Mickey Rooney 1920-2014

Mickey Rooney in 1957

Actor Mickey Rooney has died aged 93. Born Joseph Yule Jr in Brooklyn, his parents were vaudeville players, and their son joined them onstage at fourteen months old. By the age of six, he had moved to Hollywood with his mother, Nell, and began appearing in silent comedy shorts for Hal Roach’s Our Gang series.

He then played Mickey McGuire in 78 eponymous shorts. His mother suggested ‘Mickey Looney’ as a stage name, though he later changed it to ‘Rooney’. He would later claim that Walt Disney named Mickey Mouse after him (although this has been disputed.)

With the coming of sound, Mickey graduated to bit-parts, signing with MGM in 1934. One of his first assignments was to play Clark Gable’s character as a boy in Manhattan Melodrama. The film is remembered today mainly because the gangster John Dillinger had just seen it when police shot him dead outside Chicago’s Biograph Theatre that July.

In 1935, Rooney played Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He then won a supporting role as bootblack Dick Tipton in Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936), and played Jean Harlow’s kid brother in RiffRaff.

Rooney’s big break came in 1937, when he was selected to play Andy Hardy, teenage son of a small-town judge, in A Family Affair. Thirteen more Andy Hardy films would follow. He proved himself an actor in Boys Town (1938), opposite Spencer Tracy. In 1939, he played the title role in Huckleberry Finn. He then starred in Young Tom Edison (1940) and A Yank at Eton (1942.)

Another of MGM’s child stars, Judy Garland, formed an enduring song-and-dance team with Rooney. They starred in several films together, including Babes in Arms (1939) and Babes on Broadway (1941.)

Mickey with Judy Garland

‘Judy and I were so close we could’ve come from the same womb,’ he recalled in 1992. ‘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.’

In 1942, he was briefly married to Ava Gardner, first of his eight wives. Offscreen, Mickey was far removed from the wholesome Andy Hardy – Ava divorced him after discovering his rampant infidelity.

After starring alongside another child actress, Elizabeth Taylor, in her breakout movie, National Velvet, Rooney joined the war effort in 1944, and enlisted in the US Army. Unfortunately, his film career slumped after his return to Hollywood, but he kept on working, onstage and in television.

Marilyn and Mickey at the Emperor Waltz premiere, 1948

In 1948, Mickey attended the premiere of Billy Wilder’s The Emperor Waltz with a little-known starlet, Marilyn Monroe. It was customary in those days for studios to send their young actors on public ‘dates’.

Monroe would play a small role in The Fireball (1950), a rollerball drama starring Rooney. In his 1991 biography, Life Is Too Short, Mickey claimed to have given the former Norma Jeane her stage name at the time, but she had already been using it for four Marilyn with James Brown and Rooney in ‘The Fireball’ (1950)He also alleged that she had offered him sexual favours in return for the part. This seems unlikely, as she was then under the wing of one of Hollywood’s most powerful agents, Johnny Hyde. In old age, Rooney discussed MM on numerous TV chat shows.

Marilyn with James Brown and Rooney in ‘The Fireball’ (1950)

Actor James Brown, who also appeared in The Fireball,  told John Gilmore, author of Inside Marilyn Monroe (2007), ‘She seemed nervous when we talked about Mickey Rooney, she said, “he’s really terrible, isn’t he?” She thought he would have been a nice person from all the movies she’d seen him, like when he was a kid…She said he’d whispered dirty things and she was frightened of him…’

By 1952, Marilyn was a huge star. Her first date with Joe DiMaggio at the Villa Nova Restaurant was interrupted by Mickey, who regaled the baseball legend with sycophantic banter. DiMaggio listened politely before returning to his lovely companion.

At the ‘My Marilyn’ party, August 1952

An illustration of how their fortunes had reversed is the appearance of Mickey at public events showcasing Marilyn, including a drumming stint in bandleader Ray Anthony’s launch party for a new hit song, ‘My Marilyn’, in August 1952. They would both participate in an all-star charity football game that September.

Rooney’s later film roles included The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), The Bold and the Brave (1956), for which he received an Oscar nomination; Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963.) But his comedic performance as Japanese landlord Mr Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) led to accusations of racist stereotyping.

He appeared in many TV series, including The Twilight Zone, Rawhide, The Golden Girls, Full House, The SimpsonsE.R., and The Muppets. He scored a late movie hit in The Black Stallion (1979), and provided the voice of Tod, the fox, in Disney’s The Fox and the Hound (1981.) He played a handicapped man in the 1981 TV movie, Bill.

Among Rooney’s stage successes were Sugar Babies, with Ann Miller, The Wizard of Oz with Eartha Kitt, and A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum. In 2006, he starred alongside Ben Stiller in the big-screen hit, Night at the Museum.

At the time of his death, Rooney was said to be filming an adaptation of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, with two other projects in pre-production. In 2011, he accused a stepson of elder abuse. He separated from his wife of 37 years, Jan Chamberlin, in 2013.

Mickey Rooney died at his Hollywood home, surrounded by family. Rooney is survived by 8 children, 2 stepchildren, 19 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.

He was one of the last remaining stars of the silent era, and was once described by Sir Laurence Olivier as the greatest film actor America has ever produced.

Women In Dark Times

Rose Women

Author and critic Jacqueline Rose will publish a new book, Women In Dark Times, in September. It will include material on Marilyn, who was also the subject of a 2012 lecture by Rose, also published in the London Review of Books.

“Through compelling portraits of women as diverse as revolutionary socialist, Rosa Luxemburg, film icon Marilyn Monroe, and contemporary painter, Thérèse Oulton, Jacqueline Rose provides a new template for the struggles of women today. Descending into some of the bleakest realities of our time, such as honour killing, she argues that the work of feminism is far from done. Women in Dark Times is both a tribute and a challenge.

The women presented here are visionary, enraged by injustice while also in touch with what is most painful about being human. Returning to the terrain of her prize-winning study of Sylvia Plath, Jacqueline Rose shows us why all these women are vital to feminism in its ongoing project to transform the iniquities of the modern world.”


Clark and Marilyn’s Long Goodbye

dmg TheMisfits-4

The excellent Dear Mr Gable website takes a look back at The Misfits today:

“A poetic and fitting goodbye. The Misfits is far from a perfect film, but his performance is a divine send-off. ‘Look everyone, see, I can really act! I always could!’ And in that same vein it feels like we were cheated out of more such performances. The film itself is preachy and talky, like a poem that goes on too long. It is a bit painful to see Clark looking so deteriorated.  Decades and decades of heavy smoking and drinking and taken their toll and instead of looking like his actual age of 59, Clark looks more like 70. Marilyn’s ghosts were beginning to show and her performance is more because of it–the fluff and glitter were stripped away. Who would have ever guessed that this would be the last film for two legends.”

You can read my own tribute to Clark Gable here.

Anatomy of a Lingerie Ad


ABG, the licensing arm of Marilyn’s estate, has launched yet another brand. Marilyn Monroe Envy is a range of lingerie – which is ironic, since Marilyn found underwear confining and avoided it whenever she could.

The cover image is a merging of two well-known Milton Greene photos. Some fans are unhappy with this, when there are so many thousands of gorgeous originals to choose from. However, Milton’s son Joshua has stated that a unique, one-off image had been commissioned for the advertising campaign.



Merged image without lettering and colouring. Thanks to Fraser Penney
Merged image without lettering and colouring. Thanks to Fraser Penney

When asked if she wore anything at all to her famous calendar shoot, Marilyn memorably replied, ‘I had the radio on.’ However, at the foot of the page on the website, another sentence has been added – ‘I did too have something on.’ In fact, she never said this. The phrase ‘did too’ was not commonplace in Marilyn’s time, and makes her sound rather like a stroppy teenager!

While I understand the desire to keep Marilyn’s image up-to-date for marketing purposes, I can’t help feeling that her essence is being sidelined, and am doubly concerned that her estate seems to be encouraging this.