Monday, April 14, 2014

Encounters with the late Mickey Rooney

FJI contributor Bruce Feld recalls his two encounters with movie legend Mickey Rooney, who died on April 6 at the age of 93.

He holds a special place in my recollections because he is the only actor I ever interviewed who had actually made silent films. The first time I interviewed him, I had to drive way the hell out into the San Fernando Valley to a nondescript office in a bland suburb about as glamorous as a used-car lot. His office was clean, well-organized and rather small. I laid my recorder in front of him and sat in front of his wooden desk. His manner was amiable and he was one of the most forthcoming and open subjects I ever met.

He was also unique in another respect. Most people I interview speak with me; Mickey performed. He did not simply answer questions...he did a little play. His voice rose as if he were projecting to a balcony, though, as I said, it was a relatively small office. Stage spit fired through the air and made the conversation a wee bit dangerous, though I don't think he hit me. It didn't matter what the question was about. I would see him look at me, then past me to an invisible audience, and off he would go. When I asked him about Judy Garland, the volume diminished a little. He looked heartsick and said he would have given anything to have maintained her health or prolonged her life. I felt he was still heartbroken about her, but he was a deceptively good actor and I could not swear what he was saying was spontaneous or another lively performance.

The second time we met was for lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel. We sat in a super-comfortable booth side by side ("Good," I thought, "the stage spit won't hit me"), facing the room rather than each other. He was warm and friendly, and put his arm around me when an assistant took our photo. I put the recorder on the table and had no trouble transcribing the interview. He spoke loudly enough so that he could be heard for the length of ten or fifteen feet. He mentioned again that he had been "Box office star #1 for two years in a row," although he had said that during the first interview. And he was laudatory about his eighth wife, Jan. I was sorry to hear that that particular relationship ended the year before he died. The rumor was that her relatives were siphoning off his income. He had even been compelled to testify before Congress. I watched the news clips on television. He did more than testify about the indignities of old age. He performed.

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