Mickey Rooney spent the majority of his life in show business, appearing in his first film in 1926. | Getty Images
Updated: April 7, 2014 1:13PM
Editor’s Note: This interview originally was published in the Chicago Sun-Times Dec. 4, 1996.
There’s no telling where he gets this stuff.
Might be the diminutive star is telling tall tales. Might be the truth.
One thing is for certain. It’s Mickey Rooney on the other end of the line. You can tell by the squealing . . .
“I can hardly wait to get there! I can hardly wait to get there. Say hello to them all! Tell Oprah (eeek squeak) that I love them all!”
What’s exciting him at this moment is his arrival Thursday to help open a film series at the new Cineplex Odeon theaters at 600 N. Michigan. The 76-year-old Hollywood legend will christen the eight-day “Classics Before Christmas” charity film event that includes seven of Rooney ‘s best.
A theater in the complex will be named after the veteran actor and current spokesman for the Toronto-based chain. “They will run `Boys Town’ and `Girl Crazy’ and `Human Comedy,’ “ and Rooney continues, reciting the names of every film he ever made.
As he continues going through dozens of titles — most of which won’t be shown — it’s important to remember that Rooney can say whatever he likes, talk as much as he wants, say whatever zooms into that rocket-rapid brain of his. The man is, after all, a legend. The Mick has outlived nearly every one of his co-stars. He’s had eight — eight! - wives.
There’s a clear sense that if he even for one moment stops being the hyper, steam-rolling Rooney , he’d fade away. So let him talk . . .
“There are so many people I want to see when I am in Chicago, you know, what’s-his-name and the people at Arlington racetrack and (about 30 names follow).”
Will he attend any of the movies?
“I don’t like to look at Mickey Rooney , I’ve had to look at him all my life, I’ve had to look at him for 76 years.”
Conversing with the man who absolutely swears that he’s Mickey Mouse’s namesake makes you feel as if you’re riding a carnival Tilt-a-Whirl. He spins and spins. Mixes the most unlikely combinations, daring you to loose your stomach. Then, before you know it, the ride is over and you want to go again.
“There’s Mickey Rooney Macaroni . . . American style,” he says in that unmistakable boyish voice. “With four ounces of cheddar cheese.
“Four varieties! Mickey Rooney Macaroni Roma, with marinara sauce with mushrooms and Parmesan cheese. Mickey Rooney Macaroni Mexican-style with chili and beans. Mickey Rooney Macaroni Homestyle that is like the inside of a chicken pot pie, with peas and carrots.
“You see, after the first of the year I am opening Mighty Mick in Minneapolis with my partner Chuck Lund, that’s L-U-N-D. I have had this idea for a long time, 10 years. We will have a soft drink with Canfield’s called Thirst. The drink’s motto: `Thirst Come, Thirst Served.” “
But that’s not all.
“Hamburger sticks,” Rooney states.
What does it stick to?
“No, sticks, Mick Sticks. Hamburgers rolled long and served on a hotdog bun. And Weenie Whirl, a hotdog circled on a hamburger bun. We have Mick’s Chickelettes. Instead of milkshakes we have Mick Shakes. There’s chocolate, strawberry and guess what else?” Rooney ‘s voices rises with the inquiry.
Vanil . . .
“PISTACHIO! Who has pistachio, eh?
Pick up the phone, make a call to Rooney ‘s management. Mighty Micks? Next month? “Ugh,” says an intermediary. “ Mickey ‘s manager thinks it’s best not to print anything about Mighty Micks.”
But the Mick has moved on to other topics.
“About Mickey Mouse, yes, yes, it’s true. It sounds good phonetically. Iambic pentameter. Mick-ey Mou-se. Walt Disney came to me and said, `How would you like me to name this mouse after you?’ Every time you see Mickey Mouse, you see Mickey Rooney . It has a good sound. Like Mickey Rooney Macaroni - there’s the iambic pentameter again.”
Rooney likes food. What does he like about Chicago?
“Everything. Those stoned crabs. That Italian restaurant where
you go through the back door,” he gushes. “Paul Harvey, Irv
Kupcinet. I wish it was a longer visit.”
Perhaps he could stay longer, but he’s a busy man. Places to go, people to see, touring shows to revive.
“I’m preparing to take out a grand, brand new `Sugar Babies.’ You know, I found Marilyn Monroe. And now I’ve found a great new talent who will be in `Sugar Babies,’ Wendy Nichols - the next greatest star! We’ll head out in April and we might just be in CHICAGO!”
“Love that city,” Rooney says again. “You know, when I was in town doing `Lend me a Tenor’ we were in a theater (the Apollo) just down the street from the Biograph. Dillinger was killed in that alley. And do you know what movie was playing in the Biograph? A picture that I was in, `Manhattan Melodrama.’
“You know who I am trying to get? I am working with a producer out there, one of the biggest, and I want De Niro to play Dillinger and Joe Pesci to play Little Caesar, again on film!”
Good heavens. He hasn’t even taken a breath.
“Then I am going to do Billy Rose’s `Jumbo’ on stage. Rodgers and Hart songs.” Rooney bursts into a few bars of “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.”
What’s more, he has just finished another novel, called Oblivion, but isn’t so sure he wants it published.
Then there’s silence. For a moment or two. Rooney has been asked what he’s wearing and he has paused to check the labels. “Dockers pants and a shirt I bought on the way to New Zealand.
“You know, I am still a kid. I’m 76 and I feel like I’m 32. The Good Lord has been good to me. I have good health. I don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t drink coffee. That caffeine will do it to you,” Rooney warns.
“My wife has a wonderful idea about tea. We could franchise Mickey Rooney ‘s Boston Tea Party, serving every tea in the world. I have lots of ideas and they are not all good, but they are a lot of fun.
“I’m going to have my own radio show, `The Mickey Rooney Good Time Family Show,’ airing from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. It’s going to be syndicated right after the first of the year and it’s for people over 50 years of age. I’ll be telling them what they should do: `Age is nothing but experience and some of us are more experienced than others. You don’t have to be afraid of age.’ And there would be sponsors like Gibraltar or some local milk company — everything that is good for people.”
Suddenly the Mick has to go. “Well, pal,” he says. Then that’s it. Silence. Left in his wake are lots of macaroni, dogs on round buns, pistachios.
You can’t help but miss the Mick.