We had an in-house game at WGN that started back in the 60's. It was called, "Who gets Mickey Rooney Next?" Sadly, that was the first thing that came to mind when I heard of his death at the age of 93. In his later years, Rooney became self-absorbed, cantankerous and difficult. You'd interview him once and politely decline the next visit. Wally Phillips passed him on to me. Luckily, I was fully booked the next time he came to town, but suggested him to Spike O'Dell and on it went. We weren't the only ones. He made a fool of himself on the Tonight Show and Jack Parr actually asked him to leave.
I wish there were a way to erase those tough years in the life of an amazing entertainer. Rooney was the world's top box office star at the age of nineteen. Those of us at "a certain age" have so much to remember. He starred with Spencer Tracey in "Boy's Town" in 1938 and then went on to make the "Andy Hardy" series and "The Let's Put On A Show" films with Judy Garland. He made a successful transition to TV and stage work for a couple of decades and hit the jackpot in 1979 when he created the roll of Henry Daily, the horse trainer in "The Black Stallion". He got an Emmy Award in 1981 for playing the role of Bill, a mentally handicapped man attempting to live on his own after leaving an institution.
On stage he had a great run with "Sugar Babies" in 1979 with that famous MGM hoofer, Ann Miller. But when he came back in revival of "Showboat" as Cap'n Andy, his ego got the better of him. He was awful; coming in and out of character, ad-libbing, stealing scenes and generally doing the "Mickey Rooney Show". Even worse was an appearance in Ken Ludwig's wonderful farce, "Lend Me A Tenor", where the poor actors never knew where he was going. I think this was in the early '90's and I really took it on the chin from listeners who thought I should defer to his earlier success and not be so critical. Sorry, that's what a critic does.
There may be some who would prefer that I not bring up these negatives, but I have a reason. About three years ago, Mickey Rooney was granted court protection from a stepson and stepdaughter, who he accused of verbal, emotional and financial abuse and for denying him such basic necessities as food and medicine. Lord knows, he may have been difficult to handle, but there's no excuse for taking advantage of his condition.
On March 2, 2011, Rooney appeared before a special U.S. Senate committee that was considering legislation to curb elder abuse. He told them, "I felt trapped, scared, used and frustrated. Above all, when a man feels helpless, it's terrible. All want to do is live a peaceful life, to regain my life and be happy" For all he gave us, he cetainly deserves that.
Rooney's suit was setteled in 2013 when the step children agreed they owed him $2.8 million.
I hope he died happy. He sure made a lot of people feel that that way in a career that spanned 8 decades.
Filed under: Opinion