By now, you’ve heard that legendary actor Mickey Rooney has died at the age of 93. Of the time he spent on this earth, 92 of those years was in show business. He got his start in motion pictures in 1925 at the age of five when his mother moved with him to Hollywood. She answered a newspaper ad for a dark-haired child to play the role of “Mickey McGuire” in a series of short films. Lacking the money to have her son’s hair dyed, Nell Yule took her son (then named Joseph Yule) to the audition after applying burnt cork to his scalp. Joe got the role and became “Mickey” for 78 of the comedy shorts from 1927 to 1936.
Joe Yule briefly became Mickey McGuire legally in order to trump an attempted copyright lawsuit. Later Mrs. Yule suggested the stage name of Mickey Looney for her comedian son, which he altered slightly to Rooney, a less frivolous version. Rooney signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1934. MGM cast him as the teenage son of a judge in 1937’s A Family Affair, setting Rooney on the way to another successful film series, Andy Hardy. In all, Mickey Rooney starred in 13 Andy Hardy films between 1937 and 1946. Rooney became Hollywood’s No. 1 box office bait in 1939, beating out Clark Gable, Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power. He would continue to act in movies, theatre and TV steadily until just before his death, in the soon to be released “Night at the Museum 3”.
Looking at his 9 decade career, I’ve selected five of my favorite films from the legendary actor.
5. Boys Town (1938) – This film starred Spencer Tracy in his Oscar winning performance as Father Edward J. Flanagan, the founder of Boys Town, a home for underprivileged and delinquent boys in Omaha, Nebraska. That year, Rooney won an honorary Oscar for his significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth, and as juvenile player setting a high standard of ability and achievement.
4. National Velvet (1944) – Based on the book by Enid Bagnold, it’s the story of a twelve-year old girl, who wins a spirited gelding in a raffle and trains him for the Grand National steeplechase aided by her father’s hired hand, a young drifter named Mi Taylor, played by Rooney. The film also introduced the world to a young girl named Elizabeth Taylor.
3. Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1962) – Written by famed author Truman Capote, Audrey Hepburn’s portrayal of Holly Golightly as the naïve, eccentric café society girl is generally considered to be the actress’ most memorable and identifiable role. But it would be Rooney’s performance as the apartment superintendent, I.Y. Yunioshi that would cause a great deal of controversy. Rooney wore makeup and a prosthetic mouthpiece to change his features into a Japanese person, leading to a huge backlash among the Asian-American community.
2. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) – Rooney would rejoin Spencer Tracy along with an all-star cast in this Stanley Kramer comedy about the madcap pursuit of $350,000 in stolen cash by a diverse and colorful group of strangers. The American Film institute has named the movie as one of the greatest American comedy films ever made.
1. The Black Stallion (1979) – After years of steady work on various TV shows and movies, Rooney would find his greatest success as retired jockey Henry Dailey in this story about a boy who is shipwrecked on a desert island, together with a wild Arabian stallion whom he befriends. After being rescued, they are set on entering a race challenging two champion horses. He would reprise his role in a sequel and a weekly TV series.
Rooney had 3 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Motion Pictures, Television and Radio. In 1944, he enlisted in the United States Army, where he helped entertain the troops in America and Europe, and spent part of the time as a radio personality on the American Forces Network. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for entertaining troops in combat zones. In addition, Rooney also received the Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and World War II Victory Medal for his military service. He was a life-long member of the American Legion.
Mickey Rooney truly lived a remarkable life.