Mickey Rooney passed away yesterday, April 6, 2014, at the age of 93. What a life he had. He will be greatly missed, but he didn’t slow down in his later years. He had three films in development, including B. Luciano Barsuglia’s “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde,” co-starring Margaret O’Brien.
According to his trivia section on IMDB.com, Rooney’s movie career spanned from 1926 to 2013, totaling 86 years. It’s the second longest career in cinema history, surpassing Lillian Gish, whose career spanned from 1912 to 1987 (75 years), but one year less than Carla Laemmle, whose career began in 1925, and has credited roles for 2011 and 2012 at age 103.
Nonetheless, Rooney managed to appear in films in ten consecutive decades, from the 1920s through the 2010s. Wow. Can you imagine the changes he saw during that long career? Not only in Hollywood, but the world as a whole.
He was also known for his string of wives. His first of eight marriages was to Ava Gardner, but he’d been married to Jan Rooney longer than all of the other seven wives combined. I believe they parted ways in 2012. Rooney also filed elder abuse charges against his stepson, and moved in with his son and daughter-in-law, Mark and Charlotte Rooney. It sounds like his life there was peaceful and happy.
Read the official statement from Rooney’s family on his website.
Always hard to pick favorite movies for someone who’s been in the business forever, but here are my top five movies in which Mickey Rooney either starred or had roles.
1. Night at the Museum. This 2006 family movie, based on Milan Trenc’s 1993 children’s book, follows a divorced dad (Ben Stiller) trying to settle down, impress his son, and find his destiny. He applies for a job as a night watchman at New York City’s American Museum of Natural History and subsequently discovers that the exhibits spring to life at night. Rooney played Gus, a veteran security guard, alongside Dick Van Dyke and Bill Cobbs. This is probably one of my favorite family movies of all time, because it had everything – great cast, good writing and a fun story with lots of special effects.
2. Breakfast at Tiffany’s. This 1961 romantic comedy directed by Blake Edwards starred Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard, and featured Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, Martin Balsam, and Mickey Rooney. It’s loosely based on the novella of the same name by Truman Capote.
But Rooney caught flack from the Asian community for his caricatured portrayal of the Japanese character I.Y. Yunioshi, for which he wore makeup and a prosthetic mouthpiece. He later said if he’d known it would cause so much controversy, he wouldn’t have done it. “Those that didn’t like it, I forgive them and God bless America, God bless the universe, God bless Japanese, Chinese, Indians, all of them and let’s have peace.”
3. The Andy Hardy Movies. This MGM series, which starred Rooney as Andrew “Andy” Hardy, rolled out films from 1937 to 1946, with an attempted revival film released in 1958. Hardy and others were based on characters in the play “Skidding” by Aurania Rouverol. The early films focused on the entire Hardy family, but later films focused on the character of Andy Hardy. In three films, Rooney was paired with Judy Garland, beginning with “Love Finds Andy Hardy,” and continuing with “Andy Hardy Meets Debutante” (1940) and “Life Begins for Andy Hardy” (1941). Classic stuff that set the stage for later romantic comedies.
4. Babes in Arms. Busby Berkeley’s 1939 film, based on a 1937 musical by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, starred Rooney and Judy Garland as 20-somethings who put on a show with their friends to avoid having them be sent to a work farm, since their parents are out of work vaudevillians. Every time you hear “Hey, kids! Let’s put on a show!” – this is where it all started.
5. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. This 1963 comedy, produced and directed by Stanley Kramer, featured an all-star cast, including Spencer Tracy, Edie Adams, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Mickey Rooney, Phil Silvers and Jonathan Winters. The story follows the madcap pursuit of $350,000 in stolen cash by a diverse and colorful group of strangers. One of my favorite classic comedies. If you haven’t seen it yet, put it on your list.
What are your favorite Mickey Rooney movies, TV appearances or stage roles?