“You’ve got to recognize, there will never be another you. It has nothing to do with ego; it happens to be the truth. There will never be another person the same. There’ll never be another you. There’ll never be another me.” –Mickey Rooney
Mickey Rooney is nothing short of a show business legend. Having one of the longest careers in the business and connecting with generations of fans, Rooney no doubt left his mark as a top performer and notable talent.
Rooney was born Ninnian Joseph Yule Jr., in Brooklyn, New York City, on September 23, 1920. The son of a burlesque performer and chorus girl, Rooney had show business in his blood. By 17 months old, Rooney was already a part of his parents’ act, donning a tuxedo that was just his size.
Though his parents separated early-on in his youth, he and his mother moved to Hollywood to work in the film industry, from the Silent to the Sound Era. First, Rooney secured small roles in films like The Beast of the City (1932) and The Life of Jimmy Dolan (1933), but he was crossing paths with big studio talents. He attended the Hollywood Professional School and Fairfax High School all the while. While Rooney gained popularity as a child star in “Mickey McGuire” roles, churning out appearances in over 78 short and full-length films from 1927 to 1938, one of his notable adolescent roles was that of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935).
By 1936, Rooney was poised to become a fixture at MGM. The title character in the Andy Hardy film series, Rooney enthusiastically portrayed characters in Louis B. Mayer’s family-centered stories, often showing off his triple-threat abilities. The series would eventually be comprised of 16 films.
During the same period, Rooney would also frequently appear alongside Judy Garland. His first film appearance with her would be in Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry (1938), in addition to three Andy Hardy films, and an assortment of “barnyard musicals” in which just about any financial trouble could be solved with Garland and Rooney putting on a show.
Rooney would continue his box office successes with his breakthrough dramatic role in Boys Town (1938) with Spencer Tracy, earning him a Juvenile Academy Award. In addition to being active in Hollywood, he also spent time in the U.S. Army. He entertained troops in America and Europe–even in combat zones–receiving several medals for his service.
Returning to civilian life was difficult, as Rooney would no longer be taking on the boyish roles he had left behind. Rather, he began to secure work in more mature roles, typically carrying out dramatic characters. Still, his knack for song and dance would be seen on-screen as well as clear efforts to continue performing in a range of film genres. Moreover, Rooney was not limited to the film medium; Rooney would go on to appear on radio, television, and on the stage, in addition to the demands of working in films.
He would appear in films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) in the 1960s, with the former appearance being criticized in late years as a stereotype. He would also work in a variety of television shows and films like The Black Stallion (1979) before receiving an honorary Academy Award in 1983.
Rooney’s career experience another boost in 1979 for his Broadway debut in Sugar Babies, a musical revue, along fellow former MGM star Ann Miller. A consummate performer, he never missed a show and could ad-lib easily.
Rooney’s output is truly staggering. He carried out a baffling amount of roles at a very young age and remained undaunted as the years went on, demonstrating a clear passion for performance and keeping audiences entertained. Rooney was practically born on the stage and lived for the experience, never shying away from taking on guest appearances, character roles, voiceover work, and starring or supporting roles all the way through to his final years.
Among his last few roles, Rooney appeared in Night at the Museum (2006), The Muppets (2011), and in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (2014)–the latter of which being dedicated to him and Robin Williams, who would both pass away in 2014. Rooney died on April 6, 2014, from natural causes at age 93. He was interred at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
Today, there are some locations that possess tributes to Rooney, though not all of them have withstood the test of time.
The 1930 home he shared with his mother at 732 Marathon St. in Los Angeles no longer stands. The home he shared with Ava Gardner at 10331 Wilshire Boulevard has also since been torn down.
In 2003, Rooney visited Boys Town in Omaha, Nebraska, being named honorary mayor for life, thanks to his work in the film. The film is documented well in the Boys Town Hall of History. Rooney’s honorary plaque remains on campus.
In 2015, the Mickey Rooney Memorial Square was dedicated at the intersection of Orange Drive and Sunset Boulevard–oddly with a typing error describing Rooney as an “enterainer.” The sign has since been corrected.
Rooney also has four different stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, honoring his achievements in film, radio, television, and live performance.
To this day, Rooney’s many performances are enjoyed by fans around the world and continue to connect audiences of the present to films of the past.