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Mickey Rooney Dies at 93 - R.I.P.

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I've got a barn, let's do a show.

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Another link to the golden age gone. It's easy to forget what a colossal star Rooney was in his day, because so many of his vehicles haven't aged so well and his star personality seems a tad hyperaggressive for today's tastes. A contemporary viewer might well wonder why young Judy Garland was relegated to second-banana status in their pictures together. But he was a big star and a big talent. No one could pick up a routine faster (which may have encouraged some his bad offscreen habits; it was all too easy for him). Adieu, Puck.

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I was saddened to hear this news.

I haven't seen that many of his movies but I really liked him in "It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world", especially the part in the plane with Buddy Hackett.

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That is my favorite speech from the play -- many thanks for the clip!

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A nice photo gallery from CNN accompanying a story about a dispute over the will.

Rooney "intentionally omitted" and disinherited his eight surviving biological children and two other stepchildren from his last marriage, the will said.

Rooney had no negative feelings toward his surviving children, but they were all financially better off than he was, Augustine said, adding that Rooney believed that what little he had to leave should go to Mark Rooney and his wife, because they had been taking good care of him in his final two years.

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The real pity is that he died with so little after so many years in show business. He started out in the silent movie era!

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Rooney had a gambling habit and multiple wives. Not a recipe for financial stability.

I guess it should be noted that the stars of the golden age, most of whom were contract players, were underpaid, relatively speaking. Many ended up well-off but not necessarily stratospherically so, unless they invested wisely. The old system had its advantages for stars but base pay wasn’t one of them.

(Ginger Rogers wrote in her autobiography that her mother Lela (one of the great stage mamas of showbiz history) asked her daughter’s agent about what we would call today residuals from this newfangled television thingy (this was in the 1930s). Hayward said there was no need, it was never going to amount to anything.)

That said, Rooney would probably have ended up in financial difficulties anyway, given his habits. At the peak of his stardom he'd spend most of his week at the tracks playing the horses and then come in and pick up all his routines in a day. As noted upthread, possibly he was too talented for his own good. And of course don't forget his height, maybe some of this was overcompensation.....

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I watched one of my favorite MGM musicals, Words and Music, again this week and really paid attention to Rooney. To say his performance is a broad one would be the understatement of the year (although, in the informative commentary track, the film scholar reminds us that Lorenz Hart had a broad personality.) Hard to know how much of Rooney's scenery-chewing performance is due to him or the craziness and historical inaccuracy of the script. Still, if you can stay the course, his duet with Judy Garland -- "I Wish I Were in Love Again" -- is wonderful. He was one of the few people who could go toe-to-toe with her and not get obliterated. He made it look so easy when we all know it wasn't. Unfortunately, this was to be his last film for MGM, as he was no longer a cute juvenile at 28.

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I watched Words and Music again last night. The biographical (and I use that term loosely) portion of the movie gets worse every time I watch. I don't know what's more excruciating -- Mickey Rooney's hammy overacting as Lorenz Hart or Tom Drake's monotone delivery as Richard Rodgers. Still, MGM was dealing from strength in 1948 by featuring June Allyson, Cyd Charisse, Perry Como, Lena Horne, Judy Garland, Betty Garrett, Gene Kelly, Ann Sothern and Vera-Ellen in this -- the musical numbers have held up lo these 66 years later.

One thing that's fun about musicals from this period is that, if you pay close attention to dance numbers within and across musicals, you start to see the same faces again and again in the MGM corps of dancers. Not only do they show up in dance numbers but you can often spot them in crowd/party scenes as extras. I wish there was an oral history featuring the MGM corps dancers from the 40s. The closet thing I know of is the 1990s documentary MGM: When the Lion Roars, which actually did feature interviews with several dancers from that period.

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An incredible load of talent. Only possible under the old studio system, for better and worse. It is indeed too bad that there's no such oral history.

Yeah, Hart was an outsized personality, but not outsized that way. (And Tom Drake as Richard Rodgers? Whaaaa?) To be fair, the composer biopics were never meant to be factually accurate, and it is doubtful that the subjects themselves would have desired such accuracy. They were intended as showcases for the music.

He was one of the few people who could go toe-to-toe with her and not get obliterated. He made it look so easy when we all know it wasn't.

So true. " I Wish I Were in Love Again" is a great number, and a nice way for the Rooney-Garland partnership at MGM to end. In most of their pictures together, though, Rooney dominates and is allowed to do so. This made sense at the time because he was the bigger star to begin with, but to the modern eye young Judy is far more appealing. By the time of "Words and Music" she had really come into her own. (I will say she does look a little too thin.)

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To be fair, the composer biopics were never meant to be factually accurate, and it is doubtful that the subjects themselves would have desired such accuracy. They were intended as showcases for the music.

Very true -- "Night and Day" (Cary Grant as Cole Porter.)

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The interesting thing about the two Judy Garland numbers -- "I Wish I Were in Love Again" (w/ Rooney) and "Johnny One Note" -- is that they weren't filmed back-to-back. The studio called in Garland from her sickbed (this was around the time when they had replaced her with Ginger Rogers in The Barkleys of Broadway) to film one number. The studio heads were so pleased with the results that they brought Garland back weeks later to film the second number. You can tell the numbers weren't filmed on consecutive days because Garland's looks different in the two numbers and there are continuity problems with her dress. (In "I Wish I Were in Love Again" her dress has a belt and in "Johnny One Note" it doesn't.) The weight issue would arise again two years later with Summer Stock, when the Garland of "Get Happy" is noticeably thinner than she is in the rest of the movie.

I don't know what's funnier to the 21st century eye -- the lengths the studio went to "degay" Lorenz Hart or Tom Drake pretending to be attracted to Janet Leigh. (The Boy Next Door wasn't that good of an actor!)

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To be fair, the composer biopics were never meant to be factually accurate, and it is doubtful that the subjects themselves would have desired such accuracy. They were intended as showcases for the music.

Very true -- "Night and Day" (Cary Grant as Cole Porter.)

There's a story that after the picture came out one of the screenwriters rang Porter to apologize for his part in the atrocity and was stunned to hear Porter tell him that he just loved the whole thing. He relayed this puzzling response to Oscar Hammerstein, who asked, "How many of his songs were in it?" "27." "Well, of course he loved it. You don't think he noticed all the stuff that went on between his songs, did you?"

One of Grant's rare embarrassing performances, especially when he is required to disport as a Bulldog undergraduate, although arguably not quite as cringe-inducing as his rugged man-of-the-people frontiersman in "The Howards of Virginia." Even so Porter probably preferred being played by Grant on a bad day to almost anyone else.

(The Boy Next Door wasn't that good of an actor!)

No, he wasn't. But I'll always like the way he tells Garland in "Meet Me in St. Louis" that "That Welsh rarebit was ginger peachy." And the following scene where the two of them go through the house turning down the lights has a delicately erotic aura.

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Turner Classic Movies has shown "The Black Stallion" a couple of times recently. A beautiful movie, ideally seen on a big or at least biggish screen, with a fine late performance by Rooney.

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Oh, I like Tom Drake too, especially in Meet Me in St. Louis, which has insured his screen immortality forever. It's just that he's not convincing despairing about Ann Sothern or romancing Janet Leigh in Words and Music. He couldn't fake it the way his direct MGM contemporary Van Johnson could.

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A new biography is coming out. There is a need. I read the one that came out a few decades ago and it was not good. Depressing story about a very great talent. Hard not to wonder if Rooney's life might have turned out differently if he'd been even five inches taller.

Labeled by Laurence Olivier “the greatest there ever was,” his nearly century-old career was burlesque, vaudeville, silents, talkies, Broadway, TV, final movie just weeks before he died.

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dirac, are we sure we want a full-blown biography of Rooney, the uncensored edition? With some Hollywood greats I think it's better to just leave the skeletons in the closet, because we already know the story: plenty of booze, lots of marriages, broken relationships, financial problems, and general misery. I don't think his body of work is interesting enough to merit such scrutiny. (Unlike, say, Bette Davis/Vivien Leigh/Judy Garland/Richard Burton, etc.

I kind of feel the same way about Natalie Wood. I'd really just rather remember her as the cute little girl with the deadpan humor in Miracle on 34th St. Her body of work also isn't really deep enough for me to wade through pages and pages of stories about how everything in her life, from her name to her family to her marriages, were fake/arranged and her general miserable existence.

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The only people who have to read the books are the editors and the reviewers.

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The only people who have to read the books are the editors and the reviewers.

Heard an interview with Dick Cavett over the weekend -- when he first started his interview show, he thought he had to read all of the book, but realized after a while that he could just read bits and pieces.

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dirac, are we sure we want a full-blown biography of Rooney, the uncensored edition? With some Hollywood greats I think it's better to just leave the skeletons in the closet, because we already know the story: plenty of booze, lots of marriages, broken relationships, financial problems, and general misery. I don't think his body of work is interesting enough to merit such scrutiny. (Unlike, say, Bette Davis/Vivien Leigh/Judy Garland/Richard Burton, etc.

I think a new biography of Rooney is warranted, canbelto. Much of it won't be fun reading, but it was a major career and his was a major talent -- contained, unfortunately, in a very short package. He deserves a good book, let's hope this is it.

How much of such a book dwells on the more unpleasant or painful aspects of private lives is really up to the biographer. It's possible to be honest without being sensational. (Some of the more sensational bios are also good books in their fashion.)

There are also some once-big stars who didn't make very many classic movies but whose careers are still significant in historical terms.

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I'd hope that the book focuses more on his early life, especially the infamous MGM studio system and not on the later years, which were bogged down by endless series of divorces, alcohol/drug problems, and financial woes.

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I'd hope that the book focuses more on his early life, especially the infamous MGM studio system

I wouldn't call the system at MGM "infamous" but I would love to read a book devoted solely to his years there (1934-1948). He was in the Top 10 of the annual Quigley's Exhibitors Poll every year between 1938 and 1943, and he topped the poll in 1939, 1940 and 1941. Those years were his glory years and are really deserving of an in-depth look (if someone hasn't done so already.)

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The studio system, at MGM and elsewhere, had its good points. The stars worked harder and were paid less by today's standards, but many had fond memories.

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