Few movie stars can boost the career longevity of Mickey Rooney. From a child actor during the Silent Era, to teenage stardom, career decline and resurgence, Rooney’s career spanned nine decades.
Born Joseph Yule, Jr in Brooklyn, NY in 1920 to vaudeville actors (his mother is from Kansas City, MO), Rooney joined the family onstage at the age of 17 months. Finding their way to Hollywood, Rooney’s mother took him to auditions for at the Hal Roach Studios (producer of the popular Our Gang shorts). At the age of 7, he was cast in his own series of short films as tough-talking kid, Mickey McGuire. So successful, his mother changed his name to “Mickey”, paired with “Rooney” shortly after.
In 1934, Mickey Rooney signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as was cast in may of the studios prestige productions: Manhattan Melodrama (1934), Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936), Captains Courageous (1937), Boys Town (1938), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939), Young Tom Edison (1940), The Human Comedy (1943) and National Velvet (1944). He is perhaps best known for the Andy Hardy series from 1937 to 1946. Rooney starred as the All-American teenager in 16 films, dealing with such common concerns as a first car, the first job, money woes and, of course, girl trouble. In three of these films, Rooney was paired with young singer Judy Garland. Hugely popular, Rooney and Garland starred together in a number of films outside the Hardy series, including: Babes in Arms (1939), Strike Up the Band (1940), Babes on Broadway (1941), and Girl Crazy (1943). In these musicals, Rooney exhibited his wide range of song and dance abilities learned from his early years on stage.
After a stint in the Army, Rooney’s career slumped. He starred in a couple of television series, all of them short lived. An attempt to revive the Hardy series with Andy Hardy Comes Home (1958) also failed to catch on. Rooney appeared in supporting roles during this time, notably: The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1955), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).
He was discovered by new generations in such family films as Pete’s Dragon (1977), The Magic of Lassie (1978), and The Black Stallion (1979). Rooney reprised his role from the latter film in the television series The Adventures of the Black Stallion. Most recently, he appeared in Night at the Museum (2006) and The Muppets (2011).
Mickey Rooney married eight times, the first to screen star Ava Gardner from 1942-1943. In recent years, Rooney has spoken on behalf of senior citizens groups when not being interviewed about his long film career.
With his passing at the age of 93, Mickey Rooney closes another page of Hollywood history as one of the few survivors of the Silent Era. Thankfully, we can revisit his career, as many are available on DVD for checkout.
Do you have a favorite Mickey Rooney film?