Vale Mickey Rooney
We were born on the same day twenty-five years apart, me and “the Mick.” Rooney was already one of Hollywood’s biggest stars by the time I came into the world in 1945, a celebrity of the first rank with the 20 “Andy Hardy” movies, and even an Oscar nomination in 1940 for “Strike Up The Band.” He worked with the ‘biggies,’ from Elizabeth Taylor to Spencer Tracy, from Judy Garland to Audrey Hepburn. An energetic 5’3,” Mickey Rooney was emblematic of the classic Child Star, first appearing in public at 18 months old in the 20’s, born of show business veterans with his life defined by success as a performer¸ and only that; a performer. That’s what he was raised and trained to do.
Born Ninian Joseph Yule Jr., Mickey had “issues” (putting it mildly). His personal life, subject to much scrutiny, left much to be desired. I was especially close to his sons, Tim and Mickey Rooney, Jr., and the less said about his role as a father the better. But one thing Mickey Rooney understood better than anybody was the effect of Fame on childhood. He came to my door in the Spring of 1969, uninvited and unexpected. My home in Encino had been devastated by a huge mudslide thanks to the record – breaking rains of that year. I was at rock bottom. When I opened my front door there he stood, wearing a Nehru shirt with a peace medallion around his neck. Of course I recognized him. Who wouldn’t?
Mickey pushed past me and commandeered my mud-soaked living room. He wasted no time. He had something to say and he got right to the point of his surprise visit.
“I’ve watched your work for years, Paul. You’re good. But it’s over. You have to get out of town, get your education, and find something else to do because this town will never let you work for at least 25 years.” There was no time to argue because he left as suddenly as he’d arrived.
Boy, was he right. How did he know? Because it happened to him…Mickey Rooney himself…one of Hollywood’s biggest child stars. He didn’t have to extend himself to find my home, nor was he honor-bound to give me advice…but he knew the meaning of the “writing on the wall.” It was from Mickey Rooney that I came to understand the community of child stars. The money is bigger, but not much has changed…not where it counts, in the formation of one’s character.
I learned from Mickey Rooney not to be desperate to ‘please,’ to accept work just for the chance to reach the drunk in the back row of a dark and desperate theater. He taught me that there is a world of difference between being a grown up adult and a being a mere performer, speaking other people’s words and lying about one’s true feelings.
Thank you, Mickey Rooney. The past forty-five years have been better, thanks to you.