Born on September 23, 1920, in Brooklyn, Mickey Rooney made his first stage appearance in his parents' vaudeville act, and in 1937 he played Andy Hardy in the first of 15 films featuring the character. He co-starred with Judy Garland in a successful series of musicals, including Babes in Arms, and was awarded a special juvenile Academy Award in 1938. Rooney continued to work as a character actor into his '90s. Rooney died on April 6, 2014 at the age of 93.
Actor Mickey Rooney was born Joe Yule, Jr. on September 23, 1920, in Brooklyn, New York. Rooney first took the stage as a toddler in his parents' vaudeville act. He made his first film appearance in 1926, playing a little person. The following year, he played the lead character in the first Mickey McGuire short film. It was in this popular film series that he took the stage name Mickey Rooney.
Rooney reached new heights in 1937 with A Family Affair, the film that introduced the country to Andy Hardy, an all-American teenager. This beloved character appeared in nearly 20 films and helped make Rooney the No. 1 actor at the box office. Other films helped to boost the young stars career as well, including Boys Town (1938) and Babes in Arms (1939). In 1938, Rooney received a special miniature Academy Award for his "contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth" for his work on the Andy Hardy film series.
Teaming up with Judy Garland, Rooney also appeared in a string of musicals, including Babes in Arms (1939) and Girl Crazy (1943). He and Garland, who had first worked together in an Andy Hardy movie, became good friends. "We weren't just a team, we were magic," Rooney once said. He also appeared with Elizabeth Taylor in the now-classic National Velvet (1944) around this time.
Challenges and Triumphs
After serving in the military during World War II, Rooney took on a variety of roles. He appeared in such musicals as Summer Holiday (1948) and dramas such as Killer McCoy (1947) and The Big Wheel (1949), but none of these pictures matched his earlier successes on the big screen.
As his cinematic clout seemed to fade, he turned to television. The Mickey Rooney Show only ran from 1954 to 1955, however. Still, the consummate entertainer pressed on, making television guest appearances, performing in nightclubs and landing a few smaller film parts. One of his most notable roles from this time was in the war drama The Bold and the Brave (1956), which showed that he could shine in a serious role.
Rooney also appeared in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), starring Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard. Rooney's bucktoothed portrayal of Hepburn's Japanese neighbor Mr. Yunioshi drew criticism as an offensive racial stereotype. Later in his career, Rooney said he was playing the role for laughs and never intended to offend audiences.
A year later, he took on a dramatic role, playing a boxing trainer in Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962) with Anthony Quinn and Jackie Gleason. Although he experienced a career slump in the late 1960s and 1970s, Rooney showed audiences and critics alike why he was one of Hollywood's most enduring stars. He gave an impressive performance in 1979's The Black Stallion, which brought him an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor. Around this time, Rooney also wowed theater audiences in a revival of Sugar Babies with Ann Miller on Broadway. The pair took the hit show on the road as well.
In 1981, Rooney won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of a mentally challenged man in Bill. The critical acclaim continued in 1982 when Rooney received a honorary Academy Award "in recognition of his 60 years of versatility in a variety of memorable film performances."
Mickey Rooney continued to act into his '90s. He appeared in such films as Night at the Museum (2006) with Ben Stiller, and The Muppets (2011). Outside of performing, he used his distinctive voice to speak out about elder abuse. In 2011, he testified to Congress about the issue.
The actor knew firsthand about the victimization of seniors. Rooney filed suit against his stepson Chris Aber, the son of his eighth wife Jan, claiming that Aber and his wife verbally and financially abused him. The actor stated that the couple misled him about his own finances, they used his funds to cover their expenses and denied him needed food and medicine, among other allegations. In 2013, the suit was settled with a $2.8M judgment in Rooney's favor.
Offscreen, Mickey Rooney was well-known for his rocky love life and multiple marriages. He tied the knot eight times including a brief union with Hollywood beauty Ava Gardner in 1942. The stars were only married for a year and didn’t have children. In 1944, Rooney was married for a second time to beauty queen Betty Jane Rase and the couple had two sons, Mickey Jr. and Timothy. Rooney and Rase divorced in 1949, and just six hours after their split was finalized, he married his third wife actress Martha Vickers. They had one son Theodore.
On the heels of Rooney’s divorce from Vickers, he headed to Las Vegas to marry actress/model Elaine Mahnken Devry. They were married until 1958 and, just hours after their divorce, Rooney tied the knot again, marrying model/actress Barbara Ann Thomason, whom he had four children with – Kelly, Kerry, Michael and Kimmy. Their marriage ended tragically when Thomason’s lover killed her in a murder-suicide. Soon after the tragic event, Rooney married Thomason’s friend Margaret Lane, but the relationship lasted only 100 days. In 1969, he married Carolyn Hockett and they had two children, Jimmy and Jonelle. They divorced in 1975 and three years later Rooney married his eighth and last wife, singer Jan Chamberlin. The couple separated in 2013.
Mickey Rooney, whose career spanned nine decades, died in his Los Angeles home on April 6, 2014 at the age of 93. In his autobiography, Life Is Too Short, he said, “Had I been brighter, the ladies been gentler, the liquor weaker, the gods kinder, the dice hotter -- it might have all ended up in a one-sentence story.”
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