Monday, August 12, 2013

TCM Summer Under the Stars: Growing Up with Mickey Rooney

This post is part of the TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon hosted by Sittin' on a Backyard Fence and ScribeHard on Film. Visit their blogs to links for all of the blogathon posts!

Turner Classic Movies celebrates Mickey Rooney on August 13, 2013, with a full day of films starring the perpetually energetic but rather unlikely leading man. Even if it's a cliche, Mickey Rooney can really only be described as a living legend. Born in 1920, the 93 year old actor has more than 300 film and television appearances to his credit and is still working, with six roles in 2011 and 2012 combined. In a career that has spanned 87 years (so far), Rooney has been the classic Hollywood face that generations of viewers have grown up with and literally known all their lives.

Think about it. If every star born in 1920 were still alive and working today, you'd be seeing Yul Brynner, Gene Tierney, Walter Matthau, Ricardo Montalban, DeForest Kelley, Shelley Winters, Toshiro Mifune, Jack Webb, Denver Pyle, Virginia Mayo, Jack Elam, and Montgomery Clift turning up in the movies of the last two years. Maureen O'Hara, also born in 1920, has stuck around with Rooney, but she made her last TV movie appearance in 2000, more than a decade ago. Whatever you might think of Rooney's personal life (and it has been a doozy), you have to admire the willpower and determination of a man who entered the world that long ago and has been making his mark on it ever since.

The first audiences to grow up with Rooney saw him as a child himself in the Mickey McGuire shorts of the 1920s, which is where the young Joe Yule, Jr. picked up his new first name. In the 1930s, viewers knew him as the teen protagonist of the Andy Hardy films and other boys' stories, including Boys Town (1938), which is one of the films in the TCM lineup. You can also see Rooney in the Andy Hardy role in Family Affair (1936), and you can catch some of his other youthful performances in the early hours of the day on Tuesday. The TCM schedule includes two of the "kids putting on a show" pictures that Rooney made with Judy Garland: Strike Up the Band (1940) and Girl Crazy (1943).

Many of the later films on the TCM roster show Rooney's more adult, dramatic side, with performances inQuicksand (1950), The Strip (1951), and Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962). Youngsters who grew up in the 1970s, however, won't know Rooney from Pulp (1972) but will remember him in TV specials like The Year without a Santa Claus (1974) and Disney movies like Pete's Dragon (1977). The first movie that I really remember noticing Mickey Rooney in is The Black Stallion (1979), which I saw in the theater as a little girl and found utterly enthralling. I didn't know then that Rooney's role as a trainer was a tribute to his performances in Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (1937) and especially National Velvet (1944).


Even kids who are still growing up in 2013 have seen Rooney. He had a memorable role in Night at the Museum (2006) and a cameo in The Muppets (2011). That makes Rooney a great choice for some family viewing time on Tuesday. If your youngsters haven't gone back to school yet, try A Family Affair, Boys Town, Strike Up the Band, and Girl Crazy as some quality together time. If you miss them on TCM, you can find them on DVD and on streaming in various places. Watch with the kids and ask them if they recognize that funny guy and his distinctive voice. Maybe he sounds like Tod in The Fox and the Hound (1981)? Does he sound a lot like Sparky in Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp's Adventure (2001)? Maybe they remember that mean little old man who gave Ben Stiller a hard time in Night at the Museum. Then amaze the whippersnappers with the story of a little boy who grew up and grew old in front of the whole world, who made more than 300 movies and is still making millions of people laugh and cry today, thanks to the special, magical power of film.

For more about Mickey Rooney, see this post: "Putting on a Show: Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland," from the recent Dynamic Duos blogathon hosted by Classic Movie Hub.