HE MADE his first foray into showbusiness crawling on stage when he was less than 18 months old and starred in his first film at the age of six.
Yesterday the career of big-screen legend Mickey Rooney – who had once seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of his Scottish comedian father as an entertainer – ended following his death at the age of 93.
Police said Rooney, who was working on a new big-screen version of Robert Louis Steven’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde story, died at his home in Los Angeles.
One of the biggest box office draws during Hollywood’s golden era of the 1930s, the actor shot to fame with the Mickey McGuire and Andy Hardy series of films. Rooney, famed for his all-American teenager image, ended up making more than 200 films and starred alongside stars such as Judy Garland, Elizabeth Taylor, James Cagney, Spencer Tracey and Audrey Hepburn.
Rooney, who was married eight times, had numerous off-screen problems due to a fast-living lifestyle, depression and financial difficulties, the latter of which saw him declared bankrupt in 1962.
The American actor was half-Scottish through his Glasgow-born father Joe Yule, who was born in the Polmadie area of the city but emigrated to the US when he was a child. He married a fellow vaudeville actor, Nellie Carter and the pair were appearing in a production of A Gaiety Girl when their son was born.
One of the last surviving stars of the silent movie era, Rooney began his acting career when he appeared in his parents’ vaudeville act, Yule and Carter. He was still racking up film and TV credits more than 90 years later – a feat unmatched in showbusiness.
Tributes poured in for the actor. Actress Margaret O’Brien, a long-time friend, said: “He was undoubtedly the most talented actor that ever lived. There was nothing he couldn’t do.”
Mia Farrow said: “We can only be awed and grateful for so many great performances.”
In 1934, he signed a contract with MGM and landed his first big role playing in Manhattan Melodrama.
By 1939, Rooney was established as the film industry’s top box office draw and that year, at the age of 19, he became the youngest nominee for a best actor Oscar for his role in Babes on Broadway, the first of four during his long career.
But his fame, money, gambling, lust and mercurial nature became problems for the MGM studio, which did not like seeing its young star sully his reputation and box-office potential.
Despite the studio’s best efforts to keep him out of trouble, his antics still frequently ended up in the Hollywood gossip columns and MGM bosses were furious when he married Ava Gardner, another rising star, when he was 21 and she was 19.
Rooney joined the army in 1943, spending most of his Second World War service entertaining troops.
On his return, he went on to enjoy international triumph alongside Elizabeth Taylor in the 1944 movie National Velvet.
Despite his early success, Rooney’s star gradually began to wane and admitted his fame had forced him to grow up too quickly. By the time he was 30, he said he felt 100 years old.
The show business legend was declared bankrupt by the early 1960s, with much of his money spent on maintenance for his ex-wives and a reckless lifestyle.
However, his career enjoyed a dramatic revival with the Disney film Pete’s Dragon in 1977. Rooney won an Emmy and a Golden Globe in 1982 for the TV movie Bill, playing a mentally handicapped man trying to live on his own. He was given a lifetime achievement Oscar in 1983.