Mickey Rooney on America, Christ and Judy Garland
by MATTHEW HAYS
Perhaps no other career in Hollywood has spanned so many decades and so many different phases. From the early age of 18 months, Mickey Rooney was performing for others, beginning as part of a vaudeville act. Rooney became world famous as a child performer, particularly as the star of the wildly successful Andy Hardy series. And he starred in a series of musicals, most notably Babes in Arms with Judy Garland.
In the 1960s, Rooney fell on hard times. After several years as one of the top box-office draws in America, his star appeal seemed to waver and work dried up. Rooney struggled with a barbiturate habit, went through seven wives (divorced four times, thrice widowed), declared personal bankruptcy and saw one of his dearest friends, Judy Garland, die tragically from drug-related causes.
He has since happily married his eighth wife (they've been together a quarter century) and claims to have found God. Rooney says an angel appeared to him in a diner one day, telling him Jesus Christ loved Mickey Rooney and was looking for him. Jesus Christ has been with him ever since.
Mickey spoke with the Mirror about Hollywood's golden age and his Christian philosophy.
Mirror: Some say they don't make movies like they used to. Is there anything about Hollywood today that really disturbs you?
Mickey Rooney: Yes--everything. The studio system is the only way that Hollywood worked. Now there are only four or five celebrities. I won't call them stars, because stars were people like Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, Bette Davis, you know what I mean? Don't give me Jim Carrey, who came from a comedy club.
M: A lot of parents thrust their children into show biz. Do you think it's a good idea?
MR: I think it's a great idea. There are no more children in show business. Jackie Cooper's gone, Shirley Temple's gone, for that matter I'm gone, Judy Garland's gone. You know what I mean?
M: Why do you think Judy Garland found it so hard to cope?
MR: She had a bad doctor who gave her prescription drugs that were all wrong for her. Our family physician was the chief of staff in Santa Monica. I had to call him up one day because I went by her house and had to jump the fence to get to her. She was in the kitchen on the floor, all naked and in disarray. We covered her up, and I said to the doctor, what are these pills? 'Mick,' he said, 'if you want to carry a piano over the Andes, you take one of these pills.' I won't mention the doctor who gave Judy those pills, but he's still alive and he should have been run out of the medical profession long ago.
M: How do you feel about the religious right in the U.S.?
MR: There is no right or left. It's all been knocked about. I'm not a liberal or a conservative or a middle of the roader or a democrat or a Republican--I'm an American. Does that answer your question?
M: Well, sort of. Jerry Falwell stands pretty firmly as a supporter of the Republican party...
MR: I've got news for you. He's an individual. That's his business. He's allowed to do that.
M: Don't you think they've given Christianity a bad name?
MR: No, I don't. I think they've just been off on the wrong foot. Tomorrow, here in New York, I'll be watching Reverend Ike. Have you ever heard of Reverend Ike? He's a coloured minister who talks about the fact that money is the greatest thing in the world. He owns about 12 or 15 Rolls Royces.
M: He doesn't sound very Christian...
MR: Well, certainly. He says God wants you to have all these things.
M: Not when other people are starving.
MR: But they're starving because of their own choice.
M: I don't agree with that.
MR: You know what? There's always yin and yang.
M: Oh, come on Mr. Rooney, with all due respect, you can't tell me that people choose to be born into poverty. That's an appalling philosophy, hardly Christian.
MR: Did I say that people were born into poverty and isn't that wonderful?
M: No, but to imply--
MR: I did not imply. The Reverend Ike doesn't believe in poverty. He wants all of his followers to get up and make as much money as they can. He says the only reason you're not going to make it is because you're sitting around on your fannies. It's there to be made.
M: I do have a problem with that philosophy. There are lots of people who work hard their whole lives and don't make a lot of money.
MR: I know lots of people who work hard and don't get their dues. But you know what, it's like Bette Davis says, unless you ask for the raise, and you tell them what you're worth, you'll never get it. She was the greatest in the world. We were the king and queen one year. I was king of the box office for three years and so was she. See, I'm not as ill-thinking as you thought I was.
M: But Mr. Rooney--
MR: No, you must call me Mickey.
M: But Mickey, it recently came out that there has never been such a gap between the rich and poor in America. I think America is in a disastrous state right now when the head of Disney is earning $100 million a year and children are born into homelessness.
MR: Michael Eisner just sold his stock in Disney for $500 million.
M: No one individual needs that much money.
MR: Don't think that he's not philanthropic. Don't think that Spielberg, because he makes $400 million a year, isn't philanthropic. And don't think that Barbra Streisand isn't either. You'll find a lot of people who are in Hollywood are liberal.
M: I'm not specifically referring to Hollywood here, but I think that the disparity between wages in America is disquieting. That 35 million Americans don't have proper health insurance is...
MR: You and I think identically different (laughs). We take the same tack in many respects. I will close it off by this, by saying, you have the right to disagree. You have a right to your own opinion. That is a great gift. To have the right to do that. How would you like to live in Baghdad today, if you said you had your own idea about something they'd shoot you. But the world is in such a tumultuous state. We're in the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah.
M: You think so?
MR: With all the things that we do today, pornography and all. That wasn't meant to be.
M: What do you think of Ellen?
MR: Have you got another question?
M: That's the one.
MR: That's none of my business. I think, between you and I, I don't get caught between lesbians and gays. If you can't say something nice about someone, just shut your mouth.
M: You must have worked with gay people. There are a lot of gay people in Hollywood, lord knows.
MR: No, I never knew anything about anyone being gay in Hollywood when I was working in the studios. Did you know that?
M: It was kept quiet.
MR: No it wasn't. They weren't in closets, they were in safes.
M: Surely you must think the situation is better now, that gays can be honest about who they are.
MR: If it's immorally wrong, it's not normal. Jesus Christ said the effeminate are an abomination to me. Are you aware of that? I don't watch the Ellen show. I wish her all kinds of luck. Except that I'm not a fan. But there are a lot of people who aren't fans of Mickey Rooney and you can't please everyone.