Hollywood lost a big piece of its’ collective history this week with the death of Mickey Rooney. His career spanned more than 90 years of acting, singing, dancing and “Putting on a show.”
Born to showbiz parents and working right up to his death, his career included the vaudeville circuit, silent film, cinema, television and Broadway. He was the number one box office star during Hollywood’s Golden Age but later filed for bankruptcy, struggled with gambling and more recently sued his stepson and claimed elderly abuse from family members. He was married eight times and famously said “Always get married in the morning. That way if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wasted the whole day.”
I photographed a very energetic but somewhat confused Mickey just a few years ago. He wasn’t the only one confused as we had him paired with Sacha Baron Cohen who stayed in character as Borat. Mickey didn’t have a clue who Borat was and frankly none of us understood the paring. Borat engaged Mickey but the reactions he elicited were so bazaar it was hard to figure out who was punking whom. On several occasions Sacha couldn’t keep a straight face and had to break character in response to some of Mickey’s outrageous comebacks . It was brilliant. At one point during the shoot Sacha whispered to me “This is the most surreal thing…Really” which, considering the source, meant a lot. It seemed that the mind of Mickey Rooney was Borat’s kryptonite.
Mickey was accompanied to the shoot by his wife, Jan and her son. MIckey refused grooming and wardrobe and at one point Jan wanted to cut a single hair on Mickey’s head that was shooting straight up but he resisted. As Mickey was sitting on the sofa being interviewed by the writer, Jan snuck up behind him and shipped the solitary hair. Mickey went absolutely ballistic, there were tears. He couldn’t be calmed and it effectively ended the shoot. Shortly after that I heard the news of their separation amid claims of financial and emotional abuse. I still wonder if that was literally the “hair that broke the camels’ back.”