Just a few days before the Turner Classic Movie Classic Film Festival kicked off, the film world lost one of its biggest legends — Mickey Rooney. Rooney had attended the festival in previous years and although he wasn’t there physically this year, his presence could still be felt very strongly.
During a press conference on the first day of the festival, Ben Mankiewicz was asked about his experiences working with Rooney and he spoke about the last time Rooney was a guest on the TCM Cruise. During that trip, Rooney had been scheduled to do four Q&A sessions. After doing three of the sessions, he was taken ill. Although it was nothing too serious, considering his age, doctors and TCM staff agreed it was best to cancel the final Q&A session. Not being able to do that Q&A session devastated Rooney. Rooney asked Mankiewicz to visit him in his room and Mankiewicz arrived to find Rooney with tears in his eyes. This was shortly after news had broken about Rooney having been a victim of elder abuse and he had testified before a US Senate committee about it. After having been through all that, for him to be able to go on the TCM Cruise and be among people who appreciated him meant everything to him.
The festival’s main salute to Mickey Rooney came Sunday morning with a screening of National Velvet with Rooney’s long-time friend Margaret O’Brien in attendance. Everything about the tribute was very thoughtful, heartfelt, and moving. National Velvet was selected as the movie to show because in his autobiography, Rooney said the line, “What’s the meaning of goodness if there isn’t a little badness to overcome?” resonated so strongly with him, he wouldn’t mind it being his epitaph.
Margaret O’Brien wore a beautiful green outfit, which she had recently worn when she had dinner with Mickey on St. Patrick’s Day. Mickey really liked that outfit so she decided to wear it again for this tribute. One thing O’Brien really emphasized is that for the last two years of his life, Rooney was being cared for by people who truly had his best interests at heart. She also spoke of his love of animals and how he enjoyed painting, writing poetry and limericks, and watching the news and Turner Classic Movies. Rooney and O’Brien were working on a movie together, an adaptation of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” just before he passed away and he was still as passionate about acting as he ever was.
Eddie Muller of the Film Noir Foundation was on hand to lead the discussion with O’Brien. Joey Luft, son of Judy Garland, made a guest appearance to escort O’Brien into the theater. After O’Brien was seated, Luft stepped aside and let O’Brien and Muller do most of the talking, but there was one moment when he couldn’t resist joining the conversation. Since Rooney enjoyed writing poetry, Muller wanted to read a poem Rooney had written called “Flesh and Bones” while a picture of Rooney was displayed on the screen behind him. When the picture failed to come on the screen as planned, Luft came back out to tell the story of how there was a similar problem with a projector at his father Sid Luft’s memorial. Rooney, being the consummate professional that he was, kept things going at that moment by getting up and talking about Sid Luft’s relationship with Judy Garland.
The poem “Flesh and Bones” was lovely. It was a really poignant and honest look back on his life and how even though he wasn’t perfect and with all the ups and downs he encountered in his life, he did the best he could.