Remembering Mickey Rooney
Think Justin Bieber … only about 100 times more popular.
That was Mickey Rooney.
The short, bouncy Rooney, who died this weekend at the age of 93, was the single biggest movie star of the 1930s and early 1940s.
Clark Gable may have been the ideal of rugged American manliness, Greta Garbo may have radiated mystery, but the teenaged Rooney was beloved in just about every corner of the movie going public. He could sing, dance, make you laugh, make you cry.
He was, in fact, the Number One box office draw of 1939, 1940, and 1941. Two of his films will be screened as part of the Library’s Hollywood’s Greatest Year Saturday movies series in the Film Vault at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St. They are Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever (June 28) and Babes in Arms (September 6).
Although he made all sorts of movies, Rooney was famous for his musicals with Judy Garland (“Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!”) and the long-running Andy Hardy series. Sixteen Andy Hardy movies were made over 20 years (Rooney was nearly 40 when they stopped producing them), and audiences couldn’t get enough of Rooney’s small-town hero as he grew into manhood.
Well after his heyday, Rooney took the role of Audrey Hepburn’s argumentative upstairs neighbor in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). Problem was, the character was Japanese, and Rooney’s depiction — featuring buck teeth, pigeon English, and bottle-bottom spectacles — was a horrifying racial stereotype.
He redeemed himself more than a decade later playing a broken-down racehorse trainer in The Black Stallion (1979), earning an Oscar nomination in the process. He continued to work right up to his death … he most recently had a role in the upcoming Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
His personal life was nearly as colorful as his professional one. Rooney was married eight times. His first wife was Ava Gardner; it was a union that gave hope to short guys everywhere.
The Library has literally dozens of Mickey Rooney films in its collection. Here are just a few of them:
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935): Rooney played the impish puck in this popular Shakespeare adaptation.
Captains Courageous (1937)
Boys Town (1938)
National Velvet (1944)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)
Pete’s Dragon (1977)
The Black Stallion (1979)
The Fox and the Hound (1981)
About the Author
Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.