My blog used to be called “Andy Hardy Writes a Blog,” named after the series of Andy Hardy films released in the 1930s and 40s. Both of my parents grew up on these films, longing for that fake kind of wholesome Americana that only MGM could provide. They passed this obsession on to me and when my parents split up in the early 1970s, I turned to the Hardy family to get me through. I relied on Andy’s wise advice-giving dad, Judge James K. Hardy (Lewis Stone), his pie-baking, pearl-wearing mother, Emily Hardy (Fay Holden), his kindly spinster Aunt Millie (Sara Haden, in her 30s when the series began but depicted as an ancient unmarried crone), and his rambunctious sis Marion (Cecilia Parker, playing 17 well into her late 20s). I eventually saw all 18 of the films on television and in revival houses (including the unfortunate 1958 “Andy Hardy Comes Home”) and started collecting Andy Hardy memorabilia whenever I could. My collection really took off when I moved to Los Angeles in 1986. I attended collectibles shows and scoured movie poster stores, spending insane amounts of money on Andy Hardy posters, lobby cards, window inserts, magazines, and original photos.
Here are three posters from my collection that hang in my office. I also have several floor-to-ceiling three-sheet posters as well as items from the foreign language versions of the films. I think these old posters are gorgeous although I used to have arguments with old girlfriends and my first wife over whether they could be considered “art” and were worthy of our walls. Happily, Kendall views the MGM artists on the same level as Rembrandt or Van Gogh so we are clearly a match made in heaven (as long as heaven looks like the one inhabited by William Powell in MGM’s “ Ziegfeld Follies”). My daughter has only seen a few of the Andy Hardy films (she prefers the ones with Judy Garland as Andy’s neighbor Betsy Booth) but after a lifetime of exposure to my collection she can name every member of the cast and even recognize them in other films.
I’ve met every cast member that I possibly could, some as recently as a few weeks ago when Kendall and I once again encountered the now 86-year-old Ann Rutherford who played Andy’s pretty girlfriend Polly Benedict. The Andy Hardy films were a training ground for MGM starlets, with people like Esther Williams, Lana Turner, Kathryn Grayson, Donna Reed, and Bonita Granville making appearances as Andy’s temporary love interests (he always went back to Polly in the end). So when Kendall and I heard that Andy Hardy himself, Mr. Mickey Rooney, was making an appearance last night as part of the Los Angeles Film Festival, we hightailed it over the Armand Hammer Museum in Westwood.
Mickey Rooney has been acting for 85 of his 87 years. It is a truly amazing career, one that he now bills as “the longest in movie history.” His film career began back as a young tot in the silent days, in 1926, and he has made well over 300 films including last year’s “Night at the Museum” with Ben Stiller. He appeared last night with his wife Jan and Kenneth Turan of the L.A. Times in a conversation called “Been There, Done That.” It’s not the first time Kendall and I have seen Mickey in person. We’ve heard him speak on several occasions, the last time following a screening at the Museum of Television of a 1957 TV movie called “The Comedian.” John Frankenheimer directed this film in which Rooney gave a riveting, brilliantly dark performance as a ruthless egomaniac TV star who abuses everyone around him. When given the chance, Mickey Rooney was an incredible dramatic actor. His performances can’t be beat in films ranging from “Boy’s Town” and “National Velvet” to “Requiem for a Heavyweight.” He’s a fascinating guy and Kendall and I never miss a chance to hear him speak about his life and career. Oh, did I mention one thing? Mickey Rooney is…INSANE!
Truly. Off-the-chart bonkers, stark-raving nuts, mad as a hatter, and around the bend. But in a GOOD way! As actor Nathan Lane recently said, “He’s a total psychotic. He’s very adorable, but there isn’t enough Ritalin in the world for him!” Listening to Mickey Rooney speak, I’ve learned to brace myself for sudden out-of-the blue bursts of verbal energy, like talking to someone with a severe case of Tourette’s. He can be quietly rhapsodizing about his experience as a born again Christian and his admiration for the troops in Iraq and then without a moment’s notice burst into a screaming tirade about MGM boss Louis B. Mayer and how his reputation has been unfairly besmirched. He can begin telling a sweet story about his love for Judy Garland and the work they did together and suddenly pepper his comments with machine-gun non sequitirs about the dangers of computers and cell phones. Kendall had the courage to stand up last night and ask a question, courage because we’d already seen how he’d either treat a questioner with great reverence or jump down his or her throat for no apparent reason. She mentioned that we are surrounded by images of Andy Hardy in our home and asked if he had a favorite among those films. His response was part fawning, part yelling. “How can I possibly remember 18 movies I made so long ago?” he roared, seconds after providing minute details of his 1937 shooting schedule and extolling the virtues of the wholesome Andy Hardy series. His wife Jan offered that his favorite was probably the one in which he got to make out with sexy Lana Turner.
Rooney was notorious as a ladies’ man and though I’m sure he’s calmed down in his later years, his wife is clearly a saint. Although he’s had a whopping eight wives, his marriage to Jan has lasted almost 30 years and the two of them still travel the world performing. They’re about to embark on another tour of England, and Mickey told the story of his encounter a few years ago with Queen Elizabeth II in which he asked to kiss her hand and she held it out for him. I’ve always heard that touching the Queen was a major protocol no-no, but you get the impression listening to Mickey Rooney that his memories often take a few detours from reality. Jan is at his side to correct any major inaccuracies although she was silent when he talked about Louis B. Mayer’s nephew David O. Selznick discovering the young Mickey when he was in vaudeville. First of all, Selznick was Mayer’s son-in-law, not his nephew, and I think he was thinking of someone else entirely, maybe Irving Thalberg? Perhaps Rooney avoided mentioning Thalberg because he didn’t want his affair with Thalberg’s wife Norma Shearer to come up. The two had a fling when Shearer was approaching 40 and Mickey was still a teenager. In his autobiography called “Life Is Too Short,” Mickey discussed his secret dalliance with the Queen of the MGM lot, pronouncing her “hotter than a half-fucked fox.” Oy. Rooney also told the story of wandering down Hollywood Blvd. at the age of 5 (alone?) and running into a young Walt Disney who wanted to show him his new cartoon mouse called Mortimer. It was apparently Rooney who inspired the name Mickey Mouse. Okay.
Rooney’s first wife was none other than the scorching Ava Gardner although their tempestuous marriage only lasted a year. Honestly, can you think of anyone more beautiful in the history of Hollywood? Kendall and I saw another of Gardner’s former lovers this week. On Wednesday night we went to the Cinematheque to see a screening of the fantastic Hitchcock film, “Strangers on a Train,” and the star of that film, Farley Granger, now 82, appeared after the film for a Q & A. The actor just published his juicy autobiography called “Include Me Out” which includes details of his many famous lovers, both male and female. I think it’s safe to say that Granger is the only human on the planet who can boast that he’s had sex with the unlikely trio of Ava Gardner, Shelley Winters, and Leonard Bernstein. Granger is great in “Strangers on a Train” and he’s a delight in person. He’s one of those people who’s so unabashedly honest, it never sounds like he’s dishing dirt, even when he’s revealing intimate details of his personal life. When people asked him if he liked working with certain co-stars, he didn’t hesitate to say “no” and then explain why. Granger made a handful of great films before turning his attention to Broadway where he had much success. Mickey Rooney also conquered every possible entertainment medium and the clips they showed before he came out showcased his unbelievable energy and talents. Rooney denies the claims that he and Garland were hopped up on amphetamines during all those Busby Berkeley musicals they made together, but that’s almost hard to believe when you see the films and hear how they sometimes worked 36 hours at a stretch. I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m dissing the Mickster, I truly love the guy even though he’s out of his mind.
As I said, the Old School Rooney railed against the evils of the cell phone during his talk, and I was scared that he might go ballistic when at least three cell phones went off in the audience (come on people, there’s no excuse for that!). I almost didn’t make it to the museum last night because I was at Farmer’s Market in the afternoon and was trapped by the juggernaut of people camping out in front of the Apple Store so they could buy the new iPhone that was finally released yesterday at 6 pm. I was flabbergasted to see hundred and hundreds of people waiting in the blazing sun all day long just to have the opportunity to fork $500 over to Apple for a PHONE. Many would have to pay high fees to cancel their current cell phone contracts and then would have to sign up with AT&T for the expensive iPhone plans. My unscientific survey of the crowd revealed a majority of folks who didn’t have a whole lot of money but clearly HAD to have the latest cool gadget even though the technology is not yet proven and will undoubtedly experience growing pains as it is perfected over time. Once again, the Apple marketers are geniuses.
While I question the sanity of every single person in that line yesterday, I DO think the iPhone is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen and I can’t wait to get my hands on one. But I’ll definitely wait for a few versions down the road when some of the kinks are ironed out and the prices come down. I can identify with the glassy-eyed passion of the Apple fanatics because I am one myself (I’m writing this post on what is probably the 10th Mac computer that I’ve owned) but I was disgusted to find out that many of the people in those lines were only buying iPhones so they could turn an immediate profit by selling them on eBay. As if the regular price isn’t bad enough, I just checked the latest eBay sales, and the new iPhones are currently selling at prices ranging from $900 to $1500! Can someone PLEASE tell me why anyone in their right mind would pay that kind of money when they could get one from Apple at the regular price, even if it takes a few weeks because of high demand? Have we become a nation of consumers with NO ability to delay immediate gratification? It’s so insane that I’m tempted to join Mickey Rooney’s anti-cell phone cult. Mickey would never pay that kind of dough for an iPhone, but I can definitely see Andy Hardy doing it to impress his latest conquest, be it Lana Turner, Esther Williams, or Ann Rutherford. Then Judge Hardy would bail him out of debt, enroll Andy in a community service project retooling old cell phones for the poor, and teach his son an important lesson about usury and the free market economy. Ah, for the good old days!