Remembering ‘The Mick’

Drew Alexander | May 6, 2014, 10:31 a.m.

I’ve left it to others to write the tributes and reviews on the life and times and unequaled career of Mickey Rooney, who died at age 93 on April 6.

Mickey Rooney, the child vaudeville performer. Mickey Rooney, who defined the 1940s generation of teenagers as “Andy Hardy.” Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland as America’s fresh, young and innocent film sweethearts. Mickey Rooney, the multitalented and indefatigable multimedia superstar who for nearly a century was a legitimate entertainment legend.

That’s the big picture. That’s the CinemaScope version of a truly larger than life short guy whose talent stood taller than just about anybody else in show business.

Mine is the small-screen version, a day in the life account you won’t find elsewhere.

I met “The Mick” in the early 1980s after attending one of his dinner theater performances of “Three Goats and a Blanket.” I casually asked him if he would do a speculative TV commercial for one of my advertising agency clients. To my surprise, he unhesitatingly answered, “yes.”

Two days later I met with Mickey and had the shooting script for the product, a shampoo for women, written by me to specifically project his personality, his way of speaking, his infectious enthusiasm and energy. He read the copy out loud, using me as the camera, with the opening line, “I’m Mickey Rooney, and I know something about women and their hair.” His voice, facial expressions and gestures spontaneously meshed magnetically together into absolutely vintage Mickey.

Our morning meeting was at his casita at a resort hotel where he was staying with his wife, singer Jan Chamberlin, who married Mickey in the late 1970s. At one point, quite abruptly, the couple got into a heated argument. I didn’t know what sparked the eruption, but it was a terribly uncomfortable scene for me, so I got up and headed for the door.

Mickey quickly broke away from Jan and followed me out, apologizing for what happened, then smiled and said, “Let’s go get some lunch.”

Maybe he wanted to delay returning home, but it was a long lunch, and the conversation was equally frustrating as it was fascinating. Every time I started to talk business, he jumped to a new idea that had popped into his cyclonic mind. It was impossible to keep up with him, to sort out one brainchild from the next.

There were calmer moments, most notably when Judy Garland’s name came up. His eyes became glassy; his frenetic mental pace turned warmly placid. There was a remarkable look on that famous face, appearing to reflect something beyond anything he felt for any of the numerous other women in his life.

On the darker side, I didn’t tell him that our paths had indirectly crossed years before. I didn’t tell him that Barbara Ann Thomason, his murdered fifth wife and mother of four of his children, was an elementary school classmate of mine.

When securing major commercial talent, I was accustomed to first working with agents. In this instance, Mickey impulsively committed to my project without pursuing the nuts and bolts of prearranged contractual arrangements. Although the shampoo spot was shot and completed, it never aired because of the complications that followed.

Still, the experience of once being inside the Mickey Rooney whirlwind was unforgettable.

I like to think he’s now gone somewhere over that rainbow Judy sang about and that she’s there. Maybe it was only words in a song. Maybe there never was an actual somewhere over that rainbow.

But there should have been.

Drew Alexander, also known as “The Curmudgeon,” is a monthly columnist writing about political issues. Send comments to drewalexander@cox.net or to Drew Alexander, in care of Lovin’ Life After 50, 3200 N. Hayden Road, Suite 210, Scottsdale, AZ 85251.

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