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Micky Rooney: He Walked With Gods, and Slept With Their Wives

Updated on June 23, 2018
He walked with Gods
He walked with Gods

A Real, Hollywood Legend

Mickey Rooney was a unique, part of Hollywood history. One of a group of performers who started their careers in Silent movies, Rooney saw it all from the beginning. From precocious child star, to stalwart partner of Judy Garland, then at 18 he almost caused a scandal by having an affair with superstar Norma Shearer, 20 years his senior, and at the height of her fame. He was the husband of Ava Gardner, and seven other ladies, top box-office star in America for 2 years, TV star in the 1950s, honorary Oscar winner in 1983, still performing in the 21st century, full of energy and loving every minute of it.

There was a lot more to Micky Rooney than light musicals and frothy comedies. He was a successful author, an accomplished musician and composer, a prolific inventor, and is an avid golfer and sportsman. He was a close friend to Charlie Chaplin, Errol Flynn and James Cagney. He returned to the stage in the 1960s, and made some successful TV movies in the 80s. As well as his honorary Oscar he was nominated twice for Best Actor Oscars, and twice for Best Supporting Actor. With movie appearances stretching from 1926 to 2007, totalling 81 years, his was the longest career in cinema history. A Hollywood legend indeed.

Early Years

Mickey Rooney was born Joe Yule Jnr. on September 23, 1920 in Brooklyn, New York. His parents were both successful vaudevillians and when Joe was 2 weeks old he was taken on tour and he made his first appearance on the stage with them aged only seventeen months.

Moustachioed Rooney in silent aged 4
Moustachioed Rooney in silent aged 4

His parents divorced when he was three and his mother took him to Hollywood a year later to audition him for the 'Our Gang' series headed by Al Roach. They were unsuccessful on that occasion but they returned two years later and this time young Joe was offered his first movie role - as a cigar-smoking midget- in the film 'Not To Be Trusted'. The part was small-in every way- but it opened a door into the world of Hollywood, a door that was never to close.

Joe's next move came in 1926 when, at the age of six, he was cast in the role of the cocky, self-assured tough little kid, Mickey 'Himself' McGuire, a series based on a popular comic strip, "Toonerville Folks." . In all, between 1926 and 1933 he made over 50 two-reel film comedies in the series. After initially legally taking the name of his character—Mickey McGuire—as his own, he changed his name again , at his mother's suggestion, to Mickey Rooney, when the series ended.

As Mickey Maguire
As Mickey Maguire

Juvenile Star

The newly named Mickey then played 'lead character as a boy' roles such as in 'The World Changes' in 1933 and 'Manhattan Melodrama' with Myrna Loy in 1934- which was later made famous when notorious gangster John Dillinger was shot and killed while leaving the theater where he had been watching it.

His work in this film led to his being signed to a long-term contract with MGM and he began landing bit parts in feature films. In 1935 he gave a much-praised performance of Puck in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' which starred James Cagney, Dick Powell and Olivia de Haviland.

Girl Trouble for Andy
Girl Trouble for Andy

A star turn as a good-natured, trouble-prone teen in a B-picture called 'A Family Affair, in 1937, led to a 15 film series spanning 9 years of folksy Andy Hardy pictures that represented MGM head Louis B Mayer's ideal of the United States happy families.  Rooney played the title role, the good-hearted teenage son of a small-town judge and the role made him a household name and shot him to superstardom.

The Andy Hardy movies were cheap to make but had an appealing message. The characters are solidly middle American, the wise and strong father, Judge Hardy, and the affectionate and hardworking  Mrs Hardy, and, of course, young Andy who manages to muddle his way through girl trouble, money and other problems,  and he learns a life lesson in each film.

With Spencer Tracy in Boys Town
With Spencer Tracy in Boys Town
With Judy Garland in Babes in Arms
With Judy Garland in Babes in Arms

Young Superstar

Rooney's stock rose when he gave a riveting performance as a tough punk reformed by Spencer Tracy in Boys Town in 1938 and his fame rose even higher during the following years as he made a  string of successful musicals with Judy Garland, including the Oscar nominated Babes in Arms (1939), Strike Up the Band (1940), Babes on Broadway (1941), and Girl Crazy (1943). and classic films such as ‘National Velvet’ with the young Elizabeth Taylor in 1944.


 Never short in confidence, and seemingly blessed with an endless supply of energy and talent, Rooney was one of the top 10 box office stars from 1938 to 1943, heading the list for 2 years from 1939-1941. He did not know it then, but at the age of 21 Mickey Rooney's career had reached its peak.

Long Fade

Rooney did 21 months military service during World War II and, although making successful radio broadcasts during this time his film career was put on hold. When he tried to restart his career after the war, he found it difficult. Like many child stars, Rooney never quite outgrew his pint-sized kid image. His drawing power as a star had decreased dramatically, and never fully recovered.

 Rooney kept trying, however, and earned a reputation as a fine character actor in such films as 'Quicksand' in 1950 and an especially vicious gangster biopic 'Baby Face Nelson' in 1957.

In the 1960s he began touring nightclubs and theaters again, though he continued in occasional movie roles.  He caricatured himself enjoyably as a movie star with underworld connections in Pulp in 1972, and has since worked steadily in crusty old-timer roles such as in The Black Stallion in 1979. In the same year he somewhat reluctantly went back to the stage in the burlesque production of "Sugar Babies". The production ended up being an outstanding success, and ran for three years on Broadway, and four and a half years on tour.


Up To Date

In 1983, following 60 years as an actor, he received the "Lifetime Achievement" Oscar." Rooney, well into his 80's, was surprisingly active and found himself far more in demand that he was 30 years previously. A year before his death, he was seen to good advantage in the hit 'Night at the Museum' (2006).

During the course of his career, Rooney received two Best Actor and two Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominations, the last of which for his work in 1979's The Black Stallion. He also won a Golden Globe for the 1981 TV movie Bill. In 1983, while undergoing a well-publicized conversion to Christianity, he was awarded a special Lifetime Achievement Oscar "in recognition of his 60 years of versatility in a variety of memorable film performances." Rooney published his autobiography, Life Is Too Short, in 1991.

Mickey Rooney died at his North Hollywood home on April 6th, 2014, after a long illness. He was 93 years young.


Ava, aka wife number 1
Ava, aka wife number 1
Martha Vickers, Wife number 3
Martha Vickers, Wife number 3
1966, Marge Lane, number 6
1966, Marge Lane, number 6

Mickey's Marriages

Rooney admits to a roistering, bacchanalial lifestyle and in his autobiography describes in lurid detail his many sexual conquests. He has had eight wives and cracks that when he says 'I do', the vicar says 'I know.'

He married Hollywood star Ava Gardner on January 10, 1942, but their marriage only lasted 16 months. He married Betty Jane Rase on September 30, 1944, ending in divorce in June 1948 after producing two children, Mickey Rooney Jr. and Timothy Rooney.
Mickey then married to Michigan-born actress Martha Vickers the following year, and had a son named Theodore. They divorced in 1952 and in the same year he married actress Elaine Devry, then actress Carolyn Mitchell (aka. Barbara Ann Thompson) in 1958, and stayed with her until her death in 1966, (she was murdered). The couple had a son, Kyle, and three daughters, Kimmy Sue, Kerry and Kelly Ann.

Mickey then married Marge Lane, a close friend of Carolyn, in 1966. They divorced in 1967 after 100 days of marriage. In 1969, Mickey married Carolyn Hockett, but they divorced in 1974. They have a daughter, Jonelle, and an adopted son, Jimmy. Mickey married his current wife, actress Jan Rooney, on July 28, 1978. He has a stepson named Christopher Aber (born on February 5, 1959). He has been with Jan longer than all his other wives put together.

Mickey and Jan

Comments

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    • jimmyglaughlin profile image

      Jim Laughlin 

      5 years ago from Connecticut

      Boys Town, yep, I remember as a kid watching it on a Sunday afternoon with my Dad.

    • discovery2020 profile image

      WILLIAM EVANS 

      6 years ago from GARLAND, TEXAS

      I sat front row in a dinner theater in Dallas and watched Mickey do a one man show in the 70's. Afterwards, I went up to him and shook hands and we talked. I have long thought that Mickey and Sammy Davis, Jr. and Bobby Darin were the most talented people of all time. I also sat front row in Vegas to see Darin. They could play instruments, dance, sing, act comedy, drama, do impressions and were truly all around performers.

    • profile image

      pat 

      7 years ago

      mickey is one of those people who has seen everything and experienced so much i would love to spend time with him and just let him talk of his past and all the awesome things he could talk about

      i have watched so many of his movies and i alsways was awed by hos talent and energy too bad as he was older that he could not have been again in some type of movies character type he had such talent

      hollywood sometimes don't know what to do with talent in liue of being handsome and beautiful

      i hope he gets on t.v. programs in the future and talks all about his past i am sure everyone will be so interested

      good luck mickey

      let's see more of you

    • profile image

      dennis jaconetta 

      7 years ago

      Who was freddy frank also kown as ok freddy.. Would love a picture or any info about him I know what he is famous for but that is about it. Any info would be appreciated .most of Hollywood new about him. He appeared in my abbott and Costello films as an extra. Is he till alive , where did he live.

      Dennis jaconetta

      Djaconetta@verizon.net

    • profile image

      STEVE 

      8 years ago

      GREAT ACTOR, LIVING LEGEND

      WE LOVE YOU MICKY

    • gunsock profile imageAUTHOR

      gunsock 

      8 years ago from South Coast of England

      Adrianna, you're so lucky to see Micky perform live! Long may he continue.

    • profile image

      Adrianna Lypeckyj 

      8 years ago

      MICKEY ROONEY is truly a Hollywood legend. He is the most talented performer in the history of Hollywood. I'm one of his biggest fans. I'm so happy that I was able to see Mickey Rooney perform with his wife Jan on stage in Manhattan. (I felt like I was on the set of an MGM movie.......brilliant)

      MICKEY ROONEY is the BEST!

    • profile image

      Stephen Craig 

      9 years ago

      I once did Jan's hair while she and Mick were staying at the Grand Casino in Biloxi. A sweet lady.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 

      9 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Mickey Rooney is an exceptionally talented actor who played a wide variety of roles over decades in the movies. Two of my favorites are "Young Tom Edison" (1939) and "The Bridges at Toko-Ri" (1954.) With Elizabeth Taylor in "National Velvet" in 1944, he was superb, as was his very beautiful young co-star. I also enjoyed staying at his Tabas resort hotel some years ago near Dowingtown, Pennsylvania. Always enjoy your hubs, gunsock.

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