Mickey Rooney is in the news, because he’s out of time. The 93-year-old actor passed away on Sunday.
Rooney was a teen idol during the 1930s and 1940s, when he played rollicking teenager Andy Hardy in 16 movies. I catch one of these films on Turner Classic Movies once in a while, and they do offer an idealized view of life in the old U.S. during those times.
Andy always had good-looking babes on his arm - "Babes in Arms" as a film historian might say. In a couple of the films, he had an old beat-up car and goofball friends. It always killed me that “hip teens” of this period dressed in sports jackets and slacks for school and even for dinner, when Ma Hardy — and her kitchen help — had supper on the table. Andy always had a handkerchief neatly tucked inside his breast pocket.
In one of these corny-by-our standards movies, Mrs. Hardy had fallen ill and was out of town. Phone service was out, and poor old Judge Hardy — good old Lewis Stone — was agonizing over “Mother’s” fate. Andy, the hip teen, saved the day by rushing the Judge over to the home of another hip teen, who had a shortwave radio in his basement. With all the wires and antennas, it looked like this kid was trying to build another Frankenstein’s monster. But Poindexter delivered the goods, and as poor old Judge Hardy sat in the basement, shaking his head over the marvel of this new electronic age, words from the wires reported that Mother Emily Hardy was in great shape and would live to see the next installment in the series.
There were vignettes about buying war bonds and the importance of family, and Rooney was riding high. I always felt a little bad that he looked older than his years in 1958, when “Andy Hardy Comes Home” picked up the series after a 12-year absence. He was only 38. Rooney was pretty good in the 1962, Rod Sterling drama “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” and later landed a short-lived TV show.
Things got a little lean for Mick for a while, but he was back in the swing with the burlesque revue “Sugar Babies” and the well-received film “The Black Stallion,” both in 1979.
But I was struck at how time can be kind to some people and really beat up others. For “Sugar Babies,” Rooney looked like a little old man, although he was only 59. I will hit that magical age next month, and while Father Time has landed a few jabs and right crosses since I showed up in the ring in 1955, I do not consider myself an old codger. Not yet.
Rooney had his times. He was Golden Age Hollywood, and there are very few players left from that time. Gosh, after Lauren Bacall and Kirk Douglas, I can’t name any others. He was the teenager every teenager wanted to be during the 1930s and ‘40s, and kept working his entire life.
Something to be said for that!