Mickey Rooney (1920-2014)

by Luca Celada April 7, 2014

Rooney with a young Macaulay Culkin at the 1991 Golden Globes


He didn’t like it when people called him that, but in truth if there was ever a Hollywood legend, that was Mickey Rooney who passed away at the age of 93. Working into his nineties after an unparalleled career spanning nine decades and over 200 films, Rooney seemed immortal, a fixture who survived Hollywood’s Golden Age, and at times the two-time Golden Globe winner could seem like an ambassador from another time. He was nothing if not eloquent about his feelings regarding the town he loved and the industry he knew since being a contract player at MGM, part of the Hollywood legend and world which at times he remembered ruefully. Like when he spoke about it to the HFPA in 1989:

“There is no more Hollywood. There is a town, there is a city, there is a sign on the hill that says Hollywood.

“They were cognizant and aware that the big timber was going to be shorn – that Louis B. Mayer was going to die as we all do. They knew that Harry Cohn at Columbia was going to die. They knew that Harry and Jack Warner were going to pass away. They knew that Carl Laemmle was going to die; they knew that Adolph Zukor at Paramount was going to pass away. So they quote unquote waited for the propitious time to set in motion via the lobbyist in Washington DC – to say that it was an antitrust law. It was against the law, mind you, for Metro Goldwyn Mayer to (…) make a picture and to show it in a Metro Goldwyn-Mayer theater. They said it was against the law to make a picture at Warner Brothers and to show it at a WB theater. And down the line: 20th Century Fox, Columbia, Universal, Paramount and so on and so on. It’s against the law! It’s against antitrust! How dare you make a picture and show it! But it was perfectly all right for Ford and Cadillac and Buick to manufacture their cars and show them in their theaters called dealerships. Okay? It was perfectly all right for Florsheim shoes to be manufactured and sold in a Florsheim Shoes store! It was perfectly all right for – right here on La Cienega – for See’s Candies to manufacture See’s Candies and sell them in a See’s Candies Store! Does it begin to be a little odoriferous, this idea? The plan was carried out perfectly, they knew these giants were going to die (and they were) careful not to have quote unquote the star system. ‘We must never again allow a company to be formulated in order to bring up young beautiful people to become “stars”’!

“I am not afraid to tell you that I have wept at times. The motion picture (business) is like a beautiful woman. It needed nurturing, it needed tenderness it needed caring for, it needed the security if those people whose words had integrity. (…) I’ve been genuinely brokenhearted at the way they’ve trollopized Hollywood, how they have degraded, how they have rent almost asunder the magnetic name: Hollywood. It’s a place I love and its hurt me that it’s a beautiful woman that I’ve loved and they turned her into a dollar concubine.”

Asked what the greatest satisfaction his long and full life gave him, he said: “Being able to be in this business. For God giving me the opportunity to be a small infinitesimal part of this great industry. You talk of legend, you talk of this and that . It doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s less than anything. I’d rather be known as a good human being, as a nice man, as someone who at least tried to tell the truth, at least tried – who tried to help somebody, who tried to help the industry.”

Luca Celada