Mickey Rooney (1920-2014)

Rooney, Garland, mayer

On Sunday 6th April it was reported that Mickey Rooney, an entertainment legend if ever there was, had died at the age of 93. In an astonishing career than spanned almost his entire life, Rooney performed in all media, starting in the family vaudeville act at 18 months old before appearing in silent films, Hollywood blockbusters, television, radio and on and on….

Before his death he was one of the last surviving silent film actors, and his career was already in full swing when he transferred his skills to talking pictures and features. By the end of the 1930s Rooney was the biggest box office draw in America and was, along with Deanna Durbin, one of the world’s highest paid stars. In 1939 (also with Durbin) he was awarded the first of his two honorary Academy Awards, “For their significant contribution in bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth, and as juvenile players setting a high standard of ability and achievement.” He was a Best Actor nominee four times between 1940 and 1980 and received his second honorary award in 1983, “In recognition of his 50 years of versatility in a variety of memorable film performances.” His 92 year career of continuous work in showbusiness must surely be a record that will remain unbeaten.

Rooney’s career in 1930s Hollywood was the antithesis of Luise’s. His wholesome family oriented entertainment was exactly the fare that Louis B. Mayer was aiming for. While Luise struggled to convince the studio head to produce adaptations of classic and contemporary literature (The Good Earth, Out of Africa, A Doll’s House) Mayer concentrated on the money-spinners, and hit on a winning formula with Rooney as ‘Andy Hardy’ in a series of 15 films spanning almost 20 years. He proved his dramatic chops with a breakthrough role in Captains Courageous (1937) opposite Spencer Tracy (who won the Best Actor Oscar) and proved his versatility even further with a series of successful musical comedies opposite his great friend Judy Garland (picture above, with Mayer).

With the passing in the last twelve months of Deanna Durbin, Shirley Temple, and now Rooney, Luise Rainer is the only Oscar recipient from the 1930s, in any category, still living.

It is inconceivable that Luise and Mickey never met during their time at MGM, however, I have not been able to find any photographs or record of this. They did, however, share the stage at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles on 23rd March 2003 when fellow nonagenarian Oscar-winner Olivia de Havilland introduced ‘Oscar’s Family Album’. It was a truly historic occasion. Watch the clip below:

 

Oscars 2014 – Jennifer Lawrence vs Luise Rainer

So tonight we’ll see the 86th gathering of the lauded and beloved of Hollywood (with a few concessions to to the film world outside of that hallowed clique) at the Academy Awards. Although now just as interesting for the spectacle as the actual awards, the biggest night in the film calendar has, ironically, become one of the greatest pieces of theatre – from the traipse along the red carpet, to the after-show party, tonight is all about showing off.

It was ever so; back in 1937, when Luise Rainer won her first Academy Award, the ‘ceremony’ was only eight years old and took place at the Biltmore Hotel where a banquet was held while the awards were presented by George Jessel. By this time the Oscars were already considered the highest mark of achievement in the film world. But not for everyone. When Luise Rainer was first nominated for an Oscar she confessed to never having heard of it and didn’t understand the significance. This disinterest was only stoked by her new husband, the playwright Clifford Odets, who felt that the studios were artistically worthless and the handing out of awards a vulgarity. Luise agreed, in part, and the two were both craving the artistic ‘legitimacy’ of the stage. Odets was particularly enraged at his wife’s burgeoning stardom, especially the possibility that her achievements may outshine his own; when the press referred to him as ‘Mr. Rainer’ he was enraged, and they appeared to enjoy putting him in his place, taunting him for accepting “capitalist gold” for his “communist ideas”. But Luise agreed with Clifford; she too found herself stifled in the ‘circus’ at MGM, and within two years she had walked out of her contract but by then her marriage had irretrievably broken down. She won her second Academy Award in 1938 and says that, “for my second and third pictures I won Academy Awards. Nothing worse could have happened to me.” With his, and her subsequent abandonment of her career, she became the first victim of the ‘Oscar curse’, but Luise says that, “the real curse is that once you have an Oscar they think you can do anything.”

Over the years she has learned to embrace the Oscars and what they mean to her; one of her original statuettes has been replaced by the Academy (it simply ‘died of fatigue and keeled over’ – she had been using it as a door-stop for many years). The Oscars now stand on her bookcase, proudly.

jennifer LawrenceAs the first performer to win in consecutive years, Luise assured her place in the history books, but she also holds a number of other Oscar records. At the age of 104 can claim several longevity records: she is now the oldest Oscar winner who ever lived and she has had her awards longer than any else (77 years). She is also  the only surviving winner from the 1930s (Mickey Rooney was awarded an honorary juvenile award in 1939, but was not in competition). We need to jump forward almost ten years, to 1947, to find the next earliest surviving winner: Olivia de Havilland. These records may never be beaten, however, one achievement may be about to fall. When Luise won her second Oscar she was 28 years old, making her the youngest two-time winner in the history of the Academy Awards. The closest anyone has come to beating this record was in 1992 when a 29 year old Jodie Foster claimed her second Oscar, for The Silence of the Lambs (after 1989’s win for The Accused). Tonight, Jennifer Lawrence (23) is in the running for her third Oscar if she takes the prize Luise’s 77 year old record will have fallen (Lawrence will also join Luise and Katharine Hepburn as the only actresses to win in consecutive years).

Here at luiserainer.net we’re conflicted about the news, but let’s see what happens on the night…