Mickey Rooney, the veteran of burlesque, silent films, talkies, plays and television, who wowed us dancing with such stars as his good friends Judy Garland and Ann Miller, spoke to a full house of his fans on Saturday, March 24 at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield. Rooney who has already passed his ninth decade of life shared recollections with Jerry Goehring, the center’s executive director, about his long career in the theater.
Born Joe Yule, Jr. in Brooklyn, New York on September 23, 1920 to Scottish-Irish parents who were vaudeville performers, he began his acting stint by accident. At the age of 17 months, he was hiding while his father was on stage, sneezed, heard the audience laugh and stood up and played on a harmonica. A star was born!
Delivered on a dining room table by a Chinese doctor, in the rooming house where his folks were living, he revealed his family didn’t have a dime. After his parents divorced, he moved with his mom to Kansas City and later headed for Hollywood for his big break in the movies. His big break finally came in 1927 when he was cast in the Mickey McGuire movies, a series based on a comic strip.
A pet lover of dogs and horses, he also played ping pong, golf and tennis. He volunteered for the army and spent years entertaining the troops. When General Patton saw him perform, he asked who the S.O.B was and said he deserved a Bronze Star. Rooney made 19 successful Andy Hardy movies, some with Judy Garland.
He married 8 times, the first to Ava Gardner, but when he introduced her to Frank Sinatra, the marriage ended. His last marriage to Jan Chamberlin is still going strong after 42 years. Some of his 200 movies include “Sugar Babies,” “National Velvet,” “Black Stallion” and “The Big Sleep.” He helped jump start the careers of Red Skeleton, Sammy Davis, Jr, and Marilyn Monroe.
While short in stature, Mickey Rooney is large in accomplishments and earned an Honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement. Mickey's message: "the only things that counts in your life are your family and friends. Tell them you love them every day."