Mickey Rooney has been a part of my life ever since I can remember.
It started, naturally, with the movies. The Andy Hardy series. The musicals like “Girl Crazy,” with Judy Garland as his co-star. (“We don’t need a theater, we can put on the show right here in my uncle’s barn. And we can get Xavier Cugat and his orchestra, too!”) “Boys Town.” “Our Vines Had Tender Grapes.” Later, “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” and several other action adventures. For the seven years when he was under contract to MGM, his films made more money than those of any other actor in Hollywood.
Of course, all that big money did NOT go into his pocket. MGM didn’t treat him well, and Mick was rightly bitter about it for the rest of his life.
Never won an Oscar, although he did win an Emmy some time in the 60s for a dramatic role in a one-actor play on TV called “Eddie.” Long before Marlon Brando, Mickey Rooney was the actor who taught every other actor what to do in front of a camera—just by watching him.
I forget how many times Mickey was married. The number “8” sticks in my mind, but who’s counting. One of them was the sexiest woman in Hollywood, the gorgeous Ava Gardner. Mickey was a VERY moral man; his belief was, back in those days, that if he was sexually attracted to a woman, he didn’t seduce her, he married her. But after all the marriage jokes died down, he wedded the true love of his life, and they stayed together for more than forty years.
I first met him when he appeared on a TV game show I was producing,”The Hollywood Squares.” We’d shoot five shows in one evening, with a dinner break in-between, dinner being served in one of the rehearsal rooms for the stars, the crew, the contestants (who were not allowed to talk to the stars), and just about anybody else at NBC Burbank who’d wander by. Mick would get up and entertain us for an entire hour while we ate. Nobody asked him to; he just DID it. And he was always astonishingly FUNNY.
He also appeared a few times on the next TV show I produced,”It Takes Two.” Vin Scully, then and now the radio/TV voice for the L.A.Dodgers, was the host—and Mickey was a HUGE Dodger fan.
A few years later he called me to meet and talk about my writing a film script based on an idea of his, based on the nuclear disaster at Chernobl,in Russia. (Why he wanted me to write the script—I was a COMEDY writer at that time—I have no idea.) When we met, I sat transfixed for 90 minutes while Mickey acted out the ENTIRE film in a mutual friend’s relatively small office. He explained each shot and camera angle he envisioned (he wanted to direct the film as well as playing one of the roles),he fully fleshed-out each character and acted them out with different accents as he was all over the room, standing on a chair, lying on the floor. He even supplied the music (all with his voice). It probably wouldn’t have been a great movie—and he never found anyone to finance it, either—but that long afternoon is one of my best and most exciting memories.
When he was finished with that amazing performance, I told him he’d envisioned a role for himself that was much too small and reminded him that he was one of the “giant talents” in the film industry, and he shrugged and said, “Well—I know my craft.”
In his “golden years” he showed up on several commercials. It saddened me that 90% of the people who watched those commercials hadn’t the foggiest notion of who he was.
His death at the age of 93 shook me up, though I hadn’t seen him in a quarter of a century. I feel badly whenever one of the famous movie personalities passes on (as they, and WE, all must do eventually), but Mickey Rooney was way more than that. We’ll rarely see the like of him again.
Talk about your legends….!!!!