Hand color tinted photo of Mickey Rooney & Jeanne Cagney from the 1950 movie, Quicksand
Mickey Rooney (born Joseph Yule, Jr.; September 23, 1920) is an American film actor and entertainer whose film, television, and stage appearances span nearly his entire lifetime. During his career he has won multiple awards, including an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award. Best known for his work as the Andy Hardy character, Rooney has had one of the longest careers of any actor.
Rooney was born in Brooklyn, New York to a vaudeville family. His father, Joseph Yule, was from Scotland, and his mother, Nellie W. (nee Carter), was from Kansas City, Missouri. Both parents were in vaudeville, and appearing in a Brooklyn production of A Gaiety Girl when Joseph, Jr. was born. He began performing at the age of 17 months as part of his parents’ routine, wearing a specially tailored tuxedo.
The Yules separated in 1924 during a slump in vaudeville, and in 1925, Nell Yule moved with her son to Hollywood, where she managed a tourist home. Fontaine Fox had placed a newspaper ad for a dark haired child to play the role of “Mickey McGuire” in a series of short films. Lacking the money to have her son’s hair dyed, Mrs. Yule took her son to the audition after applying burnt cork to his scalp. Joe got the role and became “Mickey” for 78 of the comedies, running from 1927 to 1936, starting with Mickey’s Circus, released September 4, 1927. These had been adapted from the Toonerville Trolley comic strip, which contained a character named Mickey McGuire. Joe Yule briefly became “Mickey McGuire” legally in order to trump an attempted copyright lawsuit (as it was his legal name, the movie producers did not owe the comic strip writers royalties).
Rooney later claimed that, during his Mickey McGuire days, he met cartoonist Walt Disney at the Warner Brothers studio, and that Disney was inspired to name Mickey Mouse after him, although Disney always said that he had changed the name from “Mortimer Mouse” on the suggestion of his wife.
During an interruption in the series in 1932, Mrs. Yule made plans to take her son on a ten week vaudeville tour as McGuire, and Fox sued successfully to stop him from using the name. Mrs. Yule suggested the stage name of “Mickey Looney” for her comedian son, which he altered slightly to Rooney, a less frivolous version. Rooney did other films in his adolescence, including several more of the McGuire films, and signed with MGM in 1934. MGM cast Rooney as the teenage son of a judge in 1937’s A Family Affair, setting Rooney on the way to another successful film series.
Andy Hardy and Judy Garland
In 1937, Rooney was selected to portray Andy Hardy in A Family Affair (1937), which MGM had planned as a B-movie. Rooney provided comic relief as the son of Judge James K. Hardy, portrayed by Lionel Barrymore (although Lewis Stone would play the role of Judge Hardy in later films). The film was an unexpected success, and led to thirteen more “Andy Hardy” films between 1937 and 1946, and a final film in 1958. Rooney also received top billing as Shockey Carter in Hoosier Schoolboy (1937).
The same year, he made his first film alongside Judy Garland with Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry. Garland and Rooney became close friends and a successful song and dance team. Besides three of the Andy Hardy films, where she portrayed Betsy Booth, a younger girl with a crush on Andy, they appeared together in a string of successful musicals, including the Oscar nominated Babes in Arms (1939).
Rooney’s breakthrough role as a dramatic actor came in 1938’s Boys Town opposite Spencer Tracy as Whitey Marsh, which opened shortly before his 18th birthday. Rooney was named the biggest box-office draw in 1939, 1940, and 1941. Unquestionably a well known entertainer by the early 1940s Rooney, with Garland, was one of many celebrities caricatured in Tex Avery’s 1941 Warner Bros. cartoon Hollywood Steps Out. As of 2009, Rooney is the only surviving entertainer depicted in the cartoon.
After the war
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). He briefly starred in a CBS radio series, Shorty Bell, in the summer of 1948, and reprised his role as “Andy Hardy”, with most of the original cast, in a syndicated radio version of The Hardy Family in 1949 and 1950 (repeated on Mutual during 1952). His first television series, The Mickey Rooney Show, also known as Hey Mulligan (which Rooney also produced), appeared on NBC television for 32 episodes from August 1954 through June 1955. In 1951, he directed a feature film for Columbia Pictures, My True Story starring Helen Walker. Rooney also starred as a ragingly egomaniacal television comedian in the live 90-minute television drama The Comedian, in the Playhouse 90 series on the evening of Valentine’s Day in 1957, and as himself in a revue called The Musical Revue Of 1959 based on the 1929 movie The Hollywood Revue Of 1929 which was edited into a film in 1960, by British International Pictures.
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). One of Rooney’s more controversial roles came in the highly acclaimed 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s where he played a stereotyped buck-toothed myopic Japanese neighbor (Mr. Yunioshi) of the main character, Holly Golightly. Producer Richard Shepherd apologized for this in the 45th anniversary DVD, though Director Blake Edwards and Rooney himself do not.
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 Rooney was working on the film Ambush Bay in the Philippines, his wife Barbara Ann Thomason (aka Tara Thomas, Carolyn Mitchell), a former pin-up model and aspiring actress who had won 17 straight beauty contests in Southern California, was found dead in their bed. Beside her was her lover, Milos Milos, an actor friend of Rooney’s. Detectives ruled it murder-suicide, which was committed with Rooney’s own gun.
Rooney 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.
Television and stage
Rooney made a successful transition to television and stage work. In 1961, he guest starred in the 13-week James Franciscus adventure-drama television series The Investigators on CBS. In 1963, he even entered The Twilight Zone, giving a one-man performance in the episode “The Last Night of a Jockey”. In 1964, he launched another half-hour sitcom, Mickey, on ABC. The story line had “Mickey” operating a resort hotel in southern California. Son Tim Rooney appeared as Rooney’s teenaged son on the program, and Emmaline Henry starred as Rooney’s wife. It lasted 17 episodes, primarily due to the untimely suicide of co-star Sammee Tong in October 1964.
He won a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award for his role in 1981’s Bill. Playing opposite Dennis Quaid, Rooney was a mentally challenged man attempting to live on his own after leaving an institution. He reprised his role in 1983’s Bill: On His Own, earning an Emmy nomination for the role.
Rooney did the voices for four Christmas TV animated/stop action specials: Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town (1970), The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974), Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (1979), and A Miser Brothers’ Christmas (2008) 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. The role ultimately went to Carroll O’Connor.
Rooney continued to work on stage and television through the 1980s and 1990s, appearing in the acclaimed stage play Sugar Babies with Ann Miller beginning in 1979. He starred in the long-running TV series The Adventures of the Black Stallion, reprising his role as Henry Daily from The Black Stallion film, and toured Canada in a dinner theatre production of The Mind with the Naughty Man in the mid-1990s. He played 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 had a guest spot on an episode of The Golden Girls as Sophia’s boyfriend Rocko, who claimed to be a bank robber. 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 appeared in television commercials for Garden State Life Insurance Company in 1999, alongside his wife Jan. In commercials shown in 2007, Rooney can be seen in the background washing imaginary dishes.
Rooney continues to work in film and tours with his wife in a multi-media live stage production called Let’s Put On a Show! On May 26, 2007, he was grand marshal at the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival. Rooney made his British pantomime debut, playing Baron Hardup in Cinderella, at the Sunderland Empire Theatre over the 2007 Christmas period. He appeared on BBC Points West dressed in a pair of shorts and socks.
In 2008, Rooney starred as “Chief”, a wise old ranch owner, in the independent family feature film Lost Stallions: The Journey Home, marking a return to starring in equestrian-themed productions for the first time since the 1990’s TV show Adventures of the Black Stallion. Also, although they have acted together many times before, Lost Stallions: The Journey Home is the first film where Rooney and his real-life wife Jan Rooney portray a married couple on screen.
As of 2009, Rooney and his eighth wife, Jan Chamberlin, live in Westlake Village, California. Both are outspoken advocates for veterans and animal rights.
After battling drug addiction and a near bankruptcy caused by gambling and bad investments, Rooney became a born-again Christian in the 1970s, reportedly after an angel appeared to him in a coffee shop. Rooney shared his religious beliefs on Jim and Tammy Bakker’s Christian television show The PTL Club.
Rooney’s son Mickey Rooney, Jr. is also a born-again Christian, and has an evangelical ministry in Hemet, California.
Jeanne Carolyn Cagney (March 25, 1919 – December 7, 1984) was an American film and television actress.
She was born in New York City, the younger sister of film actor James Cagney and actor/producer William Cagney. She married Jack Morrison on June 6, 1953; they had two children. Cagney died in Newport Beach, California from lung cancer, aged 65.
She appeared in 19 films between 1939 and 1965, including four films with James Cagney: Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), The Time of Your Life (1948), A Lion Is in the Streets (1953) and Man of a Thousand Faces (1957). Cagney gave a noted performance opposite Mickey Rooney in Quicksand (1950). In 1946 Eugene O’Neill cast her as Maggie in his play “The Iceman Cometh.”
In addition, she also served as the fashion commentator of Queen for a Day, hosted by Jack Bailey on NBC and ABC from 1956-1963. This “game show” is regarded as a forerunner of today’s reality shows. Cagney hosted segments providing tips on style and introducing the latest fashions.