Mickey Rooney’s career in show business spanned an incredible ten decades, the actor has past away at his home in Hollywood. The 93 year old man never retired and had been active in show business since the age of 2.
Rooney was born Joseph Yule Jr in 1920, and crawled onto the stage during his family’s vaudeville act when he was a baby. The stage was where he stayed until reaching the big screen, he describes it as being like “the womb” to him.
The first half of his stage name was acquired from the 78 comedy shorts that Rooney starred in as Mickey McGuire between 1927 and 1936, later he even legally changed his name to Mickey McGuire for some time to try and get out of a lawsuit though this was unsuccessful. Mickey would be his name from then on, although he wasn’t allowed to keep using McGuire. After his mother suggested he become Mickey Looney instead, he altered it to Rooney, feeling that it would be slightly more sensible and respectable.
The next long-running franchise of his life was as the plucky Andy Hardy, starring in 14 films beginning with A Family Affair in 1937 and ending with Andy Hardy Comes Home in 1958. MGM additionally used the series to launch the careers of Lana Turner and Esther Williams, three of the films co-starred Judy Garland, with whom Rooney had a long partnership as a song-and-dance double act. Films they made together include the Busby Berkeley musical Babes In Arms (Rooney’s first Oscar nomination, aged 19), and Girl Crazy.
Serious roles were also in Rooney’s forte, starring aside Spencer Tracy in Boys Town and gaining yet another Academy Award nomination for the drama The Human Comedy. At the top US box office draw from 1939 to 1941, but unlike his friendly screen image he was something of a troublemaker. A gambler and womaniser, he was assigned a full-time staffer by his studio MGM to keep him out of trouble, however much like his name change, this was also unsuccessful.
He served in the US Military as an entertainer during World War II and was awarded the Victory Medal for his efforts, he rebooted his career as a character actor: a good move having, in his own words, “played a 14-year-old boy for 30 years”. Rooney phase II was often hampered by poor decisions, failed marriages, financial problems and drug and gambling issues, but an Oscar nomination for The Bold And The Brave in 1956 still arose.
He made short-lived appearances on television (including in 39 episodes of his own Blake Edwards-produced show); directed The Private Lives Of Adam And Eve in 1960; and played supporting roles in the likes of Requiem For A Heavyweight (1962), It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961) in which he played Holly Golightly’s Chinese upstairs neighbour.
He also had successes on Broadway, in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and Will Rogers Follies. In 1979 he earned another Oscar nomination for The Black Stallion, and reprised his role at the age of 70, in the Family Channel TV series that ran from 1990 until 1993. The Oscars he eventually won were a Juvenile Award in 1938, and a Lifetime Achievement in 1983. He won an Emmy and a Golden Globe in 1982 for the TV-movie Bill, in which he played a mentally handicapped man struggling to live alone.
Recently, he enjoyed three Christmases in pantomime in the UK, and showed up in Night At The Museum and The Muppets. His final screen role was in The Woods in 2012, but, he had at least three projects – including a version of Jekyll & Hyde – in the works at the time of his death. He is survived by his ninth wife Jan Chamberlain, 9 children and 19 grandchildren.