Mickey Rooney

Mickey Rooney, actor, NYC

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Mickey Rooney (born Joseph Yule, Jr. on September 23, 1920), is an American film actor and musician whose career began in 1922 at seventeen months and has continued through 2007.


Rooney was born in Brooklyn, New York to a vaudeville family. His father, Joseph Yule, was from Scotland, and his mother, Nellie W. Carter, was from Kansas City, Missouri. Rooney began performing at the age of seventeen months in 1922.

Entering the movie business in 1926, he made his name as the title character in the Mickey McGuire shorts. These were a series of more than 40 silent, two-reel comedies adapted from the Toonerville Trolley comic strip, in which he starred through 1936. For a time he billed himself as Mickey McGuire, but legally changed his name to Mickey Rooney in 1932. During this period, he met Walt Disney and would later claim Disney had named Mickey Mouse after him, although this seems unlikely since a common story is that Disney originally named the character Mortimer Mouse but changed the name to Mickey Mouse at the request of his wife. It is difficult to verify, and others have made similar claims, but Rooney takes credit for giving rising starlet Norma Jean Mortenson the stage name Marilyn Monroe (his co-star in the 1950 film The Fireball).

In 1934, he signed to MGM and was educated at the studio's School for Professional Children. Rooney's success as Andy Hardy in A Family Affair (1937) led to fourteen further films featuring that character from 1938 to 1958. His first role as the top-billed star in a feature film was as Shockey Carter in Hoosier Schoolboy (1937) with Edward Pawley playing his father. His breakthrough serious role came in 1938's Boys Town opposite Spencer Tracy as Whitey Marsh, which opened shortly before his 18th birthday. His fame peaked in World War II with a string of successful musicals with Judy Garland, including the Oscar nominated Babes in Arms (1939) as well as more serious roles in films such as The Human Comedy (1943) and National Velvet (1944).

In 1944, Rooney entered military service for 21 months during World War II, during which time he was a radio personality on the American Forces Network. After his return to civilian life, his career slumped. He appeared in a number of films, including Words and Music in 1948, which paired him for the last time with Garland on film (he appeared with her on one episode as a guest on her CBS variety series in 1963), and one final Andy Hardy film in the late 1950s. The Mickey Rooney Show, also known as Hey Mulligan, appeared on NBC television for 39 episodes during 1954 and 1955. In 1951, he directed a feature film for Columbia Pictures, My True Story starring Helen Walker.

In 1960, he directed and starred in The Private Lives of Adam and Eve, an ambitious comedy known for its multiple flashbacks and many cameos. In the 1960s, Rooney returned to theatrical entertainment. He still accepted film roles in undistinguished movies, but occasionally would appear in better works, such as Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962) and The Black Stallion (1979). On December 31, 1961, he appeared on television's What's My Line and mentioned that he had already started enrolling students in the MRSE (Mickey Rooney School of Entertainment). His school venture never came to fruition, but for several years he was a spokesman/partner in Pennsylvania's Downingtown Inn, a country club and golf resort.

In 1966, while Mickey was working on a film in the Philippines, his wife Barbara (aka Carolyn Mitchell), who had been a pin-up model and aspiring actress, was found dead in their bed. Beside her was her lover, an actor friend of Rooney's. Detectives ruled it murder-suicide, which was accomplished with Mickey's own gun. Grief-stricken and not in his right frame of mind, Rooney quickly married Barbara's friend, Marge Lane. The union lasted about one hundred days.

He was awarded an Academy Juvenile Award in 1938, and in 1983 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted him their Academy Honorary Award for his lifetime of achievement. Laurence Olivier called Rooney "the single best film actor America ever produced", a sentiment echoed by actor James Mason. Judy Garland stated that Rooney was "the world's greatest talent." As a result of the Andy Hardy series, Rooney was the highest paid actor in Hollywood in the late 1930s.

Rooney did the voices for three Christmas TV animated/stop action specials: Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (1970), The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974), and Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July-always playing Santa Claus. In 1970, he was approached by television producer Norman Lear to consider taking on the role of Archie Bunker in the upcoming CBS series, All in the Family. Like Jackie Gleason before him, Mickey rejected the project as too controversial. The role ultimately went to Carroll O'Connor.

Rooney continued to be busy in stage and television work through the 1980s and 1990s, appearing in the acclaimed stage play Sugar Babies with Ann Miller beginning in 1979; starring in the long-running TV series The Adventures of the Black Stallion, reprising his role as Henry Daily from The Black Stallion film; touring Canada in a dinner theatre production of The Mind with the Naughty Man in the mid-1990s; and playing The Wizard in a stage production of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz with Eartha Kitt at Madison Square Garden. Kitt was later replaced by Jo Anne Worley. He also appeared in the documentary That's Entertainment! III.

Rooney voiced Mr. Cherrywood in The Care Bears Movie (1985), and starred as the Movie Mason in a Disney Channel Original Movie family film, 2000's Phantom of the Megaplex. He played himself in the Simpsons episode "Radioactive Man" of 1995. In 1996-97, Mickey played Talbut on the TV series, Kleo The Misfit Unicorn produced by Gordon Stanfield Animation (GSA). He co-starred in Night at the Museum in 2006 with Dick Van Dyke and Ben Stiller.

Rooney has also been appearing in television commercials for Garden State Life Insurance Company in 1999, alongside his wife Jan. In current commercials (2007), Rooney can be seen in the background washing imaginary dishes.

Rooney continues to work in film, and tours with his wife, Jan Chamberlin in a multi-media live stage production called Let's Put On a Show! Chamberlin met Mickey through his son, Mickey Jr., whom she had been dating at the time. On May 26, 2007 he was Grand Marshal at the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival. It has recently been announced that Rooney will be making his British pantomime debut, playing Baron Hardup in Cinderella, at the Sunderland Empire over the 2007 Christmas period.

Currently, he and his wife live in Westlake Village, California.

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