Long before there was Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan and even Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland were Hollywood's biggest onscreen power couple. As child stars, they grew up together in the movie studio system and shared top billing on nearly 10 films.
The two actors were so close, according to Rooney, it transcended any love affair. "She was my sister from the beginning — the sister I never had," Rooney, who died on Sunday at the age of 93, said in a decades old TV interview. "She was the love I'd searched for."
Take a look back at Rooney and Garland's most memorable onscreen moments:
1. "Babes in Arms" (1939)
While Rooney was not exactly a musical genius, he could carry a tune, knew how to dance, and had the enthusiasm to sell a song to an audience. Of course, no one would ever question Garland's way with a melody — so when MGM put their young stars in the hands of master director and choreographer Busby Berkeley, magic was waiting to happen. "Babes in Arms" had a very hokey plot: Rooney and Garland are aspiring musical stars who have 30 days to put on a big show or get sent to a trade school. When Berkeley lets loose with one of his wildly imaginative musical numbers and Garland starts to sing, the movie's simple power is undeniable (though, it must be noted, the film includes a cringeworthy number with Garland and Rooney in blackface). It was MGM's most profitable release of 1939 — the same year they put out "Gone With the Wind" and "The Wizard of Oz."
2. "Love Finds Andy Hardy" (1938)
Rooney and Garland displayed a natural chemistry in their few scenes together in "Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry," but it was their second pairing in "Love Finds Andy Hardy" that confirmed their status as one of Hollywood's all-time favorite screen couples. As Betsy, the girl next door with a crush on Andy, Garland was rarely more charming. And the fact that Andy ended up picking Betsy over Polly (Ann Rutherford) or Cynthia (Lana Turner) says a lot about how beguiling she could be on screen.
[Related: Mickey Rooney's 10 Most Memorable Roles]
3. "Strike Up the Band" (1940)
After "Babes in Arms," MGM was eager to put Rooney and Garland in another musical, and "Strike Up the Band" appeared in theaters just a year later. It's a glossier product that its precursor, though the story is no more inventive – Mickey is putting together a show so he can impress "King of Jazz" Paul Whiteman with his music. But Busby Berkeley's stagings are bigger and wilder, and with tunes like "Nell of New Rochelle," "Nobody," and the title number, this is crackerjack entertainment powered by Rooney's enthusiasm and Garland's glorious voice.
4. "Life Begins for Andy Hardy" (1941)
This was the third "Andy Hardy" movie in which Judy Garland would play Andy's girlfriend Betsy Booth, and it was clearly meant to reflect that the plucky teenagers were growing up and facing adult responsibilities. As Andy moves to the big city in search of his fortune, he falls for a gold-digging woman, can't find a job, and is touched by tragedy before Betsy and his father put him back on the right path. While the spark between Rooney and Garland was still there, it was clear that they were beginning to outgrow their roles, even as the series attempted to ease them into maturity, and Garland soon moved on to bigger things.
5. "The Judy Garland Show" (July 1963)
While both Rooney and Garland repeatedly denied they were ever boyfriend and girlfriend during the years they worked together, they clearly grew to be close friends, and this was especially apparent when Mickey made a guest appearance on Judy's short-lived variety show in 1963. While the two go through their numbers like old pros, the look on their faces betrays their joy in working together again, and that despite years of bad luck both personally and professionally, they could sing together and still conjure magic. Six years after Rooney appeared on her show, Garland was dead; Rooney was invited to deliver the eulogy at her funeral, but he was too emotionally devastated to consider it.