With parents who were actors, it comes as no surprise that the young Joe Yule Jr. made his debut on the stage at the age of only 15 months. He became part of the family act. Under his stage name of Mickey Rooney, he became well known for a series of some 50 silent comedies between 1927 and 1933 in which he played Mickey McGuire, a comic-strip character. In 1934 he was signed to MGM. At Mrs. Lawlor’s School for Professional Children he first met Judy Garland , whom he would play against in several movies in the future, including some of the 15 Andy Hardy films.
Mickey Rooney gave a memorable performance as Puck on loan in Warner Brothers’ prestigious flop A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935). With movies like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939) and National Velvet (1944) he reached the peak of his career during WWII. He was drafted during the war, and when he returned to Hollywood his fame and box-office draw had significantly decreased. Just like other child stars, he found it difficult to get a break as an adult actor. After Summer Holiday (1948) his career went downhill and the 1950s and 60’s for him became a string of not-so-successful movies with a smattering of notable performances in supporting roles in a few hits (The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), the Rod Serling-scripted drama Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962) and the frenetic It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)).
The downward spiral of his career coincides with the decline of his former studio, MGM, which was near-mortally wounded by the Supreme Court’s 1948 anti-trust decision concerning theater ownership leading to the ultimate collapse of the studio star system, which Mickey Rooney was a part of. Out of his long MGM contract by 1949, he turned increasingly to the one-eyed monster for employment. He got his own short lived TV show, The Mickey Rooney Show (1954) and toured nightclubs and theaters again in the 1960’s. Mickey Rooney experienced a career renaissance of sorts in 1979 on with The Black Stallion (1979) (again in a supporting role) and on stage, with the dropped pants burlesque hit Sugar Babies which ran for 1208 performances on Broadway. He took the play on the road for 3 years afterward where he packed houses across the U.S. (Joey Bishop and Eddie Bracken filled him for him during his 3 contractual vacations). In 1983, following 60 years as an actor, he received the Lifetime Achievement Oscar. Mickey Rooney, now well into his 80’s, had been surprisingly active and has found himself far more in demand that he was 30 years ago, recently seen to good advantage in the hit Night at the Museum (2006).
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