He didn't have all that many great scripts, but one contained a line that might sum up most of his life: "Lord, what fools these mortals be!"
It may be some measure of all of our foolishness that seven decades and more of his misbehavior, all too rarely leavened by flashes of the brilliance that made him, for more than a little while (as he was happy to remind us) the Biggest of Them All, still didn't wholly obliterate the memories of why he was in his way so very wonderful.
Never mind. In time, I hope, the cranky old man, the gambler, the disastrous husband, and the unbridled utterly self-absorbed egotist will fade, leaving behind the best: a showbiz pro for 90 of his 93 years, in hundreds of roles and hugely charismatic in many of them. And it wasn't just child stardom; I think of the joy with which my older relatives greeted his great success on Broadway, Sugar Babies reminding audiences all over again why they had loved the small, rambunctious man who had been the golden boy.
Of course I think of Andy Hardy, and all the other AndyHardyische boys he played. My father is his near contemporary, and seeing Andy Hardy young again, I know a little of what it might have been like to be growing up in those days (albeit through the finest soft-filter MGM lens), coming off a Depression and heading into a war and still, for reasons best expressed by putting on a show with a Gershwin tune or two in the nearest handy barn, hoping for the best.
But now he's gone. But that's the old man, the talk-show veteran and the ham of creation hawking autographs at classic-movie conventions. Andy Hardy's still around. He's just hit the road - maybe he finally bought that old jalopy and is heading off to Mid-State U., with the big game coming up. He's after that snobby, big-city girl Cynthia, but on the way he'll stop in at the greasy spoon on the edge of campus. There's a waitress there, see, Betsy Booth, a swell girl with a big voice. Her Dad needs an operation, though, and...hey - we could put on a show!
No, I know. That's not how the story ends. Even for Andy Hardy.
Even before he was Andy Hardy, he was like that other marvelous tot we lost this year, a child seemingly capable of anything. And even Shirley Temple never assayed Shakespeare. Mickey Rooney did.
Let's see him out, then, the way audiences knew him, if not first, then at least very, very early on. "Think but this, and all is mended..."
Astonishingly, you know, Mickey wasn't the last survivor of Max Reinhardt's beautiful, foolhardy, wonderful Midsummer Night's Dream. For a moment here we catch a glimpse of Olivia de Havilland as Hermia, almost as ridiculously young as Rooney and infinitely attractive. Let's wish her well, until she too passes through the palace doors...