Most people of my generation will likely count Mickey Rooney as one of the benchmarks of their growing up. While I was much younger than he, his numerous Judy Garland, as well as “Andy Hardy” films (along with “Hardy Family” radio programs) offered previews of what it might be like to live as a teenager. The father of a grade-school classmate of mine was a respected local judge; and there was an older sister in the family (just as in the Hardy family) and I long imagined a similarity between the two families. We lived in Omaha many years later, and whenever I drove on the highway that fronted Boys Town, I half-expected Mickey Rooney to come dashing across the road. A few years ago, I was on a flight from Burbank to Oakland, and was in one of those seats that directly face one another. A few minutes later, Mickey Rooney took a seat across from mine, causing my mind to race through my many movie/radio/television encounters I had had with him over the years.
One of Mickey’s best film performances – and one that had an impact on my life – was his 1943 movie The Human Comedy. He played a teenager dealing with the difficulties and sadness of World War II, including the death of his brother in combat. This movie was released the same year that one of my favorite uncles, a B-26 bomber pilot, was killed.
Mickey Rooney was more than just a freckle-faced, jalopy-driving, high-school-dance-band promoter, he was – in his youth – the biggest box-office draw in Hollywood. Robert Osborne – of TCM fame – was fond of asking motion picture stars “who’s the most talented person you’ve ever known in show business?” The likes of Lucille Ball, Robert Mitchum, and Anthony Quinn, quickly answered “Mickey Rooney.” Cary Grant was reportedly of the same opinion, while Gore Vidal had confided that, when growing up, he wanted to be Mickey Rooney.
It is commonplace to declare of a deceased person that “he will be missed.” This is less so in Mickey Rooney’s case for, as such a prominent entertainment figure, he will enjoy a form of immortality unavailable to the rest of us. His films and radio/TV performances will be around for decades. I will have numerous opportunities to watch him fleeing from Boys Town; dashing down West Dodge street in an image firmly-engraved in my imagination.
2:05 pm on April 7, 2014