Mickey Rooney, who celebrates his 92nd birthday on September 23, has spent 90+ of those years in show business. Born into a family of vaudevillians, he came closer to actually being "born in a trunk" in the back of a theater than even his frequent MGM co-star and pal Judy Garland. His stage debut came before he was 18 months old.
Mickey's mom always thought her boy had star quality and hustled him to Hollywood in the mid-'20s in hopes that he might be selected for the "Our Gang" series. Though he auditioned, it didn't work out and he later ended up making his big screen debut in a short titled Not to be Trusted cast as a midget.
|The two 'Blackies'|
Roles in the Jean Harlow hit Riffraff and the Freddie Bartholomew vehicle Little Lord Fauntleroy would follow in 1936, and in 1937 he would once more portray Lionel Barrymore's son - this time in A Family Affair, as Andy Hardy to Barrymore's Judge Hardy. The film was so successful that it begat 15 sequels.
Beloved as the Hardy series was from the late '30s to mid-'40s, there was more to Mickey Rooney's filmography during this period than Andy Hardy. Among the other popular films that fueled his ascension to #1 box office star in America from 1939 - 1941 were Captains Courageous (1937), Boys Town (1938), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939), Babes in Arms (1939) - for which he received a Best Actor Oscar nomination, Strike Up the Band (1940) and Babes on Broadway (1941). In 1938, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences honored him with a "Juvenile" Oscar. From 1942 until he went into World War II service in early 1944, Rooney cranked out three more Andy Hardy sequels, received his second Best Actor nomination for his starring performance in the film adaptation of William Sorayan's The Human Comedy (1943) and co-starred with Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet (1944). During the war he entertained troops in the U.S. as well as in combat zones and worked for American Forces Network radio.
The Human Comedy (1943)
Like the other top male stars who left movies for the the war, Mickey Rooney returned to a changed Hollywood. Many of the most successful films of the post-war era were markedly dark and serious - The Best Years of Our Lives, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, All the King's Men, Sunset Blvd., A Streetcar Named Desire. And TV was on the near horizon, portending more change to come. Rooney's first film following his war service was Love Laughs at Andy Hardy (1946), with Bonita Granville. But audiences had moved on from that particular brand of Americana and he would struggle to keep his career afloat. He would do admirable if overlooked work in early '50s noir (Quicksand, The Strip, Drive a Crooked Road), and earn a Best Supporting Actor nod for his portrayal of an American soldier serving in Italy in The Bold and the Brave (1956). He ventured into live television, appearing on various anthology series of the time, and garnered an Emmy nomination for his performance in "The Comedians," a Playhouse 90 drama, in 1957.
|Jeanne Cagney and Mickey Rooney in Quicksand (1950)|
|Jackie Gleason and Mickey Rooney in Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962)|
|for "50 years of versatility in a variety of memorable film performances"|
He has never stopped working - whether TV, voice or film work - and has enjoyed the pleasure another hit movie, famously appearing with Dick Van Dyke and Bill Cobbs as one of a trio of aged and larcenous security guards in Night at the Museum (2006). He was interviewed by Turner Classic Movies' Robert Osborne for an early (1997) "Private Screenings" segment and appears at TCM-sponsored events (he'll be a special guest on TCM's 2013 Classic Cruise to Grand Cayman and Cozumel). He has also been outspoken on the subject of elder abuse and in 2011 testified before the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
What more can be said about a living legend? I'll leave the last word to Cary Grant, who described Mickey Rooney as "the most talented actor in Hollywood."
|When James Montgomery Flagg finished this charcoal sketch of Mickey Rooney in October 1941, he showed it to his subject and cracked, "There's the brat!" Rooney grinned and agreed, "Yessir -- one hundred percent brat!"|
Sources (click on titles for link):
The Official Mickey Rooney website
"Fate Slaps Down Andy Hardy: Mickey Rooney After MGM" by Jake Hinkson