Mickey Rooney (1920-2014)
He was born Joe Yule, Jr. His parents were vaudeville performers who brought their toddler on stage when he was only 15 months old. He made his screen debut during the silent era in 1926. The following year he began a series of films playing a boy named Mickey McGuire. By 1932 he changed his name permanently. He kept “Mickey” and made his last name “Rooney.” He could act, sing, dance, and play several musical instruments. He was at home in comedies, dramas, and musicals. By 1939 Mickey Rooney was the number one box office star in America.
I will say now that I love those movies Rooney made during the golden years at MGM: Manhattan Melodrama, Captains Courageous, Boys Town, Young Tom Edison, Little Lord Fauntleroy, National Velvet, Girl Crazy, Babes in Arms (for which he received an Oscar nomination for Lead Actor, the first teen so honored). But my favorite films are the Andy Hardy series. Rooney starred as Andy, the all-American teenage boy. And no matter what the general plot was, Andy was sure to run into some kind of problem, whether with money or girls or cars and usually brought about by his own pride. And inevitably he would turn to his wise father for advice – and maybe a way out of whatever predicament was at hand. But you had to love Andy because he really did always mean well.
Moviegoers watched Mickey Rooney grow up, seeing him develop from a teen to a young man. But the transition wasn’t an easy one. After World War II, Rooney had fewer leading man roles and moved on to supporting roles in The Bridges of Toko-Ri, Operation Mad Ball, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Pete’s Dragon, The Black Stallion, and Babe, Pig in the City. He also did voices for several animated films and TV specials, including The Fox and the Hound and Lady and the Tramp II, Scamp’s Adventure. Of course, I’ll always think of him as the voice of Kris Kringle in Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town and The Year Without a Santa Claus.
Even into his 80s, Rooney continued to entertain us, especially in the movies Night at the Museum and The Muppets and had recently filmed scenes for Night at the Museum 3. Throughout his career, he gave every performance his all. And that’s a great legacy for anyone.