Hollywood has lost one of its greatest contributors. Mickey Rooney passed away at the age of 93 on April 6. I had known of the news soon after. A unique thing about Mickey was that he was one of the last surviving silent film era stars. In addition, Mickey carried all of his screen appeal from early childhood into his late teens and beyond, which was an uncommon and admirable feat for a child actor in that time period, and even today.
Rooney’s career took off in 1927 at the age of 6 when he was cast as a smooth-talking midget in the silent feature film, “Orchids and Ermine.” Mickey’s mother was fully aware of her son’s obvious acting talent. It wasn’t long before she was preparing him to audition for his first breakout role, that of Mickey McGuire, a street-wise lower class kid who was leader of the “Scorpions” club. Mickey went on to play this role until 1934.
The next big thing for Rooney came along in 1937, when he was cast as Andy Hardy, a character that became so popular, one film turned into 15 by 1946. There was also an attempted revival film in 1958 which ultimately failed to serve its purpose.
In 1944, Rooney enlisted in the United States Army. He served 21 months until the end of World War II. During and after this time, he would entertain his fellow troops in America and Europe.
A now infamous chapter for Rooney took place in 1961 when he played the role I.Y. Yunioshi in the film adaption of Truman Capote’s famous novella, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” While the character was generally well received at the time, it has recently received controversy as a perceived racist stereotype of Asian people. Rooney shared his own thoughts on the controversy in 2008 at the age of 87:
“Blake Edwards…wanted me to do it because he was a comedy director. They hired me to do this overboard, and we had fun doing it….Never in all the more than 40 years after we made it – not one complaint. Every place I’ve gone in the world people say, ‘God, you were so funny.’ Asians and Chinese come up to me and say, ‘Mickey you were out of this world.'” Rooney also stated that if he had known people would be so offended, “I wouldn’t have done it.”
At this point in time, little could tarnish the name and career of a respected Hollywood actor, which Rooney had grown to become.
One of his more recent contributions to television was the reprisal of his role in the 1979 film, “The Black Stallion” in the 1990-1993 TV show, “The Adventures of the Black Stallion.” The program quickly became a favorite among teens and young adults.
Rooney’s final works include playing Gus, a security guard in the 2006 film, “Night at the Museum,” as well as a brief, but satisfying cameo appearance in the 2011 feature film revival of “The Muppets.”
All and all, Rooney had an impressive onscreen career that lasted 87 years in total, an accomplishment that few can boast, but of course, he never did.
So goes a major face of early Hollywood, and perhaps with it, an era.