TheaterMania Logo

American Film and Stage Legend Mickey Rooney Dies at 93

The Tony-nominated Hollywood film star leaves behind nine decades of film, television, and stage work. logo
Mickey Rooney, one of Hollywood's greatest box-office draws of the 1930s and 40s, died on April 6 at the age of 93.

Mickey Rooney, a Broadway veteran and one of the biggest child stars of Hollywood's golden age, died on Sunday, April 6, at his home in North Hollywood. He was 93.

Born Joseph Yule Jr. in Brooklyn, New York, Rooney began performing at 17 months of age as part of his parents' vaudeville act. He later entered Hollywood Professional School, where he attended with a number of future notables including Joseph A. Wapner, Nanette Fabray, Lana Turner, and Judy Garland, his future on-screen partner.

Rooney adopted the name Mickey after landing the role of Mickey McGuire in a series of 78 short films for cartoonist Fontaine Fox. The series ran from 1927-36. After changing his surname to Rooney upon his mother's suggestion, the young actor signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1934.

In 1937 he was cast as the teenage son of Judge James K. Hardy (played by Lionel Barrymore) in A Family Affair, the first entry in the Andy Hardy film series, the last of which was released in 1958. That year he also appeared in Thoroughbreds Don't Cry, Rooney's first film costarring with fellow child star and close friend Judy Garland. Garland and Rooney went on to appear together in three Andy Hardy films as well as a number of successful musicals including Babes in Arms, Strike Up the Band, Babes on Broadway, and Girl Crazy. He later appeared in the documentaries That's Entertainment! and That's Entertainment! III, introducing segments that paid tribute to his late performing partner.

Rooney landed his breakthrough dramatic role in 1938's Boys Town opposite Spencer Tracy in the role of Whitey Marsh. He was awarded a special Juvenile Academy Award in 1939 and was named the biggest box-office draw in 1939, 1940, and 1941.

The actor enlisted in the United States Army in 1944 and helped to entertain the troops during and after the end of World War II. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for entertaining troops in combat zones as well as the Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and World War II Victory Medal for his service.

After returning to civilian life, he returned to show business, producing and performing in a short-lived television series, The Mickey Rooney Show: Hey Mulligan, directing the feature film My True Story starring Helen Walker, and starring in the television drama The Comedian. His following notable film appearances include Requiem for a Heavyweight, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, The Black Stallion, and his controversial role in the acclaimed 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany's as Holly Golightly's Japanese neighbor I.Y. Yunioshi.

In the 1960s, Rooney transitioned to television work, guest-starring in the 13-week James Franciscus adventure-drama series The Investigators in 1961, and appearing in episodes of the CBS sitcom Pete and Gladys, The Twilight Zone, and Suspense Theater. In 1964 he also launched the half-hour ABC sitcom Mickey, which lasted 17 episodes. His character actor roles spanned a number of other television series including Schlitz Playhouse, Playhouse 90, Producers' Showcase, Alcoa Theatre, Wagon Train, General Electric Theater, Hennesey, The Dick Powell Theatre, Arrest and Trial, Burke's Law, Combat!, The Fugitive, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, The Jean Arthur Show, The Name of the Game, Dan August, Night Gallery, The Love Boat, and Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, among others.

In 1981 Rooney earned a Golden Globe and Emmy Award for his performance in the 1981 television movie Bill, opposite Dennis Quaid. He reprised the role in 1983's Bill: On His Own, which landed him another Emmy nomination.

Rooney made his Broadway debut in 1979 in the musical revue Sugar Babies with stage actress Ann Miller. He earned a Tony Award nomination for his performance, and continued his stage career as Pseudolous in a touring production of Stephen Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. He returned to Broadway in 1993 for the final months of The Will Rogers Follies, playing the ghost of Will's father. His additional stage credits include a dinner-theater production of The Mind With the Naughty Man and a production of The Wizard of Oz, in which he played The Wizard, with Eartha Kitt (later replaced by Jo Anne Worley) at Madison Square Garden.

At age 70, Rooney landed a starring role on The Family Channel's popular series The Adventures of the Black Stallion, which ran from 1990-93. He continued working in television and film until the end of his life. In 2014 he signed on to reprise his role as Gus in the third installment of Night at the Museum, the film series in which he starred alongside Dick Van Dyke and Ben Stiller. At present, it is unknown whether his death will affect the film's production.

Rooney was married eight times, and he had nine children. His first marriage, in 1942, was to Hollywood starlet Ava Gardner. The marriage ended in divorce within two years. He married his eighth wife, Jan Chamberlin, in 1978, and the couple were married for over 35 years, though they were separated at the time of his death. Rooney is survived by Chamberlin as well as eight surviving children, two stepchildren, 19 grandchildren, and several great-grandchildren.


Tagged in this Story