MICKEY ROONEY: THERE'S NO
BUSINESS LIKE HIS DISPOSABLE JOCKEY SHORTS BUSINESS
I interviewed Mickey Rooney for The New York Times in 1977, he enjoyed
reminiscing about Judy, Ava and Liz, but he seemed equally enthused
about his current, decidedly oddball business enterprise. --Guy
a good movie about a boy and his horse is hard to find. Which is
why it comes as a jolt to hear that the "Godfather"s
own Francis Ford Coppola is producing "The Black Stallion,"
based on the children's classic by William Farley. Whats more,
Mr. Coppola and his director, Carroll Ballard, have come up with
the ideal star for their film. His name is Mickey Rooney.
Mr. Rooney, a vigorous 56, will not be playing the horse-crazy kid,
however. As in "National Velvet," he will be seen as the
stubborn trainer who molds a novice jockey into a valiant victor.
This time, the champ is played by 11-year-old Kelly Reno, and Mr.
Rooney--now on location in Toronto--is mighty keen on the kid. "Hes
your original boy on the cover of the American Weekly, right out
of a Norman Rockwell painting," said Mr. Rooney in a hoarse,
early-morning voice. "I think hes more American than
I was. By the time I was Kellys age, I had been working nine
years in vaudeville."
And by the time he was in his teens, he was one of the biggest box-office
stars in the country, equally admired as a cigarette-puffing street
tough or as the eternally innocent, soda-sipping Andy Hardy--the
cleanest-scrubbed, sweetest-natured rascal in all of Carvel. Although
James Agee and other perceptive critics deemed young Rooney one
of the finest talents on the American screen, he became increasingly
difficult to cast as he grew older--but not significantly taller.
Still, even today, he seizes the occasional opportunity when it
is presented--such as his guest role on "A Year at the Top,"
Norman Lears summer television series which will have its
premiere on CBS tonight at 8. But his conversation these days is
apt to be peppered with more references to his business enterprises
than to his art.
"Im part of a group called World Investment Network,
and that stands for win. Were working on a whole
chain of international inns, dinner theaters, schools for ballet
and tap-dancing, a womens cosmetic line, and disposable jockey
shorts for men--theyll be paper, like the baby diapers, and
were calling them Rip-Offs. Were also making movies
in Chicago, the first of which will be a spoof called The
Picture That Nobody Should See. Its about two old people
who set about to make millions on a porno movie entitled Savage
project dearest to Mr. Rooneys heart is the International
Commemorative Society, in which he is a partner with such illustrious
citizens of Hollywood as Bob Hope, John Wayne, Lucille Ball, Paul
Newman and Liza Minnelli. "Were going to issue six solid
silver coins a year, marketing for about $300. The first one will
be a Judy Garland coin. Judy and I were like brother and sister--shes
a very deep love in my life."
Mr. Rooneys recollections of his days at M-G-M tend to be
gently Technicolored, and he emphatically denies the rumor that
his adulthood has been plagued by a series of financial catastrophes.
"Thats a lie. There never was a time when Rooney didnt
have a few bones in his pockets. There were times when I was ill,
but never broke. No one will have to give a benefit for Mickey Rooney."
Even critics who find Mr. Rooneys work excessively mannered
concede that he gave superior performances in "Boys Town,"
"The Human Comedy," "National Velvet," "Killer
McCoy," "The Bold and the Brave" and "Requiem
for a Heavyweight." What does he consider the highlights of
"Oh, I dont think you have enough paper in your typewriter
for all my highlights. There were some tremendous thrills in yesterday,
but there were some lousy, stinking bombs, too. Im really
not a man who lives in yesterday; I live in the now. Everything
so far has just been an apprenticeship. Ive written a novel
called The Panama Canal Incident, and on Sept. 21 Im
opening in Chicago in Dr. Hekyll and Mr. Clyde, a play
which I wrote with Bob Friedman. On Nov. 3, Petes Dragon
opens at Radio City Music Hall. Thats a very big Walt Disney
movie in which I play Helen Reddys father. In fact, Ive
been married so many times that I might be Helen Reddys
have changed. "My 30-year-old son is going to be married on
the 20th of August, and it will be his first--and only--marriage.
I was married in the days when it was immoral to court a lady. You
had to get married to get kissed. The idea was to walk off into
the sunset with your childhood sweetheart, but somehow it never
had a happy ending. Heres my old friend Elizabeth Taylor entering
into marriage for the seventh time. Is she happy? I hope so. And
look at poor Ava Gardner--she was looking for Shangri-La when she
married me, and she still hasnt found it. I hope she finds
it soon. I hope we all do."