Obit of the Day: Mickey Rooney, 88 Years in Movies
The first time Mickey Rooney performed in front of a theater audience he was only 18 months old and dressed in a tuxedo. The son of vaudevillians, he moved with his newly-divorced mother to Hollywood when he was four years old. He made his first movie appearance in 1926 when he was only six.
By the time he was seven, Mr. Rooney had earned his first starring role in a series of movie shorts that began with Mickey’s Circus (1927). By the time he career ended he appeared in more than 200 films and television shows over parts of ten decades. Peers like Cary Grant and Anthony Quinn called him the greatest actor in Hollywood
Mr. Rooney’s stardom peaked when he was only 19 and theater owners named him the most popular film star in America of 1939. He was earning rave reviews for his performances as “Andy Hardy,” considered a version of the “All-American boy.” He also co-starred in several musicals with fellow teenager Judy Garland. (The Rooney-Garland films were formulaic hits that often ended with the couple putting together a musical to raise money for a fictional cause.) Mr. Rooney would earn his first of four Academy Award nominations for his performance with Ms. Garland in Babes in Arms (1939).
It was also at this time that Mr. Rooney’s long-term romantic woes began. In 1942, he married Ava Gardner, then a 19-year-old starlet which ended in divorce a year later. Ms. Gardner dissolved the marriage because of Mr. Rooney’s extramarital affairs, drinking, and gambling. It was the first of eight marriages for the actor. (Mr. Rooney would claim, years later, that his gambling and alimony payments cost him $12 million.)
Earning a second Oscar nod in 1943 for The Human Comedy and his third in 1956 for The Bold and the Brave, Mr. Rooney’s career was gliding along smoothly as he starred in two to three films as year, including 1944’s hit National Velvet which co-starred a 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor. But like most child actors, age was his greatest enemy.
Decades later, while receiving an honorary Oscar in 1982, Mr. Rooney summed up his career: “When I was 19 years old, I was the number one star of the world for two years. When I was 40, nobody wanted me. I couldn’t get a job.”
Although he was using a bit of hyperbole, Mr. Rooney found himself no longer cast as the lead in most films. He transitioned to television and earned three Emmy nominations in the late 1950s and early ’60s for Best Single Performance by an actor. He had also found a place as a character actor in Hollywood earning rave reviews for his appearances in Breakfast at Tiffany’s(1961)*, Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962), and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).
His star began to rise once again in 1979 when he earned his fourth, and final, Academy Award nomination for his supporting role in The Black Stallion. A year later he made a triumphal return to Broadway, co-starring in the tribute to vaudeville Sugar Babies.
In 1981 he won his lone Emmy for his performance as “Bill” in the television movie of the same name. He portrayed a mentally disabled man who was living independently for the first time after release from a mental institution. Some critics considered it his best role, surpassing even his Oscar-nominated work.
Finally, it was in 1982 that he received his honorary Oscar for 60 years of work in film. Mr. Rooney, now in his 60s, was an icon once again.
Over the last thirty years of his career he embraced his role as Hollywood’s senior statesmen and satirized his own love life as well as his career longevity. He made guest appearances on Murder, She Wrote, The Simpsons, ER, and The Love Boat. He also did voiceover work for several animated films and shows including The Fox and the Hound, Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, The Year Without a Santa Claus, and The Care Bears Movie. As late as 2014 Mr. Rooney filmed scenes for the upcoming production of Night at the Museum III.
Mickey Rooney died on April 6, 2014 at the age of 93.
(Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland singing “Our Love Affair” from the 1940 film Strike Up the Band when Rooney was 20 and Garland 18 years old. The film is copyright MGM and courtesy of TheManThatGetsAway on YouTube.com)
* Mr. Rooney’s portrayal of Mr. Yunioshiin Breakfast is obivously racist when watched 50 years later, but was considered high comedy at the time.
Also read Obit of the Day’s post on child star Shirley Temple who died on February 10, 2014
Obit of the Day: - —- .-. - ..- .-. .
Commander Jeremiah Denton was leading a squad of A-26 fighter jets in a combat mission over Vietnam on July 18, 1965. His twelfth mission, Cmdr. Denton was shot down near Thanh Hoa and captured.
As an naval officer, the Vietcong moved him to the infamous “Hanoi HIlton” POW camp where he underwent beatings and torture for eight years. His strength and courage never waned and the American public saw this first hand on May 16, 1966.
In a live interview broadcast by the Vietcong with Cmdr. Denton, the pilot turned the tables on his captors by refusing to denounce the U.S. military or the intervention in Vietnam. Even more boldly, during the filming Cmdr. Denton blinked out the word “torture” in Morse code with his eyelids. Army intelligence picked up the irregular pattern and understood the message*.
Following the invterview debacle, the Vietcong gave the commander his worst beating and he was never again allowed on camera.
As the war drew to a close in 1973, Commander Denton was released by the Vietcong. He returned home and was promoted to Rear Admiral by the U.S. Navy. In 1974 he was awarded the Navy Cross, the military branch’s second highest honor, for bravery during his intervew.
Admiral Denton retired from the Navy in 1976, the same year his memoir When Hell Was in Session was published. Three years later it was made into a television movie.
Drawn to politics after retirement from the Army, Adm. Denton ran for the U.S. Senate in his home state of Alabama. He won election in 1980 as a loyal follower of newly elected president Ronald Reagan. He became the state’s first Republican senator since 1879^.
He lost his re-election bid in 1986 to then-Democrat Richard Shelby, who is still the incumbent having switched to the GOP in 1994. Mr. Denton continued in public service founding the Christian-based Coalition for Decency, which he established in response to a “decline in morals” in the United States, and also the National Forum Foundation, which shipped donated goods to countries in need.
Jeremiah Denton died on March 28, 2014 at the age of 89.
(The video is a portion of the May 17, 1966 interview between then-Commander Jeremiah Denton and a member of the Vietcong. You can clearly see Mr. Denton blink in a distinct pattern that was Morse code. Courtesy of luck3148 on YouTube.com)
* The title of this post is the Morse code for “torture.”
^ Alabama’s first Republican senators were Willard Warner and George E. Spencer, who were both elected to the Senate in 1868 when the state was re-admitted to the Union following the Civil War. Mr. Warner lost re-election in 1871, while Spencer won his race in 1872 and left office in 1879.
Other POWs featured on Obit of the Day:
Jack Garrett - WWII POW who made a guitar plane wreckage
Lionel Greenberg - Captured by the Germans, he remained proud of his Jewish heritage
Kenneth Porwoll - Survivor of the Bataan Death March
Robbie Reisner - USAF pilot and POW leader inside the Hanoi Hilton
Louis Sachwald - WWII POW who weighed only 90 pounds when released
Obit of the Day: The Last of the “Radium Girls”
In the summer of 1924, Mae Keane was hired by the Waterbury (CT) Clock Company to paint watch dials. Along with dozens of other young women, Ms. Keane sat at a counter with a paintbrush in one hand and a watch in the other. She dipped the brush in radium and carefully painted it on the face the result was a dial that glowed at night. Like the other women in the room, Ms. Keane was taught that to get the finest point on the brush it was best to pull the tip through your mouth to create a “lip point.”
What Ms. Keane, her co-workers, and women working with radium did not know is that it was killing them. Discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie in 1898 along with polonium and uranium, radium was destroying the dial painters from the inside-out.
Although immediately categorized as radioactive by Ms. Curie, the term was not synonymous with danger. In fact the Curies and others around the world saw radium as a miracle element. It first earned its reputation when it was learned that radium salts eliminated cancerous tumors. And since it was element it was “natural” it was added to myriad products including drinking water, candy, and face cream.
Ms. Curie herself toured the United States in 1924 to defend the safety of radium, always carrying a glass bottle of the substance in her pocket. She especially liked how it glowed at night*.
It was that glow that made it perfect for watches. First applied to watches for soldiers in World War I, companies like Waterbury Clock began mass producing glow-in-the-dark watches after the end of the war. Usually the work was done by women n their teens and 20’s. Believing the radium to be completely safe the women were known to use pure radium as a cosmetic. They dusted their hair and painted their nails with radium and, in at least one case, a women rubbed radium on her teeth to create a glow-in-the-dark smile.
Ms. Keane only lasted a few weeks as a dial painter. She did not like the taste of the paint (she thought it was “gritty”) and the company was unimpressed with her work so she left. She also was earning only 8 cents an hour doing the work.
Not long after Ms. Keane left the company, her former co-workers began getting sick. Their teeth fell out. Their hips were breaking. Some were diagnosed with anemia so severe they would bleed from their mouths. The radium was attacking the girls bones, creating holes that made them brittle, while also destroying the marrow, leading to a sharp rise in leukemia^. By 1927, just three years after Ms. Keane left Waterbury Clock, 15 dial painters had died.
Simultaneously in N.J., young women from the U.S. Radium Company were also dying of similar symptoms. Once it was determined that the “miracle” element was in fact deadly the media dubbed the women “radium girls.” (By the end of the 1930s over 100 deaths were directly linked to radium.)
Note: As newspaper and radio coverage across the country focused on the women dying from radiation poisoning in New York and New Jersey, there were no news reports on the deaths at the Waterbury Clock Company until 2002.
Ms. Keane, even with only a few weeks exposure, lost all her teeth before she was 40. She also survived breast and colon cancer - but it can not be directly linked to the radium.
Even after the links to radium and radiation poisoning were made, the watch industry used radium for years eliminating the “lip pointing” technique and providing protective gear for the women. Eventually radium was replaced with other phosphorescent paints and, occasionally, tritium - a radioactive isotope of hydrogen.
Ms. Keane, who many consider to be the last of the radium girls, died on March 1, 2014 at the age of 107.
(Image is a 1928 cartoon from The American Weekly a Sunday magazine found in newspapers - think of today’s Parade. The cartoon is courtesy of the Waterbury Observer.)
* Ms. Curie herself would die of anemia believed to have been caused by exposure to X-rays in mobile units she invented.
^ The body mistakes radium for calcium and thus absorbs it directly into the bones.