A few days ago, I wrote that “nearly everyone who ever appeared in a silent movie is gone.”
Now, we’ve lost one more.
In 1988, Terry Jones invited me to visit him on the set of Erik the Viking, which he wrote and was directing. It was one of Tim Robbins’ first lead roles, and also featured John Cleese, Eartha Kitt and Terry.
When we were walking to the soundstage, Terry mentioned casually “Oh, and for Erik’s grandfather, we’ve also got Mickey Rooney.”
Rooney had been appearing on stage in London in Sugar Babies. Apparently, he was bored during the daytime when he wasn’t performing, and so happily agreed to do Terry’s film. He was, at that time, a mere youth of 68.
After I got on the set, I looked around for Rooney. It wasn’t difficult to spot him. I just looked for the biggest crowd, and there he was at the center of it. I got close enough to hear him regaling the extras (mostly younger girls) with stories of his past. And boy, did he have stories. He ran the gamut, everything from Hollywood Past to the dangers of smoking (something to do with enlarging the pores and aging too quickly, which made you look much older on camera–with Mickey, everything eventually led back to Hollywood).
He happily offered to do an interview with me for an article I was writing on the film, and regaled me as well. And all the time I was listening to him, I kept thinking “This is Mickey Rooney! This is Hollywood history!”
A recent article noted that he had an 88-year show business career, setting a world record, longer than George Burns, longer than anybody. He starred in silent movies. He was featured in Manhattan Melodrama, the movie John Dillinger saw just before he was shot, which puts it into an amazing perspective. And he just finished filming a role in Night at the Museum 3.
The word “legend” is thrown around a lot in show business, and is very seldom deserved.
Mickey Rooney was a legend.