Mickey Rooney (born Joseph Yule, Jr.) was an American actor of film, television, Broadway, radio, and vaudeville. Rooney’s career spanned nearly nine decades and continued until shortly before his death. He appeared in more than 300 films and was one of the last surviving stars of the silent film era, with one of the longest careers in the medium’s history.
At the height of a career that was marked by precipitous declines and raging comebacks, Rooney played the role of Andy Hardy in a series of fifteen films in the 1930s and 1940s that epitomized American family values. A versatile performer, he could sing, dance, clown and play various musical instruments, becoming a celebrated character actor later in his career. Laurence Olivier once said he considered Rooney “the greatest actor of them all.”
At the peak of his career between the ages of 15 and 25, he made forty-three films and co-starred alongside Judy Garland, Wallace Beery, Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor. He was one of MGM‘s most consistently successful actors and a favorite of studio head Louis B. Mayer.
Rooney was one of the last surviving actors of the silent picture era. His movie career spanned 88 years, from 1926 to 2014. During his peak years from the late 1930s to the early 1940s, Rooney was among the top box-office stars in the United States.
In an appraisal after his death, Nancy Jo Sales recounted in Vanity Fair that “He could sing, he could act, he could dance. He learned to play the banjo—scarily well—in a day. He played the drums like a pro. He was an expert golfer, a champion ping-pong player. He composed a symphony, Melodante, which he performed on the piano at Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 Inauguration Gala. Mickey was some kind of beautiful, talented monster.”