During the Covid-19 hiatus my days have been filled with long-neglected activities; books that I had set aside, re-runs of classic NFL games, re-runs of grand slam golf tournaments, Netflix, the exploration of new recipes, going through my collection of DVD concerts and movies, and exploring the world of youtube.
I was directed by a friend to a youtube production of “Uptown Funk,” the Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson hit that was turned into a “mash-up” with classic musical movies. To see what I mean, go to “Old Movie Stars Dance to Uptown Funk,” on youtube. There are a few mash-up variations of movie musicals, but you cannot beat this one. Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Rita Hayworth, Jimmy Cagney (not just a gangster figure, but a great dancer – just look at him negotiating the stairs in “Yankee Doodle Dandy”), and more; and not the least Mickey Rooney, who, among his many talents, was a great dancer. Just watch “Babe in Arms.” Mickey is one of my Hollywood favourites.
Mickey Rooney was born Ninian Joseph Yule, Jr. in 1920 and lived for 93 years. I wondered why anyone would name his son, “Ninian,” and quickly realized (duh) … his father, Ninian senior.
He got his start in vaudeville, moved into silent movies, and from there his career took off. He did a series of “Mickey McGuire” shorts (which precipitated a name change), and at age 17 he morphed into the “Andy Hardy” series, a total of 16 movies. Three of those featured Judy Garland, and they then paired in musicals including “Babes in Arms,” which showed his versatility. His relationship with Judy Garland was nicely captured in these words, following her passing: “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.” You could feel the love in every scene they shared.
Still a teenager, Mickey again showed his versatility in “Boy’s Town,” a dramatic turn that earned him a special Juvenile Academy Award in 1939. He was in fact, for three years beginning in 1939, Hollywood’s biggest box office draw (move over Clark Gable and others).
Mickey was off to war in 1944, and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his achievements in entertaining troops in the war zone. But, returning to Hollywood, he found that his star had faded. Few major parts were available to him until 1979, when he appeared in “The Black Stallion,” for which he received an Oscar nomination as best supporting actor. Before I leave his film career behind, I should mention that Mickey appeared in more than 300 films. And of his acting talents this was said; by Sir Laurence Olivier, “the greatest actor of them all;” by Marlon Brando, “the best actor in films.” Neither of those gentlemen was a slouch.
With his appeal in Hollywood dimmed, Mickey headed for the stage, starring in “Sugar Babies,” and to television, winning an Emmy and Golden Globe for “Bill.”
At 5 feet 2 inches tall, not that size matters, as evidenced by the small hands of a certain politician, Mickey was a chick magnet (sorry ladies). Mickey was married to Ava Gardner for a whole year, and then had a succession of marriages – seven more, some of relatively short duration – that produced 11 children. Mickey and Ava below. Somehow, you might guess that wouldn’t work.
But you could not help but like the guy.
Mickey Rooney died in 2014. His estate left barely $18,000, Mickey having plowed through millions of dollars. Maybe there is something to be said for timing, or good planning. Live until your money runs out. Although the kids might not be too happy.
Here is Mickey reviving his honorary Academy Award from Bob Hope in 1983.