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Remembering a film icon

Christian Harding
Assoc. Opinion Editor

Actor Mickey Rooney, one of Hollywood’s brightest stars of the 1930s and 1940s, died this past Sunday, at the age of 93.

He received multiple awards, including a Juvenile Academy Award, an Honorary Academy Award, two Golden Globes and an Emmy Award. Working as a performer since he was a child, he was a superstar as a teenager for the films in which he played Andy Hardy, and he had one of the longest careers of any actor, which spanned almost the entire history of motion pictures.

mickey-rooneyHe made his first film, the silent “Not to Be Trusted,” in 1926 and followed it up with several shorts based on the “Mickey McGuire” comic strip. He was still making appearances onscreen even nine decades later, including recent films such as “Night at the Museum” (2006) and “The Muppets” (2011).

Until his death this week, Rooney was one of the last surviving stars who worked in the silent film era. He was also the last surviving cast member of several films in which he appeared during the 1930s and 1940s.

Born Joe Yule Jr. in Brooklyn, N.Y., Rooney was only 17 months old when he took the stage in his parents’ vaudeville act. After adopting the stage name of Mickey Rooney at the age of 7, he appeared in his first film, launching a career that would span nearly his entire life.

Rooney was still a teenager when he played Andy Hardy in the 1937 film “A Family Affair”. The popular character, as played by Rooney, would appear in 14 more films and make him a top star at the box office. During Hollywood’s golden years, the five-foot-three cherubic-faced actor worked with many of the silver screen’s greatest leading ladies, including Elizabeth Taylor in “National Velvet”, Judy Garland in “Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry” and “Babes In Arms”, and Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”.

At the time of his death, he had three more films in the works, according to the Internet Movie Database, including a version of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” with Margaret O’Brien. The most recent film Rooney had just completed was what is now his last film role in the next installment of “Night at the Museum” with Ben Stiller.

“He led a full life but did not have enough time to finish all he had planned to do. He had the time of his life and the utmost respect for the cast and crew,” his son Mark Rooney said in a statement to CNN on Monday.

He had separated from his wife, Jan Chamberlin, two years ago and moved in with his son and his wife, Charlene, according to the statement. “With them he finally found happiness, health and a feeling of safety and was able to enjoy life again.”

“Mickey was finally enjoying life as a bachelor, and the morning of his death, they spoke of all their future plans,” the statement also said. “He loved the business he was in and had a great respect for his fellow actors.”

Mr. Rooney’s early roots in vaudeville, and his gag-a-second training ground had defined much of his visible persona. He was fond of lewd jokes and made relentless puns about his height.

“I’ve been short all my life,” he wrote in his memoir “Life is Too Short.” “And if anyone wonders what my dying wish will be, they can stop wondering. That will be easy. I’ll just tell them, ‘I’ll have a short bier.’ ”

His last months included reunions with old friends, the family statement said. “Even someone of Mickey’s iconic statue was quite star struck and was extremely thrilled to attend Vanity Fair’s Oscar party recently,” the family said. “Just last week Mickey was ecstatic when they surprised him by reuniting him with one of his great loves, the race track. There they spent time with [additional comedy legends] Mel Brooks and Dick Van Patten. He had exceptional care and a new lease on life.”