Mickey Rooney



The longest career in motion picture history

Wednesday night the American Cinematheque’s Max Palevsky Aero theater played host to the Opening Night of a Five Night Tribute to the man Mickey Rooney, and the longest career a memorable evening, highlighted by an in-person appearance by none other than the real McCoy himself, the inimitable, Mickey Rooney.

General Moninger S. Grant got the evening’s festivities rolling with the pre-film announcements, a big crowd and a big applause for Mr. Rooney and what was a highly anticipated screening and Q&A. HEAVYWEIGHT still hits hard. Works the body till the head follows. Rooney’s place in the triangle of pain, Mountain Rivera’s corner, as trainer, "Army" to Jackie Gleason’s manager and Anthony Quinn’s boxer, is a singular example of just how powerful, revelatory even, an actor’s performance can be in a supporting role. Rooney’s character within the relationship of these three men in the twilight of a once great career as they struggle with the degradation of being forced to "get something outta the losing" is essential in carrying the pathos, illustrating a "nurturing" masculine element, and serves as the film’s only comic relief. "Army" pulls it off in one stand alone card game of "War."

With NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 2 and three films in post production, "Recently named the longest career in motion picture history, from ’27 till now, four times Oscar nominated, twice honorary award, Emmy award winner -- the awards get too many. All I’m going to say is here’s Mickey Rooney." With those words, host Peter Hammond welcomed actor, veteran, philanthropist, legend Mickey Rooney down to the Aero’s stage. A stage which has been held by countless giants of the film industry and a few seats in the audience too, this night was really special.

Mickey Rooney, unassuming in air and dress, took a seat alongside Mr. Hammond and Microphone in hand, proceeded to speak in a voice that was soft and steady never wavering and always settling. Mr. Rooney was joined in the audience by friends, family, and his wife Jan.

"Thank you. Well, I made so many bad pictures that weren’t released, A few that escaped. But it truly, I truly… have always believed that Anthony Quinn was one of the great actors of our time and should have been nominated and should have won. (Jackie) Gleason was coming off of Ralph Kramden… Director Ralph Nelson was a patient wonderful gentleman, tremendous gentleman. It was a great honor for me to be an infinitesimal part."

He paused, "Requiem for a heavyweight. It’s depressing. It was… certainly not a picture for family or children. Right now I have a few grandchildren. It would frighten me if they ever saw it. One is four the other seven. It’s not a picture for children."

"I’ve been married for thirty five years to a wonderful lady. Jan stand up. Believe me I would be nothing without that lady."

Jan Rooney responded from her seat. The pair recently performed live on stage in the UK and share a star on Hollywood Boulevard (Mr. Rooney has three of his own if you’re wondering). Repeatedly through the evening Mr. Rooney would remark what little "all the awards" mean to him. That what he is most proud of is his family, and his work with BOYSTOWN, the charity founded by the real life Father Flannigan, which Rooney has gone to such great strides in promoting, has done such great work in assisting troubled and underprivileged youth. "We’ve graduated three governors."

The arc in reverse formed by the evening’s double bill from young vaudeville performer to boxer, to trainer of younger fighters is capped by Rooney’s appearance. At one point a service veteran in the audience remarked that they need a film of just that, a bio pic of Rooney’s career, The Mickey Rooney Story. It’s a great script: and old-fashioned love story with a happy ending.

Meanwhile The Mickey Rooney tribute @ the Aero continues this evening at 7:30 with the LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY and THE HUMAN COMEDY. Mickey Rooney will appear again in person for Saturday’s EARLY presentation of THE BLACK STALLION at 4:00 pm.

More to come…

DR YES 5/06/09


Greatest. Comedy. Ever.

by Michael Schlesinger
Posted May 7, 2009

It’s been a few years since IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD graced a theatre screen in L.A., so its appearance Sunday, May 10tttth at the Aero is welcome news. On the 45tttth anniversary of its general release (with much footage from the roadshow version still MIA), the movie Stanley Kramer vowed to be The Comedy To End All Comedies somehow manages to seem not only as hilarious as ever, but even more pertinent. (You really didn’t expect Kramer to make "just" a comedy, did you?)

Yes, it’s hardly a surprise that the overarching theme is greed: how easily ordinary joes can be totally corrupted by the possibility of scoring a big pile of stolen cash. But less obvious is the constant surveillance the fortune-hunters are under; the cops know everything they’re doing throughout the film. In an era where the government has no compunction about tapping phones and reading mail, it’s almost eerie how Kramer and writers William and Tania Rose inserted this into the narrative so slyly. (There’s also a total yet fascinating coincidence: twice during the climactic chase scene, the cars speed by billboards that read "Nixon For Governor.")

And then there’s that unique phenomenon I call "pre-recognition applause." It’s not unusual for film buffs to clap on the first appearance of a beloved actor; this is a carryover from the ancient and still active live-theatre tradition of applauding the star upon his/her initial appearance. (Indeed, the night I attended the current Broadway revival of BLITHE SPIRIT, the audience applauded Angela Lansbury not only at every entrance but every exit as well.) But MAD WORLD takes this one step further when seen with an audience full of fans. The appearance of a car on the horizon will trigger clapping: they already know that Phil Silvers or Don Knotts is in the car and react accordingly—even though they’re not yet onscreen. It speaks volumes about the adoration people have for this picture. Of course, that love is not unanimous, and never has been. The original reviews were all over the map, with the naysayers dismissing it as "too much" for what was "merely" a comedy. (A strange objection coming at the height of the roadshow era, when such Very Serious Films as LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, THE LONGEST DAY and HOW THE WEST WAS WON had been filling those enormous screens.) Then, perversely, they griped about the plethora of "TV people" in the cast.

Actually, that part is sorta true: of the 12 main players, only two or three were bona fide film stars: Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney and, arguably, Terry-Thomas (albeit moreso in the UK than here). The remainder were indeed primarily known for television and/or night clubs—or in Ethel Merman’s case, Broadway. (In 1963 terms, the biggest star was probably Jerry Lewis, but he’s only in for a five-second cameo.) But so what? Talent is talent, and guys like Jonathan Winters and Dick Shawn are funny no matter what size the screen.

There’s also a tinge of sadness as well: with each passing year, more and more of its once-in-a-lifetime cast take their leave, most recently Edie Adams. In fact, of those dozen principals, now only four are still with us: Rooney, Winters, Sid Caesar and Dorothy Provine. Moreover, young filmgoers, many of whom turn up their noses at anything that wasn’t made in a year beginning with a 2, don’t know who most of those people are, or what they mean to prior generations. I first became aware of this at a 1998 screening; the late-20s lady sitting next to me didn’t recognize any of the stars…except "the guy who plays Columbo." How can anyone who doesn’t know Silvers truly appreciate the fleeting moment when he slips into Bilko mode to bark orders at Knotts (who reacts exactly the way you’d expect him to)? Will they notice that Jim Backus’ boozy millionaire is the forerunner of Thurston Howell III? Will they know that the old guy who appears briefly in the carswitch scene was the greatest comedy talent the movies ever gave us? Hell, will they even recognize those three dudes in fire helmets? Even Kramer could not have foreseen that a future generation might not share their parents’ and grandparents’ affection for these actors.

I first saw MAD WORLD when it initially came out. Although it had already been cut, it immediately became my all-time favorite movie—I was 13 at the time—and over the decades, it has remained at or near the top. (A major moment of pride in my life: while at MGM/UA in the ‘80s, I managed to turn up a 70mm reel of cut footage at Pacific Title; some of it ended up on the laserdisc.) I always try to bring someone who has never seen it, and will likely do so again on the 10tth. I hope they will see for themselves—without help from me—what a phenomenally entertaining film it remains, and what an important document it is, preserving forever this summit of so many of show biz’ greatest comedic talents. (One of the original taglines was, "Anyone who’s ever been funny is in it." Not true, of course, but what other picture has even come close?) And most of all, I hope they will appreciate the masterful final stroke: after 2 hours of massive destruction and carnage, the film pulls a sharp 180 and ends with one of the oldest and simplest gags in the book. It’s Kramer and the Roses’ final laugh on us, but they deserve it. Because they made the Greatest. Comedy. Ever.




You want a piece of me?

Wow, what a contrast to last night’s RED DAWN Q&A. Two movies seemingly worlds apart --25 years certainly – yet both touching on many of the same themes, social and familial issues, and their respective cultural roots, the ties that both bind and repel human beings from their fellows.

Vengeance, terrorism, and the justification or insufficient grounds for justification of acts of extreme violence and mass murder – and the discussion between characters regarding the moral implications of said issues – exist in both films, at times at great lengths. Certainly, in RD, it constitutes some of the longer and certainly more meaningful stretches of dialogue, in the case of tonight’s SNEAK PREVIEW of ATOM EGOYAN’s ADORATION at the Aero, this debate between characters and by proxy us the audience is catapulted into the cyber age.

ADORATION opens with a series of settling images, a young boy in a park, a girl playing violin on a pier overlooking a placid lake. Then quickly we’re watching a teenage boy (played wonderfully by DEVON BOSTICK), videotaping an elderly man in a hospital bed. His father perhaps? But wait, as will happen with the reveal of the remaining cast of the characters, we’re opened to one possibility and or truth only to have that appearance of truth shift with the unfolding plotline. Not as much verisimilitude as in a crafty magician’s legerdemain within a topnotch screenplay. The bedridden patient will be revealed as his grandfather and what began as an exercise in high school French class balloons into a massive internet hoax with potentially dire consequences. The drama’s stakes intensify as the faux history ala chat room prank spirals out of control. But this is a "Sneak Preview," so I will not reveal, divulge, or any other way compromise the story, besides there’s so much more to talk about, namely Mr. Egoyan and Co.

Where I grew up "sneak preview," was something more akin to an activity in which we the film going public participated following the advent of the multiplex. But here in Los Angeles, those words carry a whole different meaning. If you’re talking the A.C. @ the Egyptian or the Aero, it’s often a rare opportunity to actually meet, shake hands with, and ask questions of, your favorite filmmakers, actors, artisans, and even critics! Hopefully in a relaxed enough setting that they don’t want to answer and bolt. And stay is certainly what Mr. Egoyan did, along with the cast members. But this being a heavyweight "Love TKO" bout, you’d best of been in fightin’ shape. First round was questions and answers, then it got physical, first Mr Egoyan took on all comers down front and center. If the luv pugilist in you didn’t get enough pummeling there it was on to the side of the stage. By the time the rumble went to "ground and pound" there was not one person missing a hug, an autograph, or a second handshake. And this was before we even got to the lobby. By the time the "Thrilla in the Santa Monica Villa" got to the sidewalk, I was dehydrated and the raised hematomas on my hips had my legs locking up. With my gloves cut off and bound for the showers, Mr Egoyan was still knockin’ ‘em dead.

The other members of the panel, actors SCOTT SPEEDMAN, RACHEL BLANCHARD, young BOSTICK, and SCOTT FOUNDAS were all equally approachable. Watching them during the Q&A, one couldn’t help but anticipate the future, and more well-rounded and defined roles. When each answered individually how they dealt with the highs and lows of the business, Speedman expressed an enjoyment in the fight, working, getting better. But it was Bostick’s response, "I go to school," that got the night’s biggest laughs.

Which is not to say the entire evening’s atmosphere was light, at one point after Foundas opened it up for questions, an audience member way in the back commented on the film’s at times confusing plot device, and alluding to the fact that he was in town for the findings of the Armenian genocide, he questioned the use of the convoluted plot in Mr Egoyan’s 2002 film ARARAT, which deals with a filmmaker and the issue of acknowledging the 1915 genocide.

As of earlier that day, US president Obama had broken his campaign promise to recognize the 1915 Armenian genocide in Turkey. Atom Egoyan, who is of Armenian descent, elaborated on his role as a filmmaker and expressed taking pride that much like ADORATION, his 2002 film, ARARAT does not try to give us the answers, but rather was designed to hopefully "Provoke." When another audience member rose quickly to defend Egoyan, the filmmaker was just as quick to empathize with the previous questioner whom had expressed a criticism.

It was also hard to think of another of the day’s headlines: "The Craigslist Killer" in conjunction with ADORATION. Egoyan’s examination of the effects of these new technologies, specifically the internet, follow his stated belief that, unlike their almost archaic counterparts, film or the videotape of his earlier work FAMILY VIEWING (playing Saturday Night @ the Aero along with THE SWEET HEREAFTER), these new technological systems lack any "…conclusion or resolution." I’d level the same criticism at reality television!

Egoyan also gave equal time to the esthetics of film as an art form. He expressed a belief that the language of film, its rules, "the axis" and "coverage" have their counterparts in the grammar of our dreams, and that these guideposts, established at the inception of cinematic storytelling, have not changed and never will. He used the word "absorption" in describing his writing process. When the subject of the film’s title came up, Egoyan said the film was about the things we hold with adoration, lovingly within our gaze. I haven’t felt this connected to performers since Mike Watt’s stage monitor. As was said of the punk trio THE MINUTEMEN, Atom Egoyan doesn’t make fans, he makes friends. Nothing was more evident to those on hand Friday Night at the Aero, held in the gaze, sharing their… that’s right… adoration.

DR YES 4/25/09