Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 7, 2014

Mickey Rooney, Master of Putting On a Show, Dies at 93

Filed under: Film,New Deal,obituary — louisproyect @ 12:22 pm

NY Times, April 7, 2014

Mickey Rooney, Master of Putting On a Show, Dies at 93

Mickey Rooney at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, Calif. in 2012. Credit Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

Mickey Rooney, the exuberant entertainer who led a roller-coaster life — the world’s top box-office star at 19 as the irrepressible Andy Hardy, a bankrupt has-been in his 40s, a comeback kid on Broadway as he neared 60 — died on Sunday. He was 93 and lived in Westlake Village, Calif.

His death was confirmed by his son Michael Joseph Rooney.

He stood only a few inches taller than five feet, but Mr. Rooney was larger and louder than life. From the moment he toddled onto a burlesque stage at 17 months to his movie debut at 6 to his career-crowning Broadway debut in “Sugar Babies” at 59 and beyond, he did it all. He could act, sing, dance, play piano and drums, and before he was out of short pants he could cry on cue.

As Andy Hardy, growing up in the idealized fictional town of Carvel, Mr. Rooney was the most famous teenager in America from 1937 to 1944: everybody’s cheeky son or younger brother, energetic and feverishly in love with girls and cars. The 15 Hardy Family movies, in which all problems could be solved by Andy’s man-to-man talks with his father, Judge Hardy (played by Lewis Stone), earned more than $75 million — a huge sum during the Depression years, when movie tickets rarely cost more than 25 cents.

full article

I wrote this on August 8, 2000:

Babes in Arms

As you can well imagine, this recent bit of nastiness involving my free speech rights has left me feeling stressed out. So, taking a break from my usual Saturday night routine of poring through leftist journals while listening to Bel Canto opera on my stereo, I turned on the 1939 film “Babes in Arms,” starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, based on the Rogers-Hart plan and directed by Busby Berkeley. This film combines Busby Berkeley’s “rags to riches” ethos and popular front sentimentality. Anybody who wants to understand the 1930s through the prism of popular culture should rent this garish little jewel without delay.

Mickey Moran (Rooney) is an adolescent songwriter and aspiring director whose vaudevillian father is unemployed. His girl friend is Patsy Barton (Garland), who likewise comes from an impoverished show business family. All of their friends are in the same boat. The film opens with Moran and Barton performing the great Rogers-Hart tune “Good Morning” to a couple of stony-faced music publishers, who are trying to make up their mind whether they will buy the song or not. When they tell the boy that they will pay $100 for it, he faints. After coming to, he rushes home to turn the check over to his desperate parents.

His parents have figured out a scheme that will solve their financial woes. They will go on the road again with an old-time vaudeville show. When the kids suggest that they be brought along as part of the act, they are turned down. Their role would be to stay at home to watch over things.

This sets in motion the basic plot of just about every Rooney-Garland vehicle. They decide to put on their own show, which will be called “Babes in Arms.” Late at night, after the youthful crew of singers and dancers have embraced Rooney and Garland’s proposal, they march down main street singing and dancing, while carrying torches. Their excitement culminates in a bon fire in a deserted square. Since this scene was shot at the same time Nazi torch-light parades were a daily occurrence in Germany, one might surmise that the film-makers were subconsciously reflecting the kind of warped sense of “volkish” optimism at work in the Third Reich. We do know that the director Frank Capra, another quintessential depression era popular front figure, was an admirer of Mussolini, who had managed to get the trains to run on time. Oddly enough, the original inspiration for Hitler’s torch-light rallies were American football pep rallies that he learned about from an aide, who had been educated at Harvard.

After the cast is assembled, Moran makes the decision to use Dody Martin (Leni Lynn), a new arrival in town, for the lead female role instead of his girl-friend. Dody is a stand-in for Shirley Temple, and a risible figure in the film. She is surrounded by a retinue of butlers and handlers. When Moran has dinner with her at her mansion, the audience sees the opulent settings from his point of view. The class differences are palpable as the boy apologizes for his squeaky shoes.

When the show debuts on an outdoor stage, we see another side of 1930s popular culture, which was unfortunately on display almost universally. The opening skit is “Oh Susannah” performed in blackface. This kind of racist “humor” was a stock element of many 1930s musicals and comedies, including those made by the leftist-leaning Marx brothers. Fortunately a rain storm comes along and forces the show to close in the middle of the “coon show.”

After a few trials and tribulations, the youthful troupe receives some funding and they present a show which provides the climax of the film. It is a rather grotesque but musically effective production number featuring Mickey Rooney as FDR and Judy Garland as his wife Eleanor. They sit on what amounts to a throne in the middle of a stage, while various characters plucked from the fabric of American society plead their case. A “hillbilly” needs to be rescued from bankruptcy. You shall receive it, says FDR. An unemployed worker demands a job. He too shall receive it. The curtain falls with flag waving and patriotic high spirits. Despite the reputation 1930s films enjoy as being socially aware, this was the extent of it far too often.

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: