Another Hollywood legend has fallen. Mickey Rooney, pictured above with Nelson Eddy, has died at age 93, having lived a long, hard-lived but happy life (for the most part). He lived as any entertainer would want, continuing to entertain folks right up until his final days.
Many people may not remember that Nelson Eddy’s very first movie role was a quick walk-on (or sing-on) in the 1933 film Broadway to Hollywood. It starred Frank Morgan and Alice Brady as a vaudevillian couple. Twelve-year old Mickey Rooney played their grandson.
Nelson portrayed a vaudevillian singer named John Sylvester, who walked onstage and started singing “In the Garden of My Heart.” A few seconds later, the scene shifted back to an argument between Frank Morgan and Alice Brady so we hear Nelson finish the song over the din of their quarreling voices.
Not a great movie debut but at least Nelson enjoyed a short off-screen romance with an older woman, the film’s female star, Alice Brady.
Those of you who were lucky enough to see Mickey Rooney’s most recent touring show, “Let’s Put on a Show” (as we did), found him to be elderly and somewhat feeble but with enough mental energy and spunk to put over the songs and stories of his life that audiences cherished. He made vivid the memories of 1930s Hollywood and at several points in the show particularly when talking about Judy Garland, he wept. Even when the spotlight moved off him as the next portion of the show was set up, if one studied his face one could see that it took a few moments for him to compose himself.
He was a fairly religious man in later years and if one casually asked him about a Hollywood scandal (that didn’t include himself and/or Judy Garland), he was most likely to brush it off or not want to discuss it. However, you should know that he was receptive to narrating a documentary about the Jeanette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy romance. In fact, the negotiations only broke down over the very high and rather unrealistic fee that was demanded for his participation. Let me clarify here that these business decisions were not handled by Mickey himself; he had only kind words for Jeanette and Nelson. But it was a puzzlement.
So… it did not come as a surprise when more recently, unhappy reports came from Mickey himself about his finances and elder care problems. Three years ago, People magazine wrote:
The 90-year-old – whose on-screen problems were always easily resolved when he played all-American boy Andy Hardy – told a Senate hearing of a real-life drama involving elder abuse, and he spoke from his personal case history, he said.
“I felt trapped, scared, used and frustrated,” testified Rooney, who also said he and his (ninth) wife Jan were made to go hungry, he had medicine withheld from him and that his Oscar was even sold off. “But above all, when a man feels helpless, it’s terrible,” said the screen legend.
According to a court case in Los Angeles, Rooney has accused his stepson, Chris Aber, of elder abuse, and has obtained a restraining order against him. Aber denies Rooney’s claims, as does Jan Rooney, say news reports.
Mickey ultimately came to a private financial settlement with his stepson (who agreed Mickey was owed 2.8 million dollars but filed bankruptcy so could not repay him), turned all his finances over to his lawyer and separated from his wife Jan. His beloved Westlake Village home was sold and the proceeds split with Jan. They never divorced.
Mickey was working up till the time of his passing. He recently reprised his role as “Gus” in the upcoming Night at the Museum 3, which is still filming at this writing and is set to be released in December 2014. Hopefully Mickey’s footage will make the final cut of the movie.
The Los Angeles Times today notes that Mickey Rooney was “the tireless last surviving star of Hollywood’s 1930s Golden Age, a performer always ready to make an appearance when there was a crowd waiting to applaud.”