Mickey Rooney (born Joseph Yule, Jr.; September 23, 1920 - April 6, 2014) was an American actor of film, television, Broadway, radio, and vaudeville. Beginning as a child actor, his career extended over 90 years, making him one of the most enduring performers in show business history. He appeared in more than 300 films and was one of the last surviving stars of the silent film era, having one of the longest careers in the medium's history.
At the height of a career that was marked by precipitous declines and raging comebacks, he played the role of Andy Hardy in a series of fifteen films in the 1930s and 1940s that epitomized American family values. A prolific talent, he became a noted character actor later in his career, and could sing, dance, clown and play various musical instruments. Laurence Olivier once said he considered Rooney "the greatest actor of them all", and Clarence Brown, who directed him in two of his earliest dramatic roles, National Velvet and The Human Comedy, said he was "the closest thing to a genius I ever worked with."
Rooney first performed in vaudeville as a child and made his film debut at age six. At age thirteen he played the role Puck in the play and later the film, A Midsummer Night's Dream in an acclaimed performance, which critic David Thomson praised as "one of cinema's most arresting pieces of magic." He co-starred in Boys Town (1938) with Spencer Tracy, who won an Oscar for his role. At nineteen he was the first teenager to be nominated for an Oscar, for his leading role in Babes in Arms, co-starring Judy Garland, and was awarded a special Juvenile Academy Award in 1939. Overall, between the age of 15 and 25, while at his peak, he made forty-three pictures and co-starred alongside leading actors, including Judy Garland, Wallace Beery, Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor. Rooney developed into one of MGM's most consistently successful actors, and a favorite of studio head, Louis B. Mayer.
He was the top box office attraction of 1939, but his career never rose to such heights again. He was drafted into the Army during World War II, serving nearly two years entertaining over 2 million troops on stage and on the radio. He was awarded a Bronze Star for performing in combat zones. After he returned from the war in 1945, too old for juvenile roles but too short to be a movie star, he was not able to obtain acting roles as significant as before. Nevertheless, Rooney was tenacious and he rebounded, his popularity renewed with well-received supporting roles in films such as Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and The Black Stallion (1979), for which he was Oscar nominated. In the early 1980s he returned to Broadway in Sugar Babies and once more was a celebrated star. He also made hundreds of appearances on TV, including dramas, variety programs and talk shows. During his career, he received four Academy Award nominations and was nominated for five Emmy Awards, winning one.
Rooney's personal life was as tumultuous as his career. He struggled with alcohol and pill addiction, and was married eight times, the first time to actress Ava Gardner. Despite earning millions during his career, he had to file for bankruptcy in 1962 due to mismanagement of his finances. Shortly before his death in 2014 at age 93, he alleged mistreatment by some family members, and testified in Congress about what he alleged was physical abuse and exploitation by family members. By the end of his life, his millions in earnings had dwindled to an estate that was valued at only $18,000, and he died owing back taxes and medical bills, with contributions solicited from the public.
Rooney was born Joseph Yule, Jr. in Brooklyn, New York, on September 23, 1920, the only child of vaudevillians Joe Yule (born Ninian Joseph Ewell; a native of Glasgow, Scotland) and Nellie W. Carter, a native of Kansas City, Missouri. At the time of their son's birth, they were appearing in a Brooklyn production of A Gaiety Girl. Rooney later recounted in his memoirs that he began performing at the age of 17 months as part of his parents' routine, wearing a specially tailored tuxedo. According to another account, he first appeared before audiences at 15 months in his parents' vaudeville act, "singing 'Pal o' My Cradle Days' while sporting a tuxedo and holding a rubber cigar."
While Joe Sr. was traveling, Joe Jr. and his mother moved from Brooklyn to Kansas City to live with his aunt. While his mother was reading the entertainment newspaper, Nellie was interested in getting Hal Roach to approach her son to participate in the Our Gang series in Hollywood. Roach offered $5 a day to Joe, Jr., while the other young stars were paid five times more. As he was getting bit parts in films, he began working with established film stars such as Joel McCrea, Colleen Moore, Clark Gable, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Jean Harlow. While selling newspapers around the corner, he enrolled in the Hollywood Professional School and later attended Hollywood High School, from which he graduated in 1938.
The Yules separated in 1924 during a slump in vaudeville, and in 1925, Nell Yule moved with her son to Hollywood, where she managed a tourist home. Joe Yule Jr.'s very first film appearance came in 1926, when he was in the short subject Not to be Trusted, but his breakthrough film role came a year later.
Fontaine Fox had placed 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, Mrs. Yule took her son to the audition after applying burnt cork to his scalp. Joe got the role and became "Mickey" for 78 of the comedies, running from 1927 to 1936, starting with Mickey's Circus, his first starring role, released September 4, 1927. The film was long believed lost, but was recently found in the Netherlands. The Mickey McGuire films were adapted from the Toonerville Trolley comic strip, which contained a character named Mickey McGuire. Joe Yule briefly became Mickey McGuire legally in order to trump an attempted copyright lawsuit (if it was his legal name, the film producer Larry Darmour did not owe the comic strip writers royalties). His mother also changed her surname to McGuire in an attempt to bolster the argument, but the film producers lost. The litigation settlement awarded damages to the owners of the cartoon character, compelling the twelve-year-old actor to refrain from calling himself Mickey McGuire on- and offscreen.
Rooney later claimed that, during his Mickey McGuire days, he met cartoonist Walt Disney at the Warner Brothers studio, and that Disney was inspired to name Mickey Mouse after him, although Disney always said that he had changed the name from "Mortimer Mouse" to "Mickey Mouse" on the suggestion of his wife.
During an interruption in the series in 1932, Mrs. Yule made plans to take her son on a ten-week vaudeville tour as McGuire, and Fox sued successfully to stop him from using the name. Mrs. Yule suggested the stage name of Mickey Looney for her comedian son, which he altered slightly to Rooney, a less frivolous version, which also did not infringe upon the copyright of Warner Brothers´ animation series called Looney Tunes. Rooney made other films in his adolescence, including several more of the McGuire films, and signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1934. MGM cast Rooney 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, Boys' Town and Hollywood stardom:
In 1937, Rooney was selected to portray Andy Hardy in A Family Affair, which MGM had planned as a B-movie. Rooney provided comic relief as the son of Judge James K. Hardy, portrayed by Lionel Barrymore (although Lewis Stone would play the role of Judge Hardy in subsequent films). The film was an unexpected success, and led to 13 more Andy Hardy films between 1937 and 1946, and a final film in 1958.
According to author Barry Monush, MGM wanted the Andy Hardy films to appeal to all family members. Rooney's character would portray a typical "anxious, hyperactive, girl-crazy teenager," and he soon became the unintended main star of the films. Although some critics describe the series of films as "sweet, overly idealized, and pretty much interchangeable," their ultimate success was because they gave viewers a "comforting portrait of small-town America that seemed suited for the times," with Rooney instilling "a lasting image of what every parent wished their teen could be like."
Behind the scenes, however, Rooney was in fact very much the "hyperactive girl-crazy teenager" he portrayed. MGM head, Louis B. Mayer, who became like a father to Rooney during this period, found it necessary to manage his public image, explains historian Jane Ellen Wayne:
Mayer naturally tried to keep all his child actors in line, like any father figure. After one such episode, Mickey Rooney replied, "I won't do it. You're asking the impossible." Mayer then grabbed young Rooney by his lapels and said, "Listen to me! I don't care what you do in private. Just don't do it in public. In public, behave. Your fans expect it. You're Andy Hardy! You're the United States! You're the Stars and Stripes. Behave yourself! You're a symbol!" Mickey nodded. "I'll be good, Mr. Mayer. I promise you that." Mayer let go of his lapels, "All right," he said.
In hindsight, 50 years later, Rooney saw these early confrontations with Mayer as necessary to his developing into a leading film star: "Everybody butted heads with him, but he listened and you listened. And then you'd come to an agreement you could both live with. . . . He visited the sets, he gave people talks . . . What he wanted was something that was American, presented in a cosmopolitan manner."
In 1937, Rooney made his first film alongside Judy Garland with Thoroughbreds Don't Cry. Garland and Rooney became close friends as they co-starred in future films and became a successful song-and-dance team. Audiences delighted in seeing the "playful interactions between the two stars showcase a wonderful chemistry." Along with three of the Andy Hardy films, where she portrayed a girl with a crush on Andy, they appeared together in a string of successful musicals, including the Oscar-nominated Babes in Arms (1939). During an interview in the 1992 documentary film MGM: When the Lion Roars, Rooney describes their friendship:
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.
In 1937, Rooney also received top billing as Shockey Carter in Hoosier Schoolboy. Rooney's breakthrough-role as a dramatic actor came in 1938's Boys Town opposite Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan, who runs a home for wayward and homeless boys in Omaha, Nebraska, and helps the boys get their lives back together. Rooney was awarded a special Juvenile Academy Award in 1939 and Tracy won the Oscar for Best Actor. Wayne describes one of the "most famous scenes" in the film, where tough young Rooney is playing poker with a cigarette in his mouth, his hat is cocked and his feet are up on the table. "Tracy grabs him by the lapels, throws the cigarette away and pushes him into a chair. 'That's better,' he tells Mickey."
The popularity of his films made Rooney the biggest box-office draw in 1939, 1940 and 1941. For their roles in Boys Town, Rooney and Tracy won first and second place in the Motion Picture Herald 1940 National Poll of Exhibitors, based on the box office appeal of 200 players. Boys' Life magazine wrote, "Congratulations to Messrs. Rooney and Tracy! Also to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer we extend a hearty thanks for their very considerable part in this outstanding achievement." Actor Laurence Olivier once called Rooney "the greatest actor of them all.". In 1939, he was the first of many Hollywood stars to appear in animated version in the Donald Duck cartoon The Autograph Hound.
A major star in the early 1940s, he appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1940, timed to coincide with the release of Young Tom Edison; the cover story began:
Hollywood's No. 1 box office bait in 1939 was not Clark Gable, Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power, but a rope-haired, kazoo-voiced kid with a comic-strip face, who until this week had never appeared in a picture without mugging or overacting it. His name (assumed) was Mickey Rooney, and to a large part of the more articulate U.S. cinema audience, his name was becoming a frequently used synonym for brat.
During his long career, Rooney also worked with many of the silver screen's greatest leading ladies, including Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet (1944) and Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)." Rooney's "bumptiousness and boyish charm" as an actor would develop more "smoothness and polish" over the years, writes biographer Scott Eyman. The fact that Rooney fully enjoyed his life as an actor played a large role in those changes:
You weren't going to work, you were going to have fun. It was home, everybody was cohesive; it was family. One year I made nine pictures; I had to go from one set to another. It was like I was on a conveyor belt. You did not read a script and say, "I guess I'll do it." You did it. They had people that knew the kind of stories that were suited to you. It was a conveyor belt that made motion pictures.
Clarence Brown, who directed Rooney in his Oscar-nominated performance in The Human Comedy (1943) and again in National Velvet (1944), enjoyed working with Rooney in films:
Mickey Rooney is the closest thing to a genius that I ever worked with. There was Chaplin, then there was Rooney. The little bastard could do no wrong in my book . . . All you had to do with him was rehearse it once.
In 1991, Rooney was honored by the Young Artist Foundation with its Former Child Star "Lifetime Achievement" Award recognizing his achievements within the film industry as a child actor. After presenting the award to Rooney, the foundation subsequently renamed the accolade "The Mickey Rooney Award" in his honor.
World War II and career decline:
In 1944, Rooney enlisted in the United States Army. He served more than 21 months, until shortly after the end of World War II. During and after the war he helped entertain the troops in America and Europe, and spent part of the time as a radio personality on the American Forces Network and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for entertaining troops in combat zones. In addition to the Bronze Star Medal, 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.
After his return to civilian life, his career slumped. Now an adult with a height of only 5' 2", he could no longer play the role of a teenager yet lacked the stature of most leading men. He appeared in a number of films, including Words and Music in 1948, which paired him for the last time with Garland on film (he appeared with her on one episode as a guest on her CBS variety series in 1963). He briefly starred in a CBS radio series, Shorty Bell, in the summer of 1948, and reprised his role as "Andy Hardy", with most of the original cast, in a syndicated radio version of The Hardy Family in 1949 and 1950 (repeated on Mutual during 1952).
His first television series, The Mickey Rooney Show: Hey, Mulligan (created by Blake Edwards with Rooney as his own producer), appeared on NBC television for 32 episodes between August 28, 1954 and June 4, 1955. In 1951, he directed a feature film for Columbia Pictures, My True Story starring Helen Walker. Rooney also starred as a ragingly egomaniacal television comedian, loosely based on Red Buttons, in the live 90-minute television drama The Comedian, in the Playhouse 90 series on the evening of Valentine's Day in 1957, and as himself in a revue called The Musical Revue of 1959 based on the 1929 film The Hollywood Revue of 1929, which was edited into a film in 1960, by British International Pictures.
In 1958, Rooney joined Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra in hosting an episode of NBC's short-lived Club Oasis comedy and variety show. In 1960, Rooney directed and starred in The Private Lives of Adam and Eve, an ambitious comedy known for its multiple flashbacks and many cameos. In the 1960s, Rooney returned to theatrical entertainment. He still accepted film roles in undistinguished films, but occasionally would appear in better works, such as Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and The Black Stallion (1979).
He portrayed a Japanese character, Mr. Yunioshi, in the 1961 film version of Truman Capote's novella Breakfast at Tiffany's. His performance was criticized in subsequent years later as being stereotyping and offensive. In 2008, after defending his performance for many years, Rooney said that if he had known he was going to offend people he wouldn't have done it.
On December 31, 1961, he appeared on television's What's My Line and mentioned that he had already started enrolling students in the MRSE (Mickey Rooney School of Entertainment). His school venture never came to fruition. This was a period of professional distress for Rooney; as a childhood friend, director Richard Quine put it: "Let's face it. It wasn't all that easy to find roles for a 5-foot-3 man who'd passed the age of Andy Hardy." In 1962, his debts had forced him into filing for bankruptcy.
In 1966, while Rooney was working on the film Ambush Bay in the Philippines, his wife Barbara Ann Thomason (akas: Tara Thomas, Carolyn Mitchell), a former pinup model and aspiring actress who had won 17 straight beauty contests in Southern California, was found dead in their bed. Beside her was her lover, Milos Milos, an actor friend of Rooney's. Detectives ruled it murder-suicide, which was committed with Rooney's own gun.
Rooney was awarded an Academy Juvenile Award in 1938, and in 1983 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted him their Academy Honorary Award for his lifetime of achievement. He was mentioned in the 1972 song "Celluloid Heroes" by The Kinks: "If you stomped on Mickey Rooney/ He'd still turn 'round and smile..."
Character roles and Broadway comeback:
In addition to his movie roles, Rooney made numerous guest-starring roles as a television character actor for nearly six decades, beginning with an episode of Celanese Theatre. The part led to other roles on such television series as Schlitz Playhouse, Playhouse 90, Producers' Showcase, Alcoa Theatre, Wagon Train, General Electric Theater, Hennesey, The Dick Powell Theatre, Arrest and Trial, Burke's Law, Combat!, The Fugitive, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, The Jean Arthur Show, The Name of the Game, Dan August, Night Gallery, The Love Boat, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, among many others.
In 1961, he guest-starred in the 13-week James Franciscus adventure-drama CBS television series The Investigators. In 1962, he was cast as himself in the episode "The Top Banana" of the CBS sitcom, Pete and Gladys, starring Harry Morgan and Cara Williams.
In 1963, he entered CBS's The Twilight Zone, giving a one-man performance in the episode "The Last Night of a Jockey". Also in 1963, in 'The Hunt' episode 9, season 1 for Suspense Theater, he played the sadistic sheriff hunting the young surfer played by James Caan. In 1964, he launched another half-hour sitcom, Mickey, on ABC. The story line had "Mickey" operating a resort hotel in southern California. His own son Tim Rooney appeared as his character's teenage son on this program, and Emmaline Henry starred as Rooney's wife. The program lasted for 17 episodes, ending primarily due to the suicide of co-star Sammee Tong in October 1964.
Rooney garnered a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award for his role in 1981's Bill. Playing opposite Dennis Quaid, Rooney's character was a mentally handicapped man attempting to live on his own after leaving an institution. His acting quality in the film has been favorably compared to other actors who took on roles, including Sean Penn, Dustin Hoffman and Tom Hanks. He reprised his role in 1983's Bill: On His Own, earning an Emmy nomination for the turn.
Rooney did voice acting from time to time. He provided the voices for four Christmas TV animated/stop action 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)--always playing Santa Claus. In 1995, he appeared as himself on The Simpsons episode Radioactive Man.
After starring in one unsuccessful TV series and turning down an offer for a huge TV series, Rooney finally hit the jackpot, at 70, when he was offered a starring role on the Family Channel's The Adventures of the Black Stallion, where he reprised his role as Henry Dailey in the film of the same name, eleven years earlier. The show was based on a novel by Walter Farley. For this role, he had to travel to Vancouver. The show became an immediate hit with teenagers, young adults and people all over the world, being seen in 70 countries.
Rooney appeared in television commercials for Garden State Life Insurance Company in 1999, alongside his wife Jan Rooney. In commercials shown in 2007, he can be seen in the background washing imaginary dishes.
A major turning point came in 1979, when Rooney made his Broadway debut in the acclaimed stage play Sugar Babies, a musical revue tribute to the burlesque era costarring former MGM dancing star Ann Miller. Aljean Harmetz noted that "Mr. Rooney fought over every skit and argued over every song and almost always got things done his way. The show opened on Broadway on October 8, 1979, to rapturous reviews, and this time he did not throw success away. The show turned out to be a spectacular hit," and Rooney and Miller performed the show 1,208 times in New York and then toured with it for five years, including eight months in London. Co-star Miller recalls that Rooney "never missed a performance or a chance to ad-lib or read the lines the same way twice, if he even stuck to the script." Biographer Alvin Marill states that "at 59, Mickey Rooney was reincarnated as a baggy-pants comedian--back as a top banana in show biz in his belated Broadway debut."
Following this, he toured as Pseudelous in Stephen Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. In the 1990s, he returned to Broadway for the final months of Will Rogers Follies, playing the ghost of Will's father. On television, he starred in the short-lived sitcom, One of the Boys, along with two unfamiliar young stars, Dana Carvey and Nathan Lane, in 1982.
He toured Canada in a dinner theatre production of The Mind with the Naughty Man in the mid-1990s. He played The Wizard in a stage production of The Wizard of Oz with Eartha Kitt at Madison Square Garden. Kitt was later replaced by Jo Anne Worley. In 1995 he starred with Charlton Heston, Peter Graves and Deborah Winters in the Warren Chaney docudrama America: A Call to Greatness. He also appeared in the documentaries That's Entertainment! and That's Entertainment! III, in both films introducing segments paying tribute to Judy Garland.
Rooney wrote a memoir titled Life is Too Short, published by Villard Books in 1991. A Library Journal review said that "From title to the last line, `I'll have a short bier,' Rooney's self-deprecating humor powers this book." He also wrote a novel about a child star, published in 1994, The Search For Sunny Skies.
Despite his advancing age, Rooney continued to work. In 2003, he and his wife began their association with Rainbow Puppet Productions, providing their voices to the 100th Anniversary production of Toyland!, an adaptation of Victor Herbert's Babes in Toyland. He created the voice for the Master Toymaker while Jan provided the voice for Mother Goose. From that time on until his death, they both created voices for additional Rainbow Puppet Productions including Pirate Party, which also features vocal performances by Carol Channing.
In 2006 Rooney played the character "Gus" in Night at the Museum, a blockbuster hit movie comedy starring Ben Stiller and Robin Williams. He then returned to play the role again in the sequel Night at the Museum 2 in 2009.
On May 26, 2007, he was grand marshal at the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival. Rooney made his British pantomime debut, playing Baron Hardup in Cinderella, at the Sunderland Empire Theatre over the 2007 Christmas period, a role he reprised at Bristol Hippodrome in 2008 and at the Milton Keynes theatre in 2009.
In 2008, Rooney starred as Chief, a wise old ranch owner, in the independent family feature film Lost Stallions: The Journey Home, marking a return to starring in equestrian-themed productions for the first time since the 1990s TV show Adventures of the Black Stallion. Even though they acted together before, Lost Stallions: The Journey Home was the sole film in which Rooney and Jan portrayed a married couple on screen.
In December 2009, he appeared as a guest at a dinner-party hosted by David Gest on Come Dine With Me. During 2009 he was involved in a proposed reality TV show, which was shelved.
In 2011, Rooney made a brief cameo appearance in The Muppets, working with his son, choreographer Michael Rooney. In the same year he appeared in an episode of Celebrity Ghost Stories, recounting how, during a down period in his career, his deceased father appeared to him one night, telling him not to give up on his career. He claimed that the experience bolstered his resolve and soon afterwards his career experienced a resurgence. In 2014, Rooney returned to film scenes to reprise his role as "Gus" in Night at the Museum 3.
Rooney was married eight times. In the 1950s and 1960s, he was often the subject of comedians' jokes for his alleged inability to stay married. At the time of his death, he was married to Jan Chamberlin, although they had separated in June 2012. He had a total of nine children, as well as 19 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.
In 1942, he married Hollywood starlet Ava Gardner, but the two were divorced in 1943, well before she became a star in her own right. While stationed in the military in Alabama in 1944, Rooney met and married local beauty-queen Betty Jane Phillips. He had two sons with Betty Jane. This marriage ended in divorce after he returned from Europe at the end of World War II.
His subsequent marriages to Martha Vickers (1949) and Elaine Mahnken (1952) were also short-lived and ended in divorce.
In 1958, Rooney married Barbara Ann Thomason (stage name Carolyn Mitchell), but tragedy struck when she was murdered in 1966. Falling into deep depression, he married Barbara's friend, Marge Lane, who helped him take care of his young children. The marriage lasted only 100 days.
He was married to Carolyn Hockett from 1969 to 1974, but financial instability ended the relationship. Finally, in 1978, Rooney married Jan Chamberlin, his eighth wife; the union would endure for over 35 years, longer than all of Mickey's previous marriages combined. They both were outspoken advocates for veterans and animal rights.
After the deaths of his wife Barbara Ann Thomason and his mother, problems with alcohol and drugs, and various financial problems that included a bankruptcy, Rooney claims to have seen an angel in a casino coffee shop who told him that Jesus loves him very much. In 1975, Rooney was an active member of the Church of Religious Science, a New Thought group founded by Ernest Holmes.
Rooney's eldest child, Mickey Rooney, Jr., is a born-again Christian, and has an evangelical ministry in Hemet, California. He and several of Rooney's other eight children have worked at various times in show business. One of them, actor Tim Rooney, died in 2006, aged 59.
On September 23, 2010, he celebrated his 90th birthday at Feinstein's at Loews Regency on the Upper East Side of New York City. Among those who attended the fete were Donald Trump, Regis Philbin, Nathan Lane and Tony Bennett.
On February 16, 2011, Rooney was granted a temporary restraining order against Christopher Aber, one of Jan Rooney's two sons from a previous marriage. Rooney's attorneys alleged that Aber "threatens, intimidates, bullies and harasses Mickey" and refused to reveal the actor's finances to him, "other than to tell him that he is broke." On March 2, 2011 Rooney appeared before a special U.S. Senate committee that was considering legislation to curb elder abuse, testifying about the abuse he said to have suffered at the hands of family members. On March 27, 2011, all of Rooney's finances were permanently handed over to a conservator, who called Rooney "completely competent." In April 2011, the temporary restraining order that Rooney was previously granted was replaced by a confidential settlement between Rooney and his stepson. Christopher Aber and Jan Rooney have denied all the allegations, and after Rooney's death, Aber contended that Rooney was abusive to his wife and addicted to sleeping pills. Rooney was arrested for beating his wife in February, 1997, although prosecutors decided not to file battery charges against him.
In May 2013, Rooney sold his home of many years, and split the proceeds with Jan Rooney.
Betty Jane Rase (née Phillips)
Mickey Rooney, Jr. (Joseph Yule III) (born July 3, 1945)
Tim Rooney (Timothy Hayes Yule)(January 4, 1947 - September 23, 2006)
Theodore Michael Rooney (born April 13, 1950)
Barbara Ann Thomason,
(a.k.a.: Tara Thomas, Carolyn Mitchell)
Kelly Ann Rooney (born September 13, 1959)
Kerry Yule Rooney (born December 30, 1960)
Michael Joseph Rooney (born April 2, 1962)
Kimmy Sue Rooney (born September 13, 1963)
Jimmy Rooney (adopted from Carolyn's previous marriage) (born in 1966)
Jonelle Rooney (born January 11, 1970)
1978-2014 (Separated June 2012)
Rooney died in his sleep from natural causes at his son Mark Rooney's home in Los Angeles, California on April 6, 2014 at the age of 93. He had gone for a nap after lunch, and family members called 911 when they sought to wake him and his breathing seemed labored. He was declared dead at 4 p.m. Rooney was survived by his wife of 37 years, Jan Chamberlain, from whom he was separated, as well as eight surviving children, two stepchildren, nineteen grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.
Rooney signed his will several weeks prior to his death and instructed his lawyer, rather than family, to manage his estate. Rooney's lawyer explained that the intention was to purchase a burial plot, but Rooney was unable to afford the price. Rooney's estate had dwindled to US$18,000, which was left to a stepson, and he was estranged from most of his nine children. His wife, Jan Rooney, will be eligible for Rooney's social security benefits and some of his pension earnings in accordance with a previous agreement. At the time of his death, Rooney owed back taxes to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and California Franchise Tax Board. In a statement on Rooney's personal website shortly after his death, his talent agents, CMG Worldwide, said that Rooney also owed money for outstanding medical bills as well as tax bills, and that contributions from the public were being accepted, with proceeds "donated to help assist with the debts and expenses of Mickey's estate."
After his death, family members feuded over his burial, and a court hearing on the matter had been scheduled for April 11. On April 10, family members resolved their dispute, and decided he would be buried at Hollywood Forever Cemetery alongside other screen stars. Rooney's conservator and Jan Rooney agreed to collaborate on a small funeral for family members, which Christopher and Christina Aber, whom Rooney had accused of abuse, will not be permitted to attend. The settlement headed off a potentially expensive lawsuit. His lawyer said that "Mickey had enough lawsuits in life for 10 people; the last thing he needs is for one over where he'll be buried." One group of family members and friends of the family, including Mickey Rourke, held a memorial service on April 18. A private funeral, organized by another set of family members, was held at the cemetery on April 19. His eight surviving children said in a statement that they were barred from seeing Rooney during his final years. His estate's executor was in talks with film studio executives about a public memorial service. Jan Rooney has indicated that she will contest the will, which was signed a few weeks before his death.
Rooney was one of the last surviving actors of the silent picture era. His movie career spanned 88 years, from 1926 to 2014. During his peak years from the late 1930s to the early 1940s, Rooney was among the top box-office stars in the United States. He co-starred with other leading actors of the time, including Judy Garland, Wallace Beery and Spencer Tracy. Between the age of 15 and 25 he made forty-three pictures. Among those, his role as Andy Hardy became one of "Hollywood's best-loved characters," with Marlon Brando calling him "the best actor in films." For his acting the part in fifteen Andy Hardy films, he received an honorary Oscar in 1938 for "bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth" and for "setting a high standard of ability and achievement."
Rooney became an MGM standard, a success vehicle noted for his ability to act, sing, dance, clown, and play various musical instruments, most of which he did with apparent ease and raw talent. "There was nothing he couldn't do," said actress Margaret O'Brien. MGM boss Louis B. Mayer treated him like a son and saw in Rooney "the embodiment of the amiable American boy who stands for family, humbug, and sentiment," writes critic and author, David Thomson. By the time Rooney was 20, his consistent portrayals of characters with youth and energy suggested that his future success was unlimited. Thomson also explains that Rooney's characters were able to cover a wide range of emotional types, and gives three examples where "Rooney is not just an actor of genius, but an artist able to maintain a stylized commentary on the demon impulse of the small, belligerent man:"
Rooney's Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935) is truly inhuman, one of cinema's most arresting pieces of magic. . . . His toughie in Boys Town (1938) struts and bullies like something out of a nightmare and then comes clean in a grotesque but utterly frank outburst of sentimentality in which he aspires to the boy community. . . . His role as Baby Face Nelson (1957), the manic, destructive response of the runt against a pig society.
By the end of the 1940s, his movie characters were no longer in demand and his career went downhill. "In 1938," he said, "I starred in eight pictures. In 1948 and 1949 together, I starred in only three." However, film historian Jeanine Basinger notes that although his career "reached the heights and plunged to the depths, Rooney kept on working and growing, the mark of a professional." Some of the films which reinvigorated his popularity, were Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and The Black Stallion (1979). In the early 1980s, he returned to Broadway in Sugar Babies, and "found himself once more back on top."
In an appreciation published after his death, The New Yorker's movie critic Richard Brody said of Rooney: "His live-wire expressiveness spoke of the can-do, will-do spirit that may have encouraged Depression-weary audiences with a dose of practical optimism, but the enforced razzle-dazzle showed only one side of his persona (and perhaps warped his personality). Rooney, in his more matter-of-fact (if less heralded) performances, holds the screen with a seemingly effortless intensity." Rooney, he said, was "a real movie star, whom the camera loved. To glance at him onscreen was to wonder what he was thinking, what he was feeling, what he'd do next--above all, to have the sense that he was running on bigger, wilder, stranger currents." Like any real star, "his greatest role was always himself; no matter how extreme or how contained his performance, he was always bigger than any role he took."
Basinger tries to encapsulate Rooney's career:
Rooney's abundant talent, like his film image, might seem like a metaphor for America: a seemingly endless supply of natural resources that could never dry up, but which, it turned out, could be ruined by excessive use and abuse, by arrogance or power, and which had to be carefully tended to be returned to full capacity. From child star to character actor, from movie shorts to television specials, and from films to Broadway, Rooney ultimately did prove he could do it all, do it well, and keep on doing it. His is a unique career, both for its versatility and its longevity.
This is a selected list of Rooney's full-length films, both theatrical and made for television.
Orchids and Ermine
The Beast of the City
Sin's Pay Day
My Pal, the King
The Big Cage
The Life of Jimmy Dolan
The Big Chance
Broadway to Hollywood
The World Changes
The Lost Jungle
I Like It That Way
Half a Sinner
Death on the Diamond
The County Chairman
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Little Lord Fauntleroy
Down the Stretch
The Devil is a Sissy
A Family Affair
Live, Love and Learn
Thoroughbreds Don't Cry
You're Only Young Once
Love Is a Headache
Judge Hardy's Children
Hold That Kiss
Love Finds Andy Hardy
Out West with the Hardys
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Hardys Ride High
Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever
Babes in Arms
Judge Hardy and Son
Young Tom Edison
Andy Hardy Meets Debutante
Strike Up the Band
Andy Hardy's Private Secretary
Men of Boys Town
Life Begins for Andy Hardy
Babes on Broadway
The Courtship of Andy Hardy
A Yank at Eton
Andy Hardy's Double Life
The Human Comedy
Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble
Love Laughs at Andy Hardy
Words and Music
The Big Wheel
He's a Cockeyed Wonder
My Outlaw Brother
A Slight Case of Larceny
Drive a Crooked Road
The Atomic Kid
The Bridges at Toko-Ri
The Twinkle in God's Eye
The Bold and the Brave
Francis in the Haunted House
Operation Mad Ball
Baby Face Nelson
A Nice Little Bank That Should Be Robbed
Andy Hardy Comes Home
The Big Operator
The Last Mile
Platinum High School
The Private Lives of Adam and Eve
King of the Roaring 20's - The Story of Arnold Rothstein
Breakfast at Tiffany's
Requiem for a Heavyweight
It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
The Secret Invasion
Twenty-Four Hours to Kill
How to Stuff a Wild Bikini
The Devil In Love
The Extraordinary Seaman
80 Steps to Jonah
Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County
Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town - Kris Kringle\Santa Claus (voice)
Mooch Goes to Hollywood
Evil Roy Slade
Journey Back to Oz - Scarecrow (voice)
The Year Without a Santa Claus - Santa Claus (voice)
Ace of Hearts
From Hong Kong with Love
Find the Lady
The Domino Principle
Pete's Dragon - Lampie
The Magic of Lassie
The Black Stallion
Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July - Santa Claus (voice)
The Fox and the Hound - Adult Todd (voice)
The Emperor of Peru/Odyssey of the Pacific
Bill: On His Own
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear
The Care Bears Movie (voice)
Lightning, the White Stallion
Erik the Viking
Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (voice)
Home For Christmas - Elmer
My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys
Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker
Little Nemo: Adventures In Slumberland
The Legend of Wolf Mountain
The Milky Life
The Magic Voyage (voice)
Revenge of the Red Baron
The Outlaws: The Legend of O.B. Taggart
The Gambler Returns: Luck of the Draw - Director
America: A Call to Greatness
The Face on the Barroom Floor
Animals and the Tollkeeper
Michael Kael vs. the World News Company
The Snow Queen (voice)
Sinbad: The Battle of the Dark Knights
Babe: Pig in the City - Fugly Floom
The First of May
Phantom of the Megaplex
Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure - Sparkey (voice)
Topa Topa Bluffs
Strike the Tent
A Christmas Too Many - Grandpa
To Kill a Mockumentary
Night at the Museum - Gus
The Yesterday Pool
Lost Stallions: The Journey Home
A Miser Brothers' Christmas - Santa Claus (voice)
Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian - Gus (deleted scene only)
The Muppets - Elderly Smalltown Resident
Last Will and Embezzlement
Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb - Gus
Not to Be Trusted
Mickey in School
Mickey's Little Eva
Mickey's Wild West
Mickey in Love
Mickey the Detective
Mickey's Big Game Hunt
Mickey's Great Idea
Mickey's Last Chance
Mickey's Brown Derby
Mickey's Northwest Mounted
Mickey's Midnite Follies
Mickey's Big Moment
Mickey's Master Mind
Mickey the Romeo
Mickey's Merry Men
Screen Snapshots Series 9, No. 24
Mickey's Thrill Hunters
Mickey's Helping Hand
Mickey's Busy Day
Mickey's Big Business
Mickey's Golden Rule
Mickey's Ape Man
Mickey's Big Broadcast
Mickey's Tent Show
Mickey's Covered Wagon
Mickey's Medicine Man
Pirate Party on Catalina Isle
Andy Hardy's Dilemma
Meet the Stars #4: Variety Reel #2
Show Business at War
Screen Snapshots: Out of This World Series
Screen Snapshots: Mickey Rooney - Then and Now
Screen Snapshots: Glamorous Hollywood
Just One More Time
The Lion Roars Again
Wreck the Halls
Rooney made countless appearances in TV sitcoms and television films. He also lent his voice to many animation films. Only his most important work is listed in this section.
The Mickey Rooney Show: Hey, Mulligan
Lead role (33 episodes)
"The Comedian"; lead role
Samuel T. Evans
The Twilight Zone
"The Last Night of a Jockey"; lead role
Lead role (17 episodes)
Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color
"Donovan's Kid" parts 1 & 2
Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color
Episode: "Little Spies"
The Golden Girls
Episode: "Larceny and Old Lace"
The Adventures of the Black Stallion
Main role (78 episodes)
Murder, She Wrote
Episode: "Arrest Ye Merry Gentlemen "
Episode: "Radioactive Man" (voice only)
Kung Fu: The Legend Continues
Episode: "A Shaolin Treasure"
1934: A Midsummer Night's Dream,
1963: The Tunnel of Love,
1965: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,
1967: The Odd Couple,
1969-70: George M!,
1971: Three Goats and a Blanket,
1971: Hide and Seek,
1971: W.C. (closed on the road),
1972-74: See How They Run,
1973: A Midsummer Night's Dream,
1975: Goodnight Ladies,
1979-82, 1983-88: Sugar Babies,
1983: Show Boat,
1986: The Laugh's On Me,
1987: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,
1989: Two for the Show,
1990: The Sunshine Boys,
1991-93: The Will Rogers Follies,
1993: Lend Me a Tenor,
1994: The Mind with the Naughty Man,
1995: Crazy for You,
1997-99: The Wizard of Oz,
2000: Hollywood Goes Classical,
2003: Singular Sensations,
Awards and honors:
Nominated work / Honor
Academy Juvenile Award
(with Deanna Durbin),
"For their significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth, and as juvenile players setting a high standard of ability and achievement."
Best Actor in a Leading Role
Babes in Arms
Best Actor in a Leading Role
The Human Comedy
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
The Bold and the Brave
Best Single Performance in a Leading or Supporting Role
"The Comedian", episode of Playhouse 90
Top Male Action Star
Baby Face Nelson
Best Single Performance
Hollywood Walk of Fame
Star of Motion Picture
Star at 1718 Vine Street
Star of Television
Star at 6372 Hollywood Boulevard
Star of Radio
Star at 6541 Hollywood Boulevard
Best Single Performance in a Leading or Supporting Role
"Somebody's Waiting", episode of The Dick Powell Show
Top Male Supporting Performance
Requiem for a Heavyweight
Best TV Star - Male
Best Actor in a Supporting Role
The Black Stallion
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical
Drama Desk Award
Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Special
Best Actor in a TV Mini-Series or Motion Picture
Academy Honorary Award
"In recognition of his 50 years of versatility in a variety of memorable film performances."
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Special
Bill: On His Own
Best Performance by an Actor in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role
The Adventures of the Black Stallion
Young Artist Award
Former Child Star Award
For lifetime achievement as a child star,
(Subsequently renamed "The Mickey Rooney Award")
Giffoni Film Festival
François Truffaut Award
Pocono Mountains Film Festival
Lifetime Achievement Award
In 1996, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to him.