R.I.P. Mickey Rooney

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Mickey Rooney was the original Hardy boy.

His 200-plus film credits notwithstanding, the spry, spirited Rooney will be best remembered for playing the impetuous title character in MGM’s beloved Andy Hardy movies.

Multiple news outlets reported that Rooney, 93, died on Sunday. He is survived by his eighth wife Jan, and nine children.

But most of all, he leaves behind a colorful Hollywood legacy that spanned 80 years and more than 200 films, including Boys Town and The Black Stallion. Rooney won two honorary Oscars, the first in 1938, the second in 1982. In January 2005, Rooney made headlines for the unlikeliest of reasons when the Fox network rejected a Super Bowlcold remedy commercial — featuring Rooney’s bared bottom — for being inappropriate.

Rooney certainly knew how to put on a show. But of all the characters that Rooney inhabited — from Puck in the 1935 film production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to his Oscar-nominated turn as a preternaturally mature teen in 1943’s The Human Comedy — not one could compete with or begin to overshadow Rooney himself.

Laurence Olivier called Rooney “the greatest actor of them all,” yet he was the unlikeliest of stars. At 5-foot-3, Rooney was short, with pointy, elfin features and a spirited, in-your-face energy more suited to selling cars than starring in films. Yet during the Depression, when jobs were scarce and the national mood grim, audiences loved his joie de vivre and his down-home appeal.

Born Joe Yule, Jr. in a Brooklyn, N.Y., rooming house on Sept. 23, 1920, Rooney made his first stage appearance at 17 months as part of his comic father and dancer mother’s vaudeville performances. Performing, Rooney told BackStage, was ” in my blood. It’s who I am.”

He switched to the silver screen at age 6, playing the title character Mickey McGuire in 78 film shorts based on the old Toonerville Trolley cartoons from 1927 until 1933. In 1932, he changed his moniker to the catchier Mickey Rooney and five years later, landed the role that would define him for the rest of his career: the feisty teen-about-town Andy Hardy, with a cheeky grin, irresistible boy-next-door charm and plenty of romantic mishaps.

The 15-part movie series was such a smash that from 1939 to 1941, Rooney became the Tom Cruise of his time: the No. 1 box-office draw in the country.

But like any good mutual fund, Rooney diversified, playing a problem child in Boys Town opposite Spencer Tracy in 1938 and co-starring in the 1939 musical Babes in Arms with longtime collaborator and pal Judy Garland, with whom he co-starred in 10 films. The two enjoyed a close friendship off-screen and it was no coincidence that of all his Hollywood compatriots, Rooney bonded most with Garland, a troubled star who, like him, matured in front of the cameras and struggled to find her footing as an adult.

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