Actor Mickey Rooney's career spanned silent movies and television: five of his best performances

Mickey Rooney at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on March 2, 2014 in West Hollywood, California. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP
Mickey Rooney at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party on March 2, 2014 in West Hollywood, California. -- FILE PHOTO: AFP

It is no exaggeration to say that actor Mickey Rooney was born to entertain. He first appeared on stage at the tender age of 15 months as part of his parents' vaudeville act. And he has spent his long life entertaining millions of people. The Brooklyn-born performer died on Sunday at the grand old age of 93, according to a report on TMZ.

His performing career reflected the changing nature of American pop entertainment. From his early precocious stage performances to his debut in silent film to the lavish musicals of Hollywood's heyday in the 1930s and 1940s, Rooney was a triple threat who could sing, dance and act.

We look at five of his best-known roles in both movies and television.

1. A Family Affair (1937)

The first in the wildly-popular Andy Hardy series was just meant as a small B-movie. But its small-town setting, genial cast, and wholesome all-American tone proved a hit with audiences who asked for more. As a result, the standing sets for the movie were kept and the series ran to 16 hit films.

Mickey Rooney plays Andy, the teenage son of Judge James K. Hardy (Lionel Barrymore), a secondary character who was meant to supply light comic relief. The video clip showcases Rooney's effortless embodiment of the boy next door, at first sulky at being saddled with a blind date, then dazzled by the neighbourhood beauty. Note the seamless semi-pratfall at the doorway.

2. Babes In Arms (1939)

Mickey Rooney's best partner in crime was the legendary Judy Garland. They were first paired up in a small MGM movie called Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (1937) and Garland also appeared alongside Rooney in his long-running hit series of Andy Hardy films.

But the two performing powerhouses were also the stars of a string of hit musicals which turned them into the top-grossing box office stars of the period. The films all followed the same formula - they would play stagestruck kids, there would be a family/romantic crisis which would be resolved in the final reel, and there would be lots of musical numbers because inevitably a crucial plot would involve a group of kids putting up a stage show.

The best examplar of this series is Babes In Arms, directed by Busby Berkeley, and filled with lovely songs. Watch the video for a sampling of the sparkling performances by the two fresh-faced stars.

3. Boys Town (1938)

Rooney demonstrated his dramatic chops in this film, inspired by a real-life priest Father Flanagan (played with crusty integrity by Spencer Tracy) who started a home for delinquent boys. He plays Whitey, a streetsmart tough, who is taken to Boys Town by Father Flanagan.

In Boys Town, Whitey experiences a change of heart and reforms. For his work in the film, Rooney was awarded a special Juvenile Academy Award in 1939.

4. Bill (1981)

This telemovie won Rooney both a Golden Globe and an Emmy. He played the lead role of a retarded man who leaves an institution. He is taken in by a family and learns to fend for himself in the real world. The film also spawned a sequel, Bill: On His Own (1983) which earned Rooney another Emmy nomination.

5. The Adventures Of The Black Stallion (1990-1993)

At the age of 70, Rooney gets a second wind in his television career thanks to this hit series based on a book series. He had first played the role of horse trainer Henry Dailey in the 1979 movie The Black Stallion. The series which aired on the Family Channel in the United States was also shown in 70 countries around the world.

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