Mickey Rooney, Hollywood's First Teen Star, Dies at 93
Few actors had as diverse a career as Mickey Rooney, a film star who literally did a bit of everything during a showbiz run that spanned 10 decades. But the actor, who died Sunday at the age of 93, found his greatest fame as Hollywood's first A-list teenage star.
A gifted comic and dramatic actor who could also sing, dance, and play several instruments, Rooney first won over audiences as irrepressible youngster Andy Hardy, and later struck gold with a handful of musicals in which he co-starred with Judy Garland. Between the Rooney/Garland musicals and the Hardy pictures, Rooney was Hollywood's top box office draw between 1939 and 1941.
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But Rooney was also the first teen star who had to transition into adulthood in the public eye. In time, he matured into a gifted character actor, but he also suffered more than his share of growing pains in a stormy private life that saw him marry eight times and fight addiction to alcohol and gambling as well as dealing with a number of failed business ventures, before he found happiness and stability in the 1970s.
Born Into Show Business
Mickey Rooney was born Joe Yule Jr. on Sept. 23, 1920, in Brooklyn, New York. He was a performer almost from birth, joining his parents' vaudeville act when he was just 17 months old. When Rooney was only four, his parents split up, and his mother struggled to keep her children housed and fed before Mickey was cast in a comedy short called "Not to Be Trusted" in 1926. In 1927, he became a minor star, appearing in a series of short comedies bases on the comic strip "Mickey McGuire," but his real break came after he signed a contract with MGM in 1934.
Three years later, in 1937, Rooney's career really took off. He appeared in "A Family Affair," the movie that introduced the Andy Hardy character, and co-starred in "Thoroughbreds Don't Cry," an energetic musical featuring Judy Garland. Both were hits and pointed to the future for Rooney: Andy Hardy would become the dominant character in the many sequels to "A Family Affair" (15 in all), and Rooney and Garland became one of Hollywood's best loved star pairings. MGM also cast Rooney in glossy dramatic vehicles like "Young Thomas Edison" and "National Velvet," and audiences seemingly couldn't get enough of the young star.
Rooney teamed up with Judy Garland in many projects, including 'Love Finds Andy Hardy.' (Getty Images)
Rooney Grows Up
While Rooney played a clean cut, well-mannered teenager on screen, off screen it didn’t take long for him to develop a taste for the wild life. Rooney was a notorious ladies' man who was romantically linked with many women, some of them married (among them Norma Shearer, whose husband was MGM production chief Irving Thalberg). Rooney wed sex symbol Ava Gardner in 1942; they divorced just a year later, and it was the first of eight trips to the altar for him. Rooney also developed a strong taste for alcohol and enjoyed betting on the horses, though he rarely won.