CHICAGO – Mention the name Harry Lennix, and images of his many character roles are bound to emerge – Harold Cooper in the TV series “The Blacklist,” General Swanwick from “Batman v Superman” and Commissioner Blades from Spike Lee’s recent “Chi-Raq.” The deeply knowledgeable Lennix brings his years of dramatic expertise, as he directs the Congo Square Theatre Company’s world premiere stage play “A Small Oak Tree Runs Red.’
Movie News: Classic Movie Star Mickey Rooney Dies at 93
HOLLYWOOD – He was the biggest star the world, the box office champion from 1939 to 1941. “Wow, spanning two decades,” Bart Simpson said. Mickey Rooney lived long enough to work on silent films, be the biggest star in the world and do a voiceover on “The Simpsons.” Not bad for one lifetime. Mickey Rooney died of natural causes in his North Hollywood home on April 6th. He was 93.
Rooney was a actor who worked nearly his entire life in film, television and stage. His active career as a performer spanned 92 years, and he was one of the last few in history to have worked in the silent film era. His filmography lists over 200 roles, and he also appeared in vaudeville, on Broadway and several television series. He outlived and outperformed virtually all the classic movie stars from Hollywood’s golden era of the studio system from the 1930s to the 1950s.
The Glory Days: Mickey Rooney with Clark Gable, Shirley Temple and Judy Garland at MGM
Photo credit: MGM
Mickey Rooney was born Joseph Yule in Brooklyn, New York, in 1920. He was “born in a trunk,” as both his parents were in vaudeville. His first appearance in their act was at age 17 months, after crawling on-stage three months earlier. His mother got him bit parts in the movies as a child in the 1920s, but his breakthrough came in 1927, when he landed the role Mickey McGuire (based on a popular comic strip at the time). He played McGuire in 78 films until 1936, and acquired the first name and paired it with the surname Rooney – after he rejected his mother’s proposal of Looney.
One year after finishing the McGuire series, he signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios, and began his most fruitful period as a movie star. In 1937, he appeared for the first time on screen as Andy Hardy, and would play the teenage character for 13 more films in the series. At the same time, he was doing dramatic work (“Boys Town,” “Captains Courageous,” “Young Tom Edison”) and musical comedy, often paired with fellow teen performer Judy Garland (“Babes in Arms,” “Strike up the Band”), in the popular “kids, let’s put on a show” style films. His popularity soared in the late 1930s, and in the era of “Gone with the Wind” and other classic films and stars, it was Mickey Rooney who was the box office champion from 1939-1941.
After a stint in the army during World War II, entertaining the troops, his film career began to slump, but he still worked constantly in radio and the new medium of television. His first television series was in 1954, “The Mickey Rooney Show: Hey Mulligan,” produced by future comedy director Blake Edwards. He was also taking on more dramatic and character roles, appearing on TV’s “Playhouse 90” as “The Comedian,” and in films as diverse as “The Bridges at Toko-Ri” (1955), “Baby Face Nelson” (1957), “Requiem for a Heavyweight” (1962) and “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (1963). During this period, he also starred in one of his most infamous roles, portraying an Asian character named Mr. Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961). Despite accusations of stereotyping, Rooney insisted for the rest of his life that Asians complimented him on the role.
“There is no controversy,” Rooney told HollywoodChicago.com in 2009. “Look, Jerry Lewis, Katharine Hepburn and Paul Muni have done the same thing. There was no intent in my portrayal.”
Mickey Rooney in Chicago in 2009
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com
Despite declaring bankruptcy in the 1960s, and an admitted problem with alcohol and drugs, Rooney continued to work all the way up until his death. Proceeding to entertain nearly every generation of the 20th Century, he appeared to acclaim in the film “The Black Stallion” (1978), continued notable television work by voicing the title character in the animated “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (1970) and toured with a popular stage revue called “Sugar Babies” in the late 1970s. As a final act, audiences enjoyed his cameos in the “Night at the Museum” film series and in the reboot of “The Muppets” (2011). His first credit on the Internet Movie Data Base is listed as The Nephew, in the short film “Not to be Trusted” (1926). His last, “Old Soldiers” (2014) as Joe McBee.
Mickey Rooney was also famous for having married eight times, beginning with his first wife, a pre-stardom Ava Gardner. In 1978, he married his eighth wife, Jan Chamberlain, and they separated last year. She survives him, as well as eight children, two stepchildren and nineteen grandchildren. Mickey Rooney died peacefully of natural causes at his home in North Hollywood, California.
The irascible Mr. Rooney had these gems of insight in the 2009 interview with HollywoodChicago.com…”I think the Andy Hardy series [had the most impact on American culture]. Did you know it was one of President Roosevelt’s favorites? I met Roosevelt, and every president thereafter.” And finally, “Nobody really had an impact on me. Not even Clark Gable.”