the longest. At 5" 3 inces, chunky and well into his twenties, he was still playing Andy Hardy, the all- American small town teenager, and when he made Love Laughs at Andy Hardy in 1946, he was 26 years old and had been a performer for 24 of them.

This non-stop trouping produced a lopsided view of life. A close friend remarked that Rooney knew more about show business and less about women than any man he had ever met. Rooney has survived six divorces, bankruptcy, scandal, and throughout his live maintained bumptious energy.
He was born in September 1920, the son of vaudeville entertainers. At the tender age of two he joined their act, and three years later was touring with song ad dance man Sid Gold. In Chicago he played a midget in a melodrama, Mr Iron Claw, and this led to similar roles in two films, Not To Be Trusted 1926 and Orchids 1927.

Shortly afterwards, he changed his name from Joe Yule to Mickey McGuire, the comic strip character, and played in over 40 RKO shorts between 1927-1933. When the series ended, he changed his name again and for the last time to Mickey Rooney.
The cocky youngster caught the eye of MGM's Louis B. Mayer, who hired him on a wee to week basis to play Clark Gable as a boy in Manhattan Melodrama in 1934. In 1935, MGM put Rooney under contract. He was 15 and, and a veteran of 20 features and dozens of serials and shorts.
The studio cleverly cast him as a streetwise urchin opposite priggish child star Freddie Bartholomew in Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Devil is a Sissy. He also had a good tough kid part in Boy's Town with Spencer Tracy.
By now Rooney had graduated from being the best scene stealer in the business to stardom in his own right. There were many subsequent Andy Hardy films, cunningly crafted and immensely popular celebrations of Louis B. Mayer's sentimental notions of family and small town life. Watching Rooney in his Andy Hardy series today, I must say he had tremendous star quality and charisma. He is exactly what every parent would like to see in their teenage son, and everything a teenager wishes they were. He is confident, compassionate, and quick on his feet.
A regular co-star in the series was Judy Garland. They made eight films together, Rooney mischievous and brash, Garland wistful and appealing.
By the time they were paired in the musical Babes in Arms in 1939 Rooney was number 1 in the Motion Picture Herald's ratings. In 1938 along with Deanna Durbin, he received a miniature Oscar.

In the early 1940s Rooney wrote a song, prophetically entitled, I Can't Afford t Fall in Love. He met his first wife, 19 year old starlet Ava Gardner, on the set of Babes on Broadway in 1942. They were married on January 10, 1941 and eight months later they were separated. After the divorce Gardner said that Rooney had been wonderful but behaved like a child.
It was the first of eight marriages, an expensive habit which 10 years and four divorces later had cost Rooney a cool $1 million in alimony.
His last MGM film was the hugely successful National Velvet, but when he returned to Hollywood to make Love Laughs at Andy Hardy. he was too old for the part and the lighthearted pre war fantasy of the series was out of step with the spirit of the changing times.

The Treadmill Years

The skids were under him, and in the next four years he made only four films. After The Big Wheel, he went freelance. Now there was no longer an indulgent studio to ply him with gifts, pay him a vast salary and cater to his every whim. He was 29, but looked like an elderly 18 year old, and his manic energy had transformed into embittered truculence.
With characteristic dynamism he set about rebuilding his career, taking his act in to night clubs and to television. He made a great many terrible films, including the Haunted House in 1956, and a few good ones scattered throughout the 50's. He got good notices for The Bold and the Brave and then scored a success in the title of Baby Face Nelson. Rooney has some memorable parts in The Twilight Zone, and Requiem for a Heavyweight, in which he proved his versatility as a serious actor.

But financial and marital problems continued to plague him. In June 1962 he filed a petition for bankruptcy, listing assets of $500 and debts of over 12 million.
In February 1966, he discovered the body of his fifth wife Barbara Ann in their bedroom alongside the corpse of her Yugoslavian lover Milos Milosevic, who had shot her and then turned the gun on himself.
In 1970 it was reported that when MGM ran into difficulties, he offered to take over the ailing studio with a plan to make 20 films for $20 million dollars. At the end of the decade 1979 he was on Broadway co- starring with veteran dancer Ann Miller in a smash hit musical Sugar Babies. Given a strong director and some imaginative casting, "the oldest has- been in the business" undoubtedly still had a few tricks left up his sleeve.
in 1978 Rooney married Jan Chamberlin and the marriage is a successful one.

In September 2010 Mickey Rooney celebrated his 90th birthday. Among the honorable guests were Donald Trump, and Tony Bennett.


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