Mickey Rooney (1910-2014)
- Jackie Cooper, O’Shaughnessy’s Boy, 1935. One MGM kid for another… The project was set up in 1932 for Cooper and Wallace Beery. When it seemed they be unavailable in ’35, Rooney got the gig.. Not for long. Cooper became free; Beery, too.
- Leo Gorcey, Mannequin, 1936. The Mick was to join Spencer Tracy and Joan Crawford’s sole film together but was delayed on Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry. Enter Gorcey, sans his fellow Bowery Boys.
- Donald O’Connor, Sing You Singers, 1938. The role of Mike Beebe, played by O'Connor, at 12, was originally meant for The Mick… at 18, But Rooney was scheduled to make another picture at the same time. O’Connor was later Universal’s Rooney. "I was," said The Mick, "a 14-year-old boy for 30 years."
- Richard Carlson, No No Nanette, 1939. MGM had been keen on securing the rights for Rooney and Judy Garland. Instead UK producer-director Herbert Wilcox provided a lesson in how not to make a musical. First, star your future wife, Neagle, not known as a singer, then sign a bunch of LA characters (Eve Arden, Helen Broderick, even Zasu Pitts) and give them precisely nothing to do. Oh and cut the 15 musical numbers to… two!
- Robert Walker, See Here, Private Hargrove, 1943. MGM first wanted The Mick as the journo Marion Hargrove supplementing his pay by writing about his Fort Bragg basic training. The Army banned the real Hargrove working on the movie. Military revenge!
- Robert Walker, Her Highness and the Bellboy, 1944. All set to be the bellboy when Uncle Sam called - hey, there’s a war on, buddy! Walker took over opposite Hedy Lamarr in her final MGMovie.
- Peter Lawford, Good News, 1947. Mickey, director Busby Berkeley and producer Arthur Freed planned this remake as a sequel to their Babes in Arms, 1939. Then, LB Mayer decided to use the swing music craze - and it became Strike Up The Band, 1940. Charles Walters directed the MGMusical re-make with June and Peter Lawford. (They were reunited 25 years later for They Only Kill Their Masters, 1972, the last movie shot on the old MGM backlot).
- Van Johnson, Battleground, 1949. Bumptious and big-headed Rooney (his words) was so livid about being left out of the WWII drama that he quit MGM after 15 amazing years and his movie career hit the skids without such lavish support. By 1970, he offered to take over the ailing studio with a schedule of 20 movies for $1m apiece.
- Gene Kelly, Summer Stock, 1949. End of an era… The Mick was in, but The Mick was down, way down, no longer MGM’s big cheese. Kelly subbed as a favour to Judy Garland, whose career and life were in meltdown. This was her first gig since being fired from Annie Get Your Gun, She was down, her weight was up, and her delays many. Allyson was drafted into her place, but LB Mayer decided to give Judy a second chance. Her last chance… This proved her last Metro movie and MGM ended her contract during her next job, Royal Wedding, and called up Jane Powell. A victim of MGM, itself, as much as drugs and booze, Judy never made another film until A Star Is Born in 1953.
- Dan Dailey, A Ticket To Tomahawk, 1949. The Mick had various issues with his contracted B-thriller Quicksand. First, Friztz Lang decided against directing (thereby changing the thriller’s staus from A to B, even B-), then the ex-Mrs Rooney, Ava Gardner, refused to to play house… and anyway, all Rooney wanted to do was romance Anne Baxter on the 1876 the Tomahawk and Western Railroad.
- Donald O'Connor, Francis, 1950. The Mick usually did anything offered - good, bad, terrible - and the only way the William Morris merry men could free him of his Rooney Inc. partnership with Sam Stiefel, was to let Rooney make three Stiefel films at about $25,000 each. However, Stiefel had no faith in the third - sold it to Universal and the mule made more money than other two. When Rooney succeeded O’Connor for Francis in the Haunted House, 1956, the gloss was off the roast.
- Dean Stockwell, Kim, 1950. An on/off MGM project since 1935, ear-marked for Freddie Bartholomew for some years, but nothing happened. Rooney was announced for the titular boy wonder, Kimball O’Hara in April 1942. Once again, the expense - and politics - of even token shooting in India shelved the project. For a further eight years.
- Alvy Moore, Susan Slept Here, 1953. In the mix, with David Wayne, for Virgil, gofer for… well, it was between Dan Dailey, Cary Grant, Robert Mitchum before Dick Powell signed for his 58th and final movie role before TV producing and film directing. Debbie Reynolds was Susan and the US Catholic Legion of Decency (!) was aghast by the title… but not by George Washinhton Slept Here in 1942.
- Glenn Ford, Blackboard Jungle, 1954. MGM wanted one (anyone!) of their remaining contract guys as the schoolteacher Dadie: Rooney or Robert Taylor (!) Director Richard Brooks wanted “new faces, unpolished actors” - and Ford looked that way in his new, ex-military buzz-cut. Among others passing muster were Vic Morrow (beating Steve McQueen to his role), Sidney Poitier, future director Paul Mazursky and a certain Jameel Farah - better known on TV as Jamie Farrin M*A*S*H, 1972-1983.
- Sid Caesar, It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, 1963. Originally, Melville and Monica Crump were larger roles - written for the old “Let’s do the show right here!” team of Rooney and Judy Garland. She withdrew due to problems with her TV show and and Rooney was recycled into Ding Bell.
- Dan Duryea, The Bounty Killer, 1964. Ex-con turned actor turned scenarist Leo Gordon designed this Western for Mickey - as a timid Easterner becoming the titular killer caught out West between two gals. However, veteran director Spencer Gordon Bennet and his wife respun it for Duyrea (and son Peter). Plus, as if Bennet knew it was his final gig, a gallery of B heroes: Richard Arlen, Johnny Mack Brown Buster Crabbe and, also in his last hurrah, as The Man in the Cantina - Hollywood’s first cowboy star, GM “Bronco Billy” Anderson. But nothing for Leo. He wanted Rod Cameron’s role, but Rod was bait for the foreign co-financing and Bennet preferred to go against type and use Buster Crabbe as the villain. “He understood. Leo was a nice guy but slightly intimidating in size and appearance.” The reason why he was such a fierce villain. “What else? I look like a heavy. I’m 6' 2", 200 pounds, craggy-ass face.”
- John Huston, Myra Breckinridge, 1969. In Hollywood, the in-Brit director Mike Sarne, was hoping to just “write the script and get the fuck out of here” - back home to delight his bank manager with 75,000 clams! Sarne saw Myra’s antagonist, old cowboy star Buck Loner, as a great comic role for Rooney. Huston thought different and chatted up the Fox folk. “I can]t even describe how threatened I felt,” said the pop singer turned film-maker (Joanna). “He’s fuckin’ John Huston, for Chrissakes!”
- Jack Klugman, The Odd Couple, TV, 1970-1975. Close... but Klugman just beat The Mick to being Tony Randall’s room-mate, Oscar Madison for six years and... Tony and Jack were still Felix and Oscar on-stage 20 years later.
- Carroll O’Connor, All In The Family, TV, 1971-1979. The ground-breaking producer Norman Lear’s original choice for Archie Bunker, lightly based on the abrasive BBC series, Till Death Us Do Part. The Mick passed. So didTom Bosley, Scott Brady, Jackie Gleason and Jack Warden. When Lear called up O’Connor, the actor-producer-director and Actors Studio life member was living in Italy. He’d read all about the BBC show and told his wife it couldn’t work in the US. He insisted, therefore, on a return plane ticket go Rome! He lasted the first 1968 pilot, Justice For All (Bunker was then Archie Justice) and the second, Those Were the Days, 1969, and played Bunker 305 times (counting spin-offs) - an extremely lite version of Warren Mitchell’s iconic BBCharacter, Alf Garnett. O’Connor still won four Emmy awardsfrom eight nominations.
- James Coburn, Hard Times, 1975, Director Walter Hill’s first thought. was Warren Oates. His second was... The Mick. Whose career covered everything from ... Andy Hardy Finds Love to Internet Love...! He was aming my most memorable interviews - at Pinewood Studios, circa, 1978, as he played Daad El Shur (!) in Kevin Connor’s Arabian Adventure. When he died, at 93, in 2014, he had scored 338 screen roles during an astonishing 88 years … with two more films waiting for him.