If there ever was a Hollywood legend, it’s definitely Mickey Rooney. The comedic actor certainly had charm along with his incredible talent. He was in more than 300 films throughout his career that spanned over nine decades! But it wasn’t all fame, fortune, and Hollywood glamour. Child stars have their own set of problems, and Mickey Rooney has become known as Hollywood’s original train wreck.
His stage parents had him working in the industry quite early, and he eventually became MGM’s heartthrob. However, he became just as famous for his string of failed marriages. His romances were filled with drama, cheating scandals, and one even ended in complete tragedy.
From a charismatic child star to a legendary actor, this is Mickey Rooney’s rags-to-riches-to-rag-to-riches-back-to-rags story.
If That’s Your Real Name
Believe it or not, Mickey Rooney is not his real name. On September 23, 1920, the famous actor was born and named Ninnian Joseph Yule Jr. It’s not uncommon for aspiring actors to take on stage names, but Mickey Rooney wasn’t his first name change.
So, how did this Ninnian guy become Mickey Rooney? Well, it was a pretty long process and began when he changed his name to Sonny Yule. Then again to Mickey McGuire, Mickey Looney, and finally, Mickey Rooney! Ninnian Yule just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Small Body, Big Talent
Mickey Rooney was known for his talent and his size. Mickey Rooney was a short guy standing at just 5’2”. Plus, he had a baby face until he was well into his 30s. But, despite all his “shortcomings,” Mickey Rooney still managed to tower over other actors…. By standing on top of his box office earnings.
His star power was evident, and from 1939-1941, he was the biggest box office draw. In fact, Laurence Oliver called him “the greatest actor of them all.” That is quite the compliment! Who says size matters?!
But He Was No Mouse
In his autobiography, Life Is Too Short (pun probably intended), Mickey Rooney made a pretty big claim. The actor said that another famous Mickey was named after him. Which Mickey is he talking about? In a bold statement, Rooney said that he met and inspired a young Walt Disney, and he named Mickey Mouse after the actor on the spot!
Having such an iconic character named after you is a big deal. However, despite the similarities between the two Mickeys, this story turned out to be false.
Literally Broke a Leg
In show business, people often tell you to “break a leg,” which means “good luck” for performers. But the young actor may have taken that statement a little too seriously. In one of his first widely praised performances as the mischief-maker Puck in 1935’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the performer literally broke his leg.
The role gained so much attention for Rooney, but he needed to use a double for most of the film, thanks to his broken leg.
Born to Be a Star
No matter what name he was born with, Mickey Rooney was destined for the stage and the big screen. His mother was a burlesque performer, and his father was a vaudevillian. So, entertaining was pretty much a family business.
Rooney’s mother and father both had him performing in their production of A Gaiety Girl when he was only 17 months old! Now that is young! I guess stage parents were a thing way before Toddler and Tiaras or Dance Moms. But he ultimately became a huge star thanks to his pushy parents.
No Hair Dye? No Problem
When he landed the role of Mickey McGuire that launched him to stardom, Mickey Rooney and his mother moved to Hollywood! However, the character required a “dark haired child.” Mickey Rooney was blonde, and his mother didn’t have enough money for hair dye.
So, Rooney’s mother did what any good stage mom would. She burnt cork on the kid’s head. It could have been worse… I guess. And it looks like her plan worked because her son got the part and became the superstar she groomed him to be.
Girl Crazy or Womanizer?
Mickey Rooney became a massive star after landing the role of Andy Hardy in a series of successful MGM films. With his small stature and baby face, Rooney had no problem portraying the “all-American” teenager well into his 20s. It’s not rare for adults to play teens, but Rooney was especially convincing.
One might question how much of his performance was acting. Playing the “hyperactive, girl-crazy teenager” wasn’t much a stretch for Rooney. He was “girl crazy” in real life too. Not only was he MGM’s hunky star, but he also had a string of wives…
Launching to Stardom!
Mickey Rooney racked up more box office success than his fellow actors at the time, but he also racked up more wives than all of them… maybe even combined. Mickey Rooney started the stereotypical Hollywood marriage: short-lived and dramatic.
Throughout the course of his career, the comedic actor tied the knot a total of eight times! Each marriage being more dramatic than the last. But to fit so many marriages in his life, the actor needed to start early… and he really did get a head start.
An Older Lady
At just 18 years old, Mickey Rooney already developed a love for love. While he was working on 1938’s Marie Antoinette, Rooney spent a lot of time hanging out with his co-star, Norma Shearer, in the trailer. Spoiler Alert: They weren’t running lines.
Yes, they were having an affair. At the time, Sharer was recently widowed and twice Rooney’s age. The relationship was public and extremely scandalous. The whole fiasco was such a big deal that it gained the attention of a very powerful Hollywood tycoon…
Louis B. Mayer Gave Him a Pep Talk
Of course, I’m talking about the notorious head of MGM, Louis B. Mayer. He had a little talk with Rooney about his behind-the-scenes escapades. He told the actor: “Listen to me! I don’t care what you do in private. Just don’t do it in public. In public, behave. Your fans expect it.”
Mayer continued, “You’re Andy Hardy! You are the United States! You’re the Stars and Stripes. Behave yourself! You’re a symbol.” Well, the young heartthrob didn’t exactly listen to Mayer’s words of wisdom.
Did He Date Judy Garland?
You might have heard some rumors about Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland’s love affair. But rest assured, they are all just rumors… probably. The two charmed audiences on screen with their chemistry, and they seemed so comfortable around each other.
According to Rooney, “Judy and I were so close we could’ve come from the same womb. We weren’t like brothers or sisters, but there was no love affair there; there was more than a love affair.” That statement seems a little confusing, but that’s not to say all the rumors weren’t true…
He Was a Trooper
When he wasn’t delighting audiences or trying to charm women, Rooney was entertaining the troops. Back in 1944, the charismatic actor brought his talents all the way to the brave men on the battlefields of WWII.
Rooney actually joined the U.S. Army and spent more than 21 months entertaining the soldiers in active combat zones. However, his life seemed to be more dangerous than any active combat zone. With all the wives, drama, and problems to come, he would have been better off staying in the army.
He Married the Beautiful Ava Gardner
Mickey Rooney’s first marriage was to another Hollywood icon. She was just a beautiful, starry-eyed starlet at the time. When he was 21 years old, Mickey Rooney seduced 19-year-old Ava Gardner and then walked down the aisle with her.
MGM was against the marriage at first. Louis B. Mayer didn’t want his leading man – that all the girls were swooning over – married. They eventually agreed by arranging a private ceremony out of the press. However, the marriage didn’t last, and the pair divorced a year later.
The Golden Boy
Since he is the ultimate and original Hollywood legend, it comes as a shock that he didn’t win one of the most coveted trophies in showbiz. For nine long decades, whenever award season came around, Rooney went home empty-handed.
The actor did, however, receive a total of four Academy Award nominations but didn’t win any of them. His one award came when he was just getting his career started in 1939. But that was just an honorary trophy, the Juvenile Award. Much later, in 1983, he earned another honorary Oscar.
Meeting His Match
Rooney’s second marriage was nothing short of a nightmare. In 1944, Rooney met and married Betty Jane Phillips, and boy, oh boy, was it a disaster. It was a calm time for Betty Jane, fresh off winning the Miss Alabama pageant.
If her name rings a bell, it’s because she was also famous. Betty Jane went on to embark on a successful music career under the name B.J. Baker. Let’s just say that Mickey Rooney may have met his match in Betty Jane. Needless to say, this marriage was no fairy tale.
Started Fast and Ended Fast
Rooney and Phillips appeared to be the perfect Hollywood couple. They had two children and looked like a picture-perfect family. They enjoyed five wonderful years of wedded harmony, but it wasn’t meant to last forever.
Rooney’s second marriage ended in divorce, and it didn’t take Phillips long to move on. Phillips exchanged vows with her new beau, Buddy Baker, just eight days after her divorce with Rooney was finalized. But as it turned out, she had a very good reason for kicking Rooney to the curb.
He Had an Affair With Elizabeth Taylor
While his wife was carrying their second child, Rooney was involved in a devious act of betrayal. The hunky actor met the very young Elizabeth Taylor on the set of National Velvet, and the costars became… shall we say, close?
One day, Phillips went to visit her husband on set but was met with a life-changing surprise. She walked in on Rooney with the then 14-year-old Elizabeth Taylor, who was on her knees in front of Rooney. I’ll tell you this much; she wasn’t on her knees praying. Yep, Rooney cheated on his wife with a teenaged Cleopatra.
An Excessive Drinker
Needless to say, she told Rooney to take a hike. Both parties bounced out of their marriage and into another one. Seriously, these two seemed to get over each other quite quickly and remarried surprisingly fast.
In 1949, the same year he and Phillips divorced, Rooney walked down the aisle with Martha Vickers. They had one child together, but it didn’t take long for Vickers to become sick and tired of Mickey Rooney – more specifically, his drinking habits. And so ended Mickey Rooney’s third marriage, but there were more wives to come!
Wife Number Four
You know what they say, fourth time’s the charm! Actually… they don’t say that because it’s not true. Especially when it came to Rooney’s fourth wife. The marriage was a whirlwind love affair, and the two were head over heels in love.
Rooney met actress and model Elaine Devry while she was practicing at a Hollywood golf ranch, although she was working as a waitress at the time. Let’s just say something about her knocked Rooney right out of the park! He was immediately dazzled by the talented beauty.
Involvement With the Mob
Everyone has a past, and Elaine Devry was certainly no exception. While the stunning waitress was practicing her gold swing, she was keeping a little secret. Before embarking on a Hollywood career, she was married… to a mob guy.
Yeah, and that mob guy owed a bunch of money to the Mafia. She sure knows how to pick them. Her ex even went as far as to ask Rooney to give him a life-saving loan. Rooney decided not to give him the money. Dervy may have had a thing for guys with financial issues…
His Light Was Dimming
After returning from WWII, Rooney’s career hit a little slump. The actor was too short to play a leading man (even though that was never a problem for Tom Cruise) and was too old to portray a teenager.
But he signed an MGM contract to be paid $25,000 per film. That sounds like a sweet deal; however, he only ended up making $10,000 per film. Yeah… talk about a pay cut. But it’s more than I make, so I would love to do it for that kind of paycheck… but no one would come to watch the movie.
Left With Nothing
Unfortunately, Mickey Rooney would have money struggles for the rest of his life after that pay cut. Even though he made millions in his nine-decade-long career, the actor had to declare bankruptcy twice throughout his life.
Even more tragic, when the actor died in 2014, his assets were worth a mere $18,000. He also had a drawer full of bills from the IRS. Either way, Mickey Rooney never let money stop him from having fun! It could be the reason he lost it all in the first place.
He Was Very Persistent
So, are you wondering what the trick to Mickey Rooney’s charm was? Tenacity. Very persistent tenacity. Rooney charmed Devry by making some big claims about his fortune and proposed to her relentlessly – and I mean relentlessly. He wouldn’t stop until he got a yes.
Rooney proposed to Dervy on every single date they went on, including the first one. Things were different in Old Hollywood. They went on a total of 30 dates, and Rooney popped the question every time. Eventually, Dervy said yes, and they tied the knot in the most Hollywood way possible.
Unhappily Ever After
He may have been a broke womanizer and compulsive liar, and maybe a little annoying with 30 proposals, but Rooney was definitely charming. The actor chartered a private plane to Las Vegas the exact same night that Devry finally said yes, in the most Hollywood of all Hollywood marriages.
The pair tied the knot the next day. Surprise, surprise… the union didn’t last forever. However, it did last longer than expected. The couple was married from 1952 to 1958, which was his longest marriage so far. But after Rooney’s continuous money troubles, Dervy fell in love with someone else… and so did Mickey Rooney.
A Tragic Marriage
Mickey Rooney obviously has a thing for picking the wrong girls, but his fifth marriage was the worst of all. It’s like a Greek tragedy mixed with a Shakespearean drama brought to life, and I’m not even exaggerating.
Seriously, Mickey Rooney’s fifth marriage was a horror movie that made his previous relationships look like a picnic in the park. This marriage had everything you need for some entertaining drama, including a tragic twist-ending that nobody saw coming… although it could have been predicted.
Love Triangles and More Drama
Mickey started dating gorgeous beauty pageant winner Barbara Ann Thomason while he was still married to Dervy. And he wasn’t even shy about it, which is strange considering the fact that he proposed to her 30 times. But you know what they say, once a cheater, always a cheater.
Rooney famously bought Thomason a fur cost that cost an astonishing $4,500. Unsurprisingly, his wife wasn’t very happy about this or the publicity of the scandal. To try and work things out, he bought Dervy a more expensive fur coat. But the wife wasn’t the only jealous one.
Thomason’s Marital Advice
Thomason had a simple solution for Rooney’s marital issues. No, she didn’t tell Rooney to do the right thing and maybe work on his marriage and possibly go to some couple’s therapy. Instead, she simply suggested that Rooney was married to the wrong woman.
If it wasn’t obvious, the relentless Thomason told him to divorce Dervy and marry her instead. Naturally, the actor refused to split up with his wife to marry his mistress. She should know what it means to be the other woman! However, the rejection sent her into a spiral…
His Mistress Was Heartbroken
After Rooney refused to divorce his wife, Thomson was uneasy – to a disturbing and concerning degree. In one terrifying event that gained national attention, Thomason’s friends reportedly found her undressed, floating in the pool of a house that Rooney had rented for her.
Obviously, she was completely heartbroken. Sometimes the other woman really believes that they are more than that. Luckily, her friends were able to get her out of the water before too much time went by. But that was just the beginning of the drama.
Married the Other Woman
As you can probably guess from the cheating, Rooney’s marriage with Elaine Devry was far from perfect. The pair simply didn’t make each other happy. With Rooney’s financial issues and Dervy’s connection to the Mafia, it looked like their union was doomed to fail.
Rooney finally gave in to Thomason’s demands, and he filed for divorce from his wife while in Mexico… so that he could tie the knot with his mistress… while she was pregnant. Talk about drama! Does anyone else think she got pregnant on purpose? But these were actually the simpler times…
Maybe He’s the Problem…
Rooney eventually gave in to the demands of his mistress, who made him divorce his wife. But his divorce from Dervy at the request of the pregnant mistress would cost him dearly. They tried to reach some sort of settlement, but Dervy was asking for more than $20,000 a month in alimony.
When they did reach a settlement, Rooney ended up paying much more. The exact amount is unclear, but reportedly it is the equivalent of $3.5 million in today’s money. Dervy later noted, “Living with Mickey is no bed of roses. Six wives can’t all be wrong.” Six and still counting…
Old Habits Die Hard
Thomason vowed to love Mickey Rooney for richer or poorer… $3.5 million poorer to be exact, but who’s counting? Once his divorce from Dervy was finalized, Rooney was free to put a ring on the mistress, and they tied the knot in 1958. The 8-year-long marriage would end in tragedy… but first, there was a whole lot of drama.
Five years into the marriage, Rooney unsurprisingly fell back into his old habits. To be honest, he never really fell out of them. After a vacation in Yugoslavia, Thompson found out that Rooney was spending time with a stripper.
Didn’t somebody tell her that “if he cheats with you, he’ll cheat on you?” She couldn’t have been that surprised. Instead of getting jealous and angry, Thomason decided to just get him back. What she wanted was revenge!
She didn’t want to feel left out, so she started an affair of her own. It was a mutual friend who introduced her to actor Milos Milosevic. While Rooney was away filming a movie, Milosevic and Thomason sparked a romance and moved in together. Divorce number five was approaching.
He Tried to Make It Work
Although they had both cheated and betrayed one another, Rooney and Thomason decided to try and work things out. Instead of flirting with other people, they were flirting with the idea of reconciliation. After all, they had four kids together.
I mean… it should be noted that those children were living with their mother’s lover. Either way, Milosevic wasn’t about to let Rooney get his family back. He was so in love with Thomason and didn’t want her to be with anyone else. But he took his jealousy to an extreme level.
His Wife’s Murder
Milosevic took the drama of Rooney’s fifth marriage and turned it into a chilling, heartbreaking tragedy. Milosevic decided that if he couldn’t be with Thomason, nobody could. These types of people act impulsively and out of emotion – usually negative emotions.
While Rooney was filming a movie in the Philippines, Milosevic proceeded with his act of passion. He killed Thompson and then took his own life. The real tragic twist was that Rooney knew this was his fault. If he was had been a respectful husband, she wouldn’t have been involved with Milosevic in the first place.
He Found Comfort
Rooney wasn’t the only one devastated and completely crushed by the events that led to Thomason’s heartbreaking end. His sixth wife-to-be was also mourning. Margret Lane was Barbara Ann Thomason’s best friend, and she was there through Rooney and Thomason’s tragic love story.
Lane even had dinner with Thomason the evening of that fateful night involving Milosevic. Since she had a front-row seat to her best friend’s rollercoaster of a relationship that ended fatally, you would think Lane would have steered clear. It obviously wasn’t the ideal environment to be surrounded by.
It Lasted Longer Than Kim Kardashian’s 72 Day Marriage
Although she watched her best friend’s toxic marriage with Rooney, she would avoid falling prey to the actor’s trap herself. But grief is a heck of a thing. In the aftermath of Thomason’s death, Rooney and Lane got extremely close. This isn’t so rare when it comes to shared tragedies.
But they got a little too close, a little too fast. So close that later that year, they decided to get married. It only lasted 100 days which comes as no surprise. At this point, if it’s hard to keep up with Rooney’s marriages, don’t feel ashamed. He couldn’t even keep track! He once mentioned Lane and then added, “I think that was her name, anyway.”
Fortunately, Rooney’s seventh marriage involved a lot less drama than his previous ones. Rooney secretly married secretary Carolyn Hockett in 1969, in yet another last-minute Las Vegas wedding, and they lived happily ever after. Just kidding. There wasn’t much tragedy, but there was still a little drama.
After marrying for the seventh time, Rooney figured out the secret to a happy marriage – marry younger. Carolyn Hockett was 23 younger than Rooney when they walked down the aisle. He was 48, while Hockett was 25. Rooney was past his prime. Hocket filed for divorce by 1975, citing financial instability.
Lucky Number Eight
Rooney’s eighth marriage was his last and longest one. In fact, wife number eight stuck around longer than all his exes combined! Unfortunately, a long marriage doesn’t mean a happy marriage. Rooney was about to learn that all his divorces might have saved him from his worse fate.
Rooney’s marriage to Jan Chamberlain may have been long, but that doesn’t mean it was drama-free. Their 36 years together included some bumps and bruises. For example, in 1997, Chamberlain called the police and accused Rooney of battery. Law enforcement took him away but couldn’t charge him due to lack of evidence. Abuse was a running theme throughout this marriage.
His Money Disappeared
Chamberlain wasn’t the only one claiming mistreatment. Rooney also alleged abuse. Rooney said that Chamberlin’s son, Christopher, from a previous relationship, was taking advantage of him. Rooney accused Christopher Aber and his wife Christina of physical and mental abuse and messing with the little money he had left.
It’s hard to imagine the actor had any money left at all. His career had tanked, and he was paying alimony for pretty much his entire adult life. Somehow, Chris and Christina managed to squeeze what they could out of him. They later admitted to making off with about $2 million of the actor’s money.
He Was Lonely
There was more drama in the Rooney-Chamberlain clan. Needless to say, Thanksgiving dinners were awkward and tense gatherings. After Christopher and Christina took Rooney’s money and allegedly abused the elderly actor, he filed a restraining order.
Chamberlain shouldn’t feel so surprised that she kept her son at arm’s length. I mean, he did the same thing to his own children. Rooney disowned his eight surviving children, not that they were going to inherit much from their broke father. To make things worse, he wouldn’t allow his children to see him in his final years. Somehow, he still had friends left…
He Is a Hollywood Legend
By the end of his life-long career, Mickey Rooney left behind a series of Hollywood classics and a string of failed marriages. Sadly, the actor died without having enough money to pay for his own funeral. To demonstrate their love for the Hollywood icon, major film studios decided to pay for his funeral.
Despite his money troubles, Rooney didn’t struggle to get credits – on-screen credit, that is. When he took his parting bow, the acting legend had racked up more acting credits than almost anyone else. From 1926 to 2017, Mickey Rooney had 342 credits to his name. Now, that’s impressive!
What Really Happened With Ava Gardner
Mickey Rooney’s first marriage to starlet Ava Gardner set the stage for his super-dramatic love life. Their romance was far from ideal, but not many people knew the brutal way that it ended. About a week after their wedding, Gardner needed to be hospitalized for appendicitis.
Three weeks later, she was finally allowed to go home to her new husband. When she returned to their apartment, she found proof that while she was in the hospital, Rooney had cheated on her – in her own bed! It didn’t take her long to file for divorce after that. She certainly dodged a bullet.