Legendary film star Mickey Rooney, who spent most of his long life appearing in films, died Sunday, April 6, 2014, at the age of 93, according to Variety and other media reports. Born Joe Yule, Jr. in 1920, the New York native became a huge box office success, survived the perils of child stardom, and earned more than 300 screen credits for movies and television by the time of his death.
In recent years, Rooney had become a public face for elder abuse, but classic movie fans knew him best as the energetic lead in the Andy Hardy films and a series of musicals with costar Judy Garland. Rooney was awarded a special juvenile Oscar in 1939 for his earlier work, but he went on to be nominated for two Best Actor awards and two Best Supporting Actor Oscars. In 1983, Rooney received a second honorary Oscar recognizing his contributions to film, but the tireless performer continued to act well after that, in "Erik the Viking" (1989), "Night at the Museum" (2006), and even "The Muppets" (2011), in which he had a cameo role.
Here are ten films from Rooney's early career where you can appreciate the star at his best.
1) "A Midsummer Night's Dream" (1935) - A very young Rooney appears as Puck in this star-studded adaptation of the Shakespearean classic, which also stars James Cagney, Dick Powell, and Olivia de Havilland.
2) "A Family Affair" (1937) - Rooney makes his debut appearance in the role that would define much of his career throughout the 1930s and 40s. As the son of an all-American family, Rooney won audiences with his pluck, humor, and high spirits, and he would go on to play Andy Hardy in a series of pictures that would not end until "Andy Hardy Comes Home" in 1958.
3) "Captains Courageous" (1937) - As a member of the fishing boat company that rescues a spoiled rich boy, Rooney acts as a foil to star Freddie Bartholomew, with Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore, and John Carradine as the other fishermen aboard.
4) "Boys Town" (1938) - Once again starring with Spencer Tracy, Rooney plays one of the many boys rescued from life on the streets by the real-life Boys Town founder, Father Flanagan.
5) "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" (1939) - Rooney's juvenile roles covered many literary classics, including this adaptation of the iconic Mississippi River tale by Mark Twain.
6) "Babes in Arms" (1939) - Rooney teams up with Judy Garland in this first "Babes" musical from director Busby Berkeley. The plot of a group of kids putting on a show to support a worthy cause would be repeated in several films featuring the two stars, whose innocent sense of fun appealed to anxious moviegoers as America edged closer to World War II. The role brought Rooney his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
7) "Young Tom Edison" (1940) - Rooney played real-life heroes as well as fictional ones, including the youthful Thomas Alva Edison. His costars in this biopic of Edison's early life include Fay Bainter, Eugene Pallette, and Virginia Weidler.
8) "The Human Comedy" (1943) - Rooney earned his second Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his performance in this wartime family story about a younger brother who remains at home when his older sibling goes off to fight. Frank Morgan, Fay Bainter, Van Johnson, and Donna Reed are among Rooney's costars in this picture, which earned five Oscar nominations in all and won for Best Original Story.
9) "National Velvet" (1944) - Rooney plays a troubled young horse trainer who helps Elizabeth Taylor become a champion in this classic family film. The role would be reflected in Rooney's later appearance in another horse picture, "The Black Stallion" (1979), which earned Rooney an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
10) "The Bold and the Brave" (1956) - Rooney earned another Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role in this war drama, which also stars Wendell Corey.
Hollywood and movie fans around the world are certain to be paying tribute to Mickey Rooney in the upcoming days. For more reasons to celebrate his contributions, try movies like "The Black Stallion" (1979) and "The Fox and the Hound" (1981) and the holiday television specials, "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" (1970) and "The Year Without a Santa Claus" (1974).
Jennifer Garlen writes as the Huntsville and National Classic Movies Examiner. Her book, "Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching," is available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.