by Patricia Grandjean
Mar 15, 2012
12:48 PMBox Office
Q & A: Mickey Rooney
Mickey Rooney, 91, first toddled into the limelight at 15 months when he joined his parents’ stage act, and made his first movie short, 1926’s Not to Be Trusted, at age 5 (he played a midget). Remarkably, as the song title says, “[He’s] Still Here.” Rooney comes to Sacred Heart University’s Edgerton Center for an “American Legends” career retrospective March 24 at 7 p.m. For more information, call (203) 371-7908 or visit edgerton center.org.
Connecticut Magazine was to do a spoken interview prior to Mr. Rooney's appearance—alas, we were never able to make it happen. Fortunately, we got some answers to our questions in writing.
You are the last surviving movie star of your generation. To what do you attribute your longevity?
I really can't say. I have a passion for this business that I was just born with. I have been lucky enough to work with some of the greats and was in the right place at the right time. I suppose it's a combination of many things, luck, talent, drive and passion.
When talking about your early film career, fans often focus on the "Andy Hardy" movies and the musicals you made with Judy Garland. But there are a few films in your résumé from that era that aren't discussed as often: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Ah Wilderness! and The Human Comedy, all adapted from works by literary heavyweights. What do you remember about making these films?
One story goes that you broke your leg while making Midsummer and had to be wheeled around in a cart. True?
How did you prepare for playing Puck at such a young age? How did the director, Max Reinhardt, help you develop the character?
I was always good at memorizing my lines and had the knack for retaining that information. It just seemed to come natural for me. Max was a brilliant director and a very nice man. Because of his kindness and patience he made me feel comfortable and at ease, which resulted in a good performance. Not just from me but everyone.
You played the younger brother, Tommy Miller, in Eugene O'Neill's Ah Wilderness! and then graduated to the lead role of Richard Miller years later in a musical remake of the play, Summer Holiday. Which did you enjoy more?
Although I enjoyed both, I think I would have to honestly say Summer Holiday. It was lighter and I loved working with Walter Huston. He was a very nice man.
I can't neglect to ask you this: What would you say made your dear friend, Judy Garland, such a memorable performer?
Judy was one of a kind. She was talented, wholesome and a very dear friend. Her talents reached off the screen and touched everyone. She could dance, sing, make you laugh, make you cry. There was no one like her and audiences could see that.
You made several films—Boy's Town, Girl Crazy, Young Tom Edison, Words and Music—with Norman Taurog, who's notorious for having made his nephew Jackie Cooper cry for the camera in the Oscar-winning film Skippy by convincing him that someone had shot his dog offstage. What was his technique like when working on your movies?
I know that directors have their own techniques for getting the results that they want, but fortunately he didn't use them on me in that way. I think I was able to reach deep and give him what he needed. I had no problems with him and we just took care of business and got things done.
You've directed a few films of your own in the past, including My True Story and The Private Lives of Adam and Eve. What kind of experiences were those: Good, bad, forgettable?
A little bit of all three. It's not my forte and it was a good experience I don't regret. Most actors should try it to get that perspective on things even if they find it's not for them. If it's not, they can take that learning experience with them when they are working with other directors.
Would you have liked to do more directing?
Perhaps. It would depend on the project.
You've said that the movie you're proudest of is The Black Stallion. Why?
I loved the character. He was older and wiser. I have always loved horses and have had quite a bit of experience with them, I've even owned a few. They're beautiful animals. It was also a beautiful story that involved a character that was very removed from Andy Hardy. It was a joy to work with absolutely everyone involved in the film, cast, crew and executives.
It's safe to say that over the decades, you've worked with just about everybody who's anybody in the movie business. Of all those colleagues, who impressed you most and why?
Of course, Judy is obvious. I could go on about her forever. I would also say Spencer Tracy, who taught me a lot. He was a natural talent and an incredible actor who was one of the best. More recently I have enjoyed working with Ben Stiller. He's a writer, director and actor who will be around a long time. Night at the Museum was a lot of fun.
Is there anyone you wish you could have worked with, but didn't?
In the past Orson Welles, and currently Scorsese or Eastwood.
You say you still love watching movie classics. What are some of your favorites, and why?
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Jimmy [Stewart] and the whole cast are spectacular. The movie is moving and strong.
Patton. It's a classic and George C. Scott was powerful. He's incredible. I am a vet and love war stories.
After all these years, you continue to make movies. What's next?
The offers are open. I love to work and always will. I have a new team and am working in a positive environment that I want to share and show through new projects.
What contemporary actors and movies do you admire?
Anthony Hopkins. He has an incredible range and is an intense performer.
DeNiro is DeNiro. No one can touch this guy. He has the ability to reach in and give Oscar performances every time.
Tom Cruise is not only an outstanding performer but a gentleman.
Do you think modern movies mean as much to audiences as the classics of the 1930s, '40s, '50s or even '60s did?
Movies were and are important to their audiences. That will never change. Each decade has their individual charm and power.
I hear that in your private life, you're a great supporter of animal rights. What other interests are you passionate about?
On the lighter side, my passion for music has always been apparent. I played many instruments in my films. My son Mark is my caregiver now and he is a gifted drummer and a multitalented musician. We have similar taste in music and write music together in our spare time.
I am very involved in senior rights. I spoke before the senate regarding elder abuse and I am trying to help pass legislation to stop abuse. The abusers need to know that someone cares and is watching. It's out of control and has to be addressed.