Mick and Jootes

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Mickey and Judy in a publicity shot for Strike Up the Band, 1940 (Source: Old Hollywood In Color)

One of Old Hollywood’s sweetest stories is the long-enduring relationship between Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. They knew each other almost all their lives, and while romance never entered the picture, there was always more than friendship there. Both started in vaudeville at very young ages (Mickey was eighteen months old, while Judy was two-and-a-half), and met at the Lawlor Professional School. The two were instant friends–he was Mick, and she was Jootes–and they would hang out together outside of school, along with Judy’s sister, Jimmy, and Jimmy’s friend, Frankie Darrow. Sometimes the guys would join the Gumm Sisters onstage at Frank Gumm’s theater in Lancaster. Mickey later said:

When I knew her at Ma Lawlor’s Professional School, {Judy} had more bounce to the ounce than everyone else in the school put together. And I will never forget her performance at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood. She planted both feet wide apart, almost as if she were challenging the audience, then sang, ‘Zing, Went the Strings of My Heart’ with the kind of verve that made our heartstrings, all ninety of us from the Lawlor School, go bing, ding, ping, ring, ting, and zing.

Judy was signed to M-G-M in 1935, and Mickey remembered their reunion:

When Judy arrived at Metro and saw me in the commissary, she pointed at me, grinned, and shouted, ‘Ma Lawlor’s!’ I went right over to her and hugged her. It seemed the most natural thing to do…It seemed as if we’d known each other forever, that we were destined to be best friends.

It didn’t take the powers that were long to notice the obvious rapport between the two, and in 1937 M-G-M released Mickey and Judy’s first movie together, Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry. Judy had a romance with Ronald Sinclair in the film, but the chemistry between Mickey and Judy was more natural.

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Judy and Mickey outside M-G-M’s original schoolhouse. (Source: Pinterest)

The studio wasted no time in pairing Judy and Mickey in more films and on other projects. Their next outing was Love Finds Andy Hardy, which featured Judy as the awkward tween, Betsy Booth, to Mickey’s slightly older and (he thinks) more worldly teen. Andy regards Betsy as a child until the Christmas Eve dance, when she sings for the crowd and knocks their socks off. It was the first of three Andy Hardy films the two would make together. Mickey and Judy also did a hugely successful publicity tour after The Wizard of Oz premiered in New York, giving mini-shows after every showing of the film and later attending the 1939 World’s Fair. As was typical for Golden Era stars, they did plenty of radio programs together, too.

Of course, what Mick and Jootes are best known for are the so-called “backyard musicals,” and they were as simple as a group of bright kids coming together to put on a show. While they’re of their time, the movies are loaded with fun and fantasy and comedy, showcasing both Mickey and Judy to the fullest. They’re so infamous that I won’t go into a lot of detail about each one, but I think my favorite is Strike Up the Band. Judy and Mickey cover every base in that film, from spoofing Victorian melodrama, to doing the La Conga, to tugging at heartstrings. The music is fantastic, too. Here’s a small sample:

On a side note, every one of Judy’s formals in Strike Up the Band had gigantic puffy sleeves, and in this post-Napoleon Dynamite world they always make me think of this:

Anyway, moving on…

During their time making backyard musicals, life became abnormal. Both Mickey and Judy worked very long hours, much longer than was legal for people their age, but child labor laws in the film industry weren’t rigidly enforced then. They were given sleeping pills to knock them out for a few hours, and then they would be woken up and given pep pills, and it was an endless cycle of filming, filming, filming. Judy later said that this existence caused she and Mickey to lose touch with real life. In addition to the insane filming schedule, Judy was also famously deprived of any food at the studio except for chicken soup in an attempt to keep her thin (although I’ve heard she would sneak extra calories whenever she could).

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Source: Pinterest

Though their schedules were busy, Mickey and Judy did find time to have fun together. They went to movie premieres, such as Captains Courageousand would often go over to each other’s houses for musical evenings or to swim. Sure, there was sometimes a photographer in attendance as well, but that’s movie life.

As often happens with young people, Mickey and Judy did outgrow each other for a period of time, on and off the screen. After Thousands Cheer was released in 1943, the two of them barely saw each other. Judy was unwilling to be cast as a teenager forever, especially once she was recovering from her first divorce (with the help of Tyrone Power and others). Mickey was, well, busy. Not only had his first marriage to Ava Gardner been and gone, but he had already begun his second marriage, this time to Betty Jane Rase and was serving overseas in combat. Mickey and Judy didn’t make another movie together until the “I Wish I Were In Love Again” number in Words and Music.

Once Judy was released from her M-G-M contract (or fired, depending on who you talk to), she and Mickey kept in close contact. He was a regular at her house. Judy’s daughter, Lorna Luft remembered him sitting down at the piano during their Sunday night viewing parties of The Judy Garland Show:

Mickey Rooney lived down the street from us {in Brentwood}, and he would come down and entertain us on the piano during breaks, with his four daughters along. It was so much fun.

Mickey himself was a guest on an episode of The Judy Garland Show, which aired on December 8, 1963:

Grown-up lives brought grown-up problems. There’s no way kids can work incredibly hard without proper sleep or proper food and come out unscathed, and both Mickey and Judy had to deal with the fallout. In 1967 Mickey, along with a friend, Dr. Buckley, went over to Judy’s house on a hunch to find her face down on her bed, having attempted suicide. Mickey, unfortunately, was in no shape himself to really help her, as he was dealing with his own addictions. Once he had gone through treatment, Mickey dreamed of starting a chain of musical comedy schools with Judy, but it wasn’t meant to be. Instead, Mickey watched Judy go downhill for the final several months of her life. The saddest thing of all is, he tried making one last-ditch effort to save Judy by having her come live with him, but before he could get to her, Judy had jetted off to London and married Mickey Deans.

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Source: Pinterest

When Judy died in 1969, Mickey went to her funeral. Liza wanted him to give the eulogy, but she was afraid he would never get through it, and she was right. Mickey stayed in the chapel for only a few minutes and then wandered off by himself, clearly wanting to be alone.

For the rest of his life, Mickey Rooney’s love for his friend Judy was a constant, and his eyes would soften whenever he talked about her. He understood Judy better than anyone. One can only hope they are once again harmonizing and dancing together in the hereafter.

That does it for my Day Two of the Judy Garland Blogathon, and as usual, there’s plenty more Judy at In the Good Old Days of Classic HollywoodThanks for reading, and see you tomorrow for Day Three!


Bibliography:

Clarke, Gerald. Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland. New York: Random House Publishing, Inc., 2000

Luft, Lorna. Me And My Shadows: A Family Memoir. New York: Pocket Books, Simon and Schuster, 1998

Rooney, Mickey. Life Is Too Short. New York: Villard Press, Random House, 1991

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11 thoughts on “Mick and Jootes

  1. Wow. That was even better than your first post. It is sad to think of what Hollywood did to so many child stars from Jackie Coogan to whoever is popular now. Not many of them had happy lives. Judy and Mickey were lucky they had a bond.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Joe–glad you enjoyed it! And yeah, it’s great that Judy and Mickey had each other. They say child stars can have it very tough. The only thing that helps in the long run is having stable and loving parents. And the Coogan Act, too.

      Like

  2. I still haven’t seen Strike up the Band; I really must rectify that situation, some time. Are the songs as great as those of Girl Crazy? That movie really captivated me when I was 18. I fell in love with Mickey!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, it’s pretty hard to top Gershwin, so not quite, but “Strike Up the Band” isn’t too shabby, either (The title song was written by Gershwin, though). It’s a cute movie, so I hope you get to see it! 🙂

      Like

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