The world lost another incredible entertainer yesterday, April 6, when Mickey Rooney passed away. He died of natural causes at 93, surrounded by family at his home in North Hollywood.
To some, Mickey Rooney is the child star who played the title character of the Andy Hardy films in the 30's and 40's. To others, he's Henry Dailey from "The Black Stallion" movies or Gus from "Night at the Museum" (2006) or even Todd from "The Fox and the Hound" (1981). Mickey Rooney played and voiced so many characters throughout his life, and yet it's unlikely anyone has seen more than half of his films. This is certainly not due to a lack of fandom, but rather an overwhelming volume of work.
Rooney was one of the last surviving stars to appear in the silent film era and possibly the only actor to ever appear in at least one film over ten consecutive decades.
Mickey Rooney was born into the entertainment industry, and performed beginning from the age of one through until his final days. And though he may always be remembered as Andy Hardy, Henry Dailey, Gus, or Todd..or even that short elderly spitfire who had a knack for getting a laugh, there's a lot to Mickey Rooney people may not know, from activism to tragic marriage affairs to supernatural events.
Mickey Rooney got his start in show business before the age of 2! Both his parents were in vaudeville when he was born and included him in their routine at 17 months. And yes, he had a specially tailored little tuxedo.
Knew that already? Mickey Rooney's start was technically three months prior when he crawled onstage wearing overalls and a harmonica around his neck. No one realized he was there until he sneezed, prompting his father to pick him up and introduce him to the crowd as "Sonny Yule".
(Pictured: Freddie Bartholomew, Mickey Rooney in 1936 film "Little Lord Fauntleroy")
Mickey Rooney attended Hollywood Professional School with Judy Garland and the two grew to have a lifelong professional and personal relationship. The two were a song-and-dance team appearing in several movies and musicals beginning in 1937.
Rooney described their friendship in 1992 saying,
Judy and I were so close we could've come from the same womb. We weren't like brothers or sisters but there was no love affair there; there was more than a love affair. It's very, very difficult to explain the depths of our love for each other. It was so special. It was a forever love. Judy, as we speak, has not passed away. She's always with me in every heartbeat of my body.
Ironically, Rooney eventually portrayed the Wizard in a stage production of The Wizard of Oz (Garland originating the film role of Dorothy, of course).
Judy Garland's daughter Liza Minnelli originally wanted Mickey Rooney to do the eulogy at her mother's funeral, but felt that he wouldn't be able to get through it considering their close relationship.
It's no surprise that with all the years of experience Rooney has under his belt that he's made a few friends in the business.
Along with Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney attended Hollywood Professional School with Joseph A. Wapner ("The People's Court"), Nanette Fabray ("Caesar's Hour"), and Lana Turner ("Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde").
Other Hollywood pals include Shirley Jones ("Oklahoma!"), Marla Gibbs ("The Jeffersons"), Bea Arthur ("The Golden Girls"), Angela Lansbury ("Murder, She Wrote"), Carol Channing ("Hello, Dolly!"), Danny Thomas ("Make Room for Daddy"), Telly Savalas ("Kojak"), Buddy Ebsen ("The Beverly Hillbillies"), Gene Kelly ("Singin' in the Rain"), John Forsythe ("Charlie's Angels"), Jane Wyman ("Falcon Crest"), Bob Hope ("The Bob Hope Show"), Frank Sinatra ("Guys and Dolls"), Sammy Davis Jr. ("Ocean's 11"), Dean Martin ("The Dean Martin Show"), Regis Philbin ("Who Wants to be a Millionaire"), Al Pacino ("The Godfather"), Betty Grable ("How to Marry a Millionaire"), Ava Gardner ("The Killers"), Jimmy Stewart ("It's a Wonderful Life"), Ronald Reagan, Dick Van Dyke ("Mary Poppins"), Tony Bennett ("Because of You"), Martin Short ("Father of the Bride"), Bob Barker ("The Price is Right"), Norma Shearer ("Romeo and Juliet"), and many, many others.
(Pictured: Tom Hanks shakes hands with Mickey Rooney during the National World War II Museum Dedication Ceremony on November 6, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana.)
What's in a Name?
Born Joseph Yule, Jr., it was a bit of a bumpy road to the name Mickey Rooney.
When a newspaper ad called for a dark-haired child to play "Mickey McGuire" in a series of short films, Rooney's mother applied burnt cork to his scalp as they didn't have the money to dye his hair. The makeshift hair dye and Rooney's talent landed him the role for 78 of the Mickey McGuire comedies from 1927-1936.
His role as Mickey McGuire ended, however, when his mother tried to legally change his name to Mickey McGuire, even changing her last name to McGuire to add legitimacy. The point was to beat an attempted copyright lawsuit, so that the film producer didn't owe the original Mickey McGuire comic strip writers royalties. The producers lost the lawsuit and the ability to have the young actor portray Mickey McGuire.
From there, Mrs. Yule thought to change her son's name to Mickey Looney in reference to his comedic presence, but opted for Rooney. That's right, Mickey Rooney was almost Mickey Looney.
Mickey Mouse Connection?
Speaking of names, there is more controversy surrounding Mickey Rooney and names, this time involving a certain mouse.
Rooney claimed that while he was temporarily named Mickey McGuire, he met Walt Disney at the Warner Brothers studio and that Disney was inspired to name Mickey Mouse after him. Disney always said that his wife suggested the change from "Mortimer" to "Mickey" Mouse..we may never know for sure.
Rooney enlisted in the United States Army in 1944 and served more than 21 months until shortly after the end of WWII. He spent time during and after the war entertaining troops in person and via the radio.
He received many awards and medals for his service including the Bronze Star Medal (for entertaining troops in combat zones), the Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and World War II Victory Medal for his military service.
(Pictured: Mickey Rooney holds up the Silver Service Medal issued by the National World War II Museum during the Dedication Ceremony on November 6, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana.)
Mickey Rooney was married 8 times, had nine children, 19 grandchildren, and several great-grandchildren. He was often the point of marriage-related jokes in the 40's and 50's for his various and often short-lived marriages.
He married Ava Gardner in 1942 and the two were divorced before she reached her piqued level of stardom. Rooney then married local beauty-queen Betty Jane Phillips while stationed in Alabama in 1944. The two divorced after his return from the war. He went on to marry and divorce Martha Vickers in 1949 and Elaine Mahnken in 1952.
Perhaps the most tragic, and certainly the most gruesome, of Rooney's marriages was to Carolyn Mitchell. The two were married in 1958, and in 1966 both she and Rooney's friend/her lover, Milos Milos, were found dead in their bed. Rooney was filming in the Phillippines at the time, and detectives ruled it a murder-suicide committed with Rooney's gun.
The tragic end of the marriage put Rooney in a depression and he married his late wife's friend Marge Lane, who helped him care for his children. This marriage only lasted 100 days.
He was married to Carolyn Hockett for five years beginning in 1969, but financial instability led to divorce.
Rooney's last and most lasting marriage came in 1978 to Jan Chamberlin, who remained his wife for over 35 years.
Mickey Rooney has received several awards, including a Juvenile Academy Award, an Honorary Academy Award, two Golden Gloves, and an Emmy Award.
His breakthrough role as a dramatic actor came in "Boys Town" (1938). The film opened just before his 18th birthday and he was awarded a special Juvenile Academy Award. He was the first teenager to be Oscar-nominated in a leading role for "Babes in Arms" (at the age of 19). Soon later, Rooney landed the cover of the March 18, 1940 "Time" Magazine- before his 20th birthday.
In 1991, Rooney received the Young Artist Foundation Former Child Star "Lifetime Achievement" Award, which was then renamed "The Mickey Rooney Award."
He has 4 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, including a shared star with wife Jan Rooney for Live Theater (at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard).
(Pictured: Actor Mickey Rooney and wife Jan attend the ceremony honoring them with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on April 26, 2004 in Hollywood, California.)
Animal, elderly, and veteran rights were very important to Mickey Rooney. Both he and his wife Jan were outspoken advocates for veterans and animal rights.
On March 2, 2011, Rooney appeared before a special U.S. Senate committee in the fight against elderly abuse.
(Pictured: Herb Kohl and Micky Rooney hug during the Justice For All: Ending Elder Abuse, Neglect & Financial Exploitation hearing at the Senate Dirksen Building on March 2, 2011 in Washington, DC.)
Jack of All Trades
While Mickey Rooney may be well known for his acting career, particularly his childhood career, he went on to do a great deal of directing, television, and theater work as well.
Most people, especially of the younger generations, will recognize his work as a voice actor. He provided the voice of Santa for four Christmas TV animated specials: "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" (1970), "The Year Without a Santa Claus" (1974), "Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July" (1979), and "A Miser Brothers' Christmas" (2008). He also voiced Mr. Cherrywood in "The Care Bears Movie" and loveable Todd in Disney's "The Fox and the Hound."
(Pictured: Actor Mickey Rooney attends the 2012 TCM Classic Film Festival Opening Night Premiere Of The 40th Anniversary Restoration Of 'Cabaret' at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on April 12, 2012 in Hollywood, California.)
Mickey Rooney appeared in a 2011 episode of "Celebrity Ghost Stories." He tells how his deceased father appeared to him one night, during a low point in his career, to tell him not to give up on his acting career. Rooney claimed the experience got him through any insecurities and doubts and that his career soon improved.
(Pictured: Mickey Rooney attends the the Actors Fund's 17th annual Tony Awards viewing party held at Taglyan Cultural Complex on June 9, 2013 in Hollywood, California.)
Mickey Rooney appeared in movies from 1926-2013 for a total of 86 years, earning him the second longest career in cinema history, one year shy of passing Carla Laemmle (who is still acting at 104 years old).
Rooney may have been the only actor to ever appear in films in ten consecutive decades ranging from the 1920s to 2010s.
He has appeared in over 100 films, and has over 300 total acting credits.
Mickey Rooney is one of the oldest actors in Hollywood to never retire, including Jerry Lewis, Angela Lansbury, Norman Lloyd, Dick Van Dyke, Ernest Borgnine and Betty White.
Until his death, Rooney was one of the last surviving stars of the silent film era.
(Pictured: Actor Mickey Rooney attends the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter on March 2, 2014 in West Hollywood, California)
Bonus!- Poker Champ
It wasn't enough that Mickey Rooney was a talented actor, director, and entertainer, he's also a poker champion! He ranked seventh on the World Poker Tour Invitational even though he's never played Texas Hold 'Em before.
(Pictured: Actor Mickey Rooney and wife, Jan, participate during the 'Celebrities and Pros Match Skills As World Poker Tour Hits Los Angeles' at the Commerce Casino on February 25, 2003 in Commerce, California.)