No one was a bigger star as a teenager in Hollywood than Mickey Rooney.
Say what you will about Rooney’s life and career, the pint sized dynamo (he was all of 5 feet 2 inches) was a trooper. Because his parents were vaudevillians, Rooney made his stage debut at 15 months as part of the family act. (He was born in 1920.)
He is best remembered for the 16 Andy Hardy movies that extolled the virtues of middle class American life and which made him an international star from 1937 to 1946. He was just 17 years old when the hugely popular MGM series — mostly costarring Lewis Stone as Judge Hardy and Fay Holden as Mrs. Hardy — began.
Although Rooney preceded Shirley Temple in films, he didn’t become a star until after she had. But he became an even bigger star, and made an easy transition from child roles to teenage roles to adult roles. Below is a three-sheet from the fourth in the series, which pitted Rooney alongside another Hollywood teenage sensation, Judy Garland.
However much Mickey made the part of Andy Hardy in his own, there was a huge gap between reel life and reality. Esther Williams recalls the Mickey Rooney she encountered when cutting her teeth as an MGM starlet in 1942’s Andy Hardy’s Double Life.
Wrote Esther, Now in his early twenties…he was still a self absorbed kid. I didn’t find him very likable…Mickey took advantage of his stardom. Everyone in the studio gave him free rein. He had a bookie waiting for his calls every day, always playing the horses. We all knew that ‘Mickey’s on the phone’ meant that filming could not resume until he’d concluded his ‘business’.”
We wonder if Andy Hardy ever imagined playing the horses, although, as British-born author-critic David Thomson observed, Andy became Rooney: cheeky, naughty, improvisational, immensely talented as a mime, dancer, comic, singer and ham.
His work began in the silent era (his first movie dates from 1926), and ended in 2014 with an appearance in Fox’s Night At The Museum: Secret of the Tomb, which opened in theaters in December of that year. For the mathematically challenged, that comes to a grand total of 88 years covering a staggering 338 movie and TV credits. (Rooney died at age 93 eight months before Museum bowed.)