Reel Culver City

by Marc Wanamaker


I can’t think of any living personality that so identifies with Culver City’s history as Mickey Rooney. He spent most of his childhood and young adult life at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, spanning over 26 years.

Beginning with The Beast of the City made at MGM in 1932, Rooney was one of MGM’s leading stars, appearing in countless features, musicals and shorts. One of his last films made at the studio in 1958 was Andy Hardy Comes Home.

Mickey Rooney not only was an MGM star he was an accomplished musician, singer, dancer, writer, producer and general overall entertainer – making him one of Hollywood’s greatest talents ever.


Rooney was born Joe Yule on September 23, 1920, in Brooklyn, New York. The son of vaudevillians, he made his first stage appearance at 15 months and before long became an indispensable part of the family act – singing, dancing, mimicking and telling jokes. He made his film debut at six, playing a midget in the short, Not To Be Trusted (1926), and in the following year, appeared in the silent feature, Orchids and Ermine (1927) for First National Films.

Between 1927 and 1933, he starred in some 50 two-reel comedies playing the famed comic strip star, Mickey McGuire. He became Mickey Rooney in 1932 when he began appearing in small roles in feature films at various studios until he was signed by MGM in 1934. He was loaned to Warner Brothers in 1935 to appear as ‘Puck’ in Max Reinhardt’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Dick Powell and Olivia De Havilland among others.


In 1937, Rooney became a household name when he appeared in the first of a film series, A Family Affair, as “Andy Hardy.” After 15 successful Andy Hardy films, Rooney’s popularity rose steadily and was crowned with his wonderful performance in Boys Town (1938), as well as in several co-starring musicals with Judy Garland (often called the “let’s put on a show” series!).

In 1938, he won a special Academy Award for his overall work in the industry – a great honor indeed. By 1939, Rooney became America’s most popular star, topping the prior box office super-star, Shirley Temple.


With the coming of the 1940s, Rooney continued to star in such popular films as The Human Comedy (1943) and National Velvet (1944). His career stopped for short time when he entered the armed service during WWII, appearing at the Hollywood Canteen in Hollywood as well as in camp shows throughout the European War theater.

In 1948, he started his own production company and made many appearances on early television shows. Rooney starred in his own television show entitled, The Mickey Rooney Show, which lasted almost two years.


Mickey Rooney made his Broadway debut in 1979 in the very successful musical show, Sugar Babies. In the same year he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the Black Stallion, and in 1982, he won an Emmy Award in the television movie, Bill. He continued to tour with the Sugar Babies show and later joined the cast of Broadway’s The Will Rogers Follies in 1993.


Rooney has continued his career, recently appearing in the hit film, Night at the Museum (2006), and Bamboo Shark (2007), and in two films for 2009, Driving Me Crazy and Now Here. He hasn’t stopped entertaining for almost a century and is beloved by several generations the world over!

But it was in Culver City that Mickey Rooney became one of its most famous celebrities. He worked on all of MGM’s back lots. From its Lot #2 on Overland Avenue to Lot #3 on Jefferson Boulevard, Culver City was his playground and the studio his home. Everyone in town knew him and were proud that he was among them. Mickey Rooney became one of the few MGM stars to be known around the world along with his work ‘home’, Culver City.


It should be noted that Mickey Rooney will receive the prestigious “Thomas Ince Award” at the 2009 Backlot Film Festival on October 10th, here at the historic Veterans Memorial Building. The “Thomas Ince Award” is named for the pioneer producer of early filmmaking who introduced production procedures and quality of standards that set the model and helped mold the distinct image of Hollywood films to this day, and who built two movie studios that still stand in Culver City – the current Sony Pictures Entertainment and The Culver Studios.

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