Mickey Rooney (born September 23, 1920 – April 6, 2014) was an American actor of film, television, Broadway, radio, and vaudeville. Beginning as a child actor, his career extended over 90 years, making him one of the most enduring performers in show business history. He appeared in more than 300 films and was one of the last surviving stars of the silent film era, having one of the longest careers in the medium's history.
At the height of a career that was marked by precipitous declines and raging comebacks, he played the role of Andy Hardy in a series of fifteen films in the 1930s and 1940s that epitomized American family values. A prolific talent, he became a noted character actor later in his career, and could sing, dance, clown and play various musical instruments. Laurence Olivier once said he considered Rooney "the greatest actor of them all", and Clarence Brown, who directed him in two of his earliest dramatic roles, National Velvet
and The Human Comedy
, said he was "the closest thing to a genius I ever worked with."Rooney first performed in vaudeville as a child and made his film debut at age six. At age thirteen he played the role Puck in the play and later the film, A Midsummer Night's Dream in an acclaimed performance, which critic David Thomson praised as "one of cinema's most arresting pieces of magic." He co-starred in Boys Town
(1938) with Spencer Tracy, who won an Oscar for his role. At nineteen he was the first teenager to be nominated for an Oscar, for his leading role in Babes in Arms, co-starring Judy Garland, and was awarded a special Juvenile Academy Award in 1939.
Overall, between the age of 15 and 25, while at his peak, he made forty-three pictures and co-starred alongside leading actors, including Judy Garland, Wallace Beery, Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor. Rooney developed into one of MGM's most consistently successful actors, and a favorite of studio head, Louis B. Mayer.
He was the top box office attraction of 1939, but his career never rose to such heights again. He was drafted into the Army during World War II, serving nearly two years entertaining over 2 million troops on stage and on the radio. He was awarded a Bronze Star for performing in combat zones. After he returned from the war in 1945, too old for juvenile roles but too short to be a movie star, he was not able to obtain acting roles as significant as before. Nevertheless, Rooney was tenacious and he rebounded, his popularity renewed with well-received supporting roles in films such as Requiem for a Heavyweight
(1962), It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and The Black Stallion
(1979), for which he was Oscar nominated. In the early 1980s he returned to Broadway in Sugar Babies and once more was a celebrated star. He also made hundreds of appearances on TV, including dramas, variety programs and talk shows. During his career, he received four Academy Award nominations and was nominated for five Emmy Awards, winning one.