We have lost another beloved star with very strong Oz connections. At the age of ninety-three, Mickey Rooney has passed away of natural causes.
From before his birth, Joseph Yule, Jr. (Mickey’s birth name) had sort of a connection to Oz in that his mother came from Kansas City, though on the Missouri side. He first appeared on the stage—unscheduled—as a fourteen month-old baby, and his official debut took place a mere three months later.
In the world of film, his career began with a long series of shorts in which he starred as Mickey McGuire, while working on other projects. He even showed himself capable of performing, indeed owning, a Shakespearean role, namely that of Puck in the 1935 feature film version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Showing what a trouper he was, he even acted with a broken leg (cleverly disguised by bits of set) following a tobogganing accident.
He also starred in a series of films based around the character Andy Hardy and, getting closer to Oz, performed in ten films with Judy Garland, the first being just after she starred as Dorothy Gale in MGM’s The Wizard of Oz; in fact, the enormously popular teen duo traveled the country with Wizard, performing a song-and-dance act before premiere showings. At the 1940 Academy Awards show, Mickey was on hand to present Judy with a special Academy Juvenile Award for her work.
Mickey had previously acted with Margaret (the Wicked Witch of the West) Hamilton in the movie Stablemates, and both of them lent their voices to the Filmation Studios animated movie Journey Back to Oz, released in 1974 and starring Judy’s daughter Liza Minelli as Dorothy. Ironically, Margaret played Aunt Em, while Mickey played the Scarecrow. The film is considered by some the only official direct sequel to the 1939 movie.
Many years and many, many, acting projects later, Mickey took to the stage in a national tour of the MGM/RSC Wizard, playing the title role, as well as Professor Marvel. The 1998 production also starred Eartha Kitt as the Wicked Witch of the West and Jessica Grove as Dorothy. Although audiences reported that Mickey frequently seemed to have trouble with his lines, they were nevertheless thrilled to see him pay tribute to the movie that made his longtime friend Judy a household name.
Until the day he died Mickey was working, his last project being Night at the Museum 3. To say he will be missed would be an understatement, but the sheer quantity of film, radio, and television work he leaves behind will ensure that his presence will be felt for decades to come.