Saturday, April 12, 2014

Mickey Rooney Tribute

(September 23, 1920 – April 6, 2014)

Born Joseph Yule, Jr., but known to movie-goers everywhere as Mickey Rooney, this mercurial talent was praised as one of the best by such luminaries as Cary Grant.  He began his career as a child in vaudeville, that fabled traveling theater form which lasted from the late 19th century through the early 1930s, and made his film debut at age six in the silent film comedy Orchids and Ermine
(1927).  He gained praise for his role of Puck in the acclaimed 1935 version of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.  By the time he played his most famous role, that of the Andy Hardy in a series of popular films starting in 1937's A Family Affair, he had already appeared in numerous projects.  Among them were Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936) and Captains Courageous (1937), both starring child actor Freddie Bartholomew.

Mr. Rooney received his first Academy Award in 1938 for the Best Juvenile Performer, along with singer-actress Deanna Durbin.  The following year he was a competitive nominee for Best Actor for his role in the musical Babes in Arms (1939), which was one of several popular films in which he starred with the extraordinary Judy Garland.  Three additional nominations came for Best Actor in The Human Comedy (1943), Best Supporting Actor in The Bold and the Brave (1956) and Best Supporting Actor in The Black Stallion (1979).  In 1983, he was given an Honorary Award from the Academy "in recognition of his 50 years of versatility in a variety of memorable film performances."  Other accolades included a Golden Globe for Best TV Star - Male for his TV show "Mickey" in 1964 and an Emmy for Outstanding Actor in a Limited Series or Motion Picture for his portrayal of an elderly mentally handicapped man in Bill (1981).

Broadway came calling with a musical revue show called "Sugar Babies" in 1979.  The show was a surprise hit, running for three years and garnering Rooney a Tony Award nomination for Lead Actor in a Musical.  His co-stars included veteran musical star Ann Miller and TV actress Ann Jillian. 

Throughout the next few decades, Mickey Rooney kept on working.  He popped up in voice-overs for animated movies like Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989), the horror sequel Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991) and even a cameo in The Muppets (2011).  He also had major supporting parts in the family film sequel Babe: Pig in the City (1998) and the hit Ben Stiller comedy Night at the Museum (2006), which also starred veteran actor Dick Van Dyke.

Mr. Rooney's personal life was not as graceful as his film career, however.  He was married a total of 8 times, and fathered 8 children (and adopted another son from his sixth wife's previous marriage).  His final, and most lasting marriage was to singer Jan Chamberlin, from whom he was separated in 2012 over allegations of elder abuse.  He testified before a Senate Special Committee on Aging on March 2, 2011. 

Upon his death, a battle over his remains ensued.   Most of his children had been disowned in his will, leaving only his much diminished estate (estimated to worth $18,000) to a stepson.  His wife will receive his social security and some pension payments.  An agreement was reached about plans for a funeral, avoiding a nasty lawsuit.

Fans will remember Mickey Rooney as a tireless legend.  Mr. Rooney's final film, Night at the Museum 3 was released December 19, 2014.