Mickey Rooney: Yukon? I’m coming to the Yukon?

Mickey Rooney's a grumpy curmudgeon. The singing, dancing octogenarian's been through murder, deceit, fame, drug addiction, suicide pacts, angel visitations, born-again Christianity and war.

Mickey Rooney’s a grumpy curmudgeon.

The singing, dancing octogenarian’s been through murder, deceit, fame, drug addiction, suicide pacts, angel visitations, born-again Christianity and war.

And he didn’t want to talk about any of it.

In fact, he didn’t even know why someone in Whitehorse wanted to interview him.

“I don’t know why you’re advertising us so darn far up there,” he said, on the phone from his California home on Wednesday.

Rooney didn’t seem to realize he was booked at the Yukon Arts Centre.

“Where?” he said.

“When are we going to be up there?”

He and his wife Jan are set to perform in Whitehorse on the 8th.

“Of what month,” said Mickey.

When he found out it was this month, there was even more confusion.

“I don’t understand,” he said.

“We can’t play all the places they’ve got us going – that far up.”

Mickey hadn’t seen his touring schedule.

And his booking agents are “the wrong people, evidently,” he said with a chuckle.

He’s been in the biz since he was 17 months old, in a tiny tux performing vaudeville in Brooklyn with his parents.

Back then he was Joseph Yule Jr.

The name change happened five years later, when the little dancing boy was cast as comic strip character Mickey McGuire in a series of short, humorous films.

The comic strip writers, who were not given any royalties or recognition for the films, sued the production company.

Instead of paying, the company had Yule change his name to Mickey McGuire, then claimed it was named after the boy and got out of the royalties.

A few years later, the company tried to sue Mickey after he used his new name during a vaudeville tour with his mom – so it changed again, this time to the moniker he has today.

But Mickey didn’t want to talk about any of this.

“I got my name because they gave me the name,” he said.

“I don’t want to get into that, I really don’t.”

His next big break was working alongside Judy Garland in a series of films and musicals.

Before Mickey got on the phone, Jan said he’d written a song about Garland that he sings during the show.

“That’s right,” he said.

Then it was right back to questions about this Whitehorse show he didn’t even know he had.

“What are we going to do, an afternoon show up there?” he said.

It’s an evening show.

There’s a long pause.

So, back to Garland: It must have been hard watching his friend struggle with depression and addiction.

“It’s unfortunate, so we won’t talk about it,” he said.

But Mickey enjoyed being with the Wizard of Oz star.

“When you work with someone, its like Jan and I, we don’t work, we love being together.”

Then he brought up their star on Hollywood Boulevard, something Jan also brought up, before putting Mickey on the phone.

“And I’m a veteran,” he said.

Mickey joined the US military during the Second World War, in 1944, and, ever the showman, ended up entertaining the troops.

“I’m proud to have served,” he said.

He’s a self-described advocate for veteran rights and animal rights, but didn’t want to talk about that either.

“That’s my own private thinking,” he said.

“Everything could be better,” added Mickey, when pressed.

People could be “kinder,” and give veterans more “consideration for what they’ve done.

“We won’t go into it.”

Rooney was in “Jeep Shows” during the war – 158 men, he said.

“Only 154 of us came back.”

And what are Jeep Shows, exactly?

“Well, you want to be here all day,” said Mickey.

“I haven’t got time – you outta get a book called Jeep Shows, there’s a book out.”

(The shows were three men in a Jeep providing entertainment for troops in the foxholes at the front.)

When he came back from the war, Mickey dabbled in education, and attempted to set up the Mickey Rooney School of Entertainment.

But he didn’t want to talk about it.

“I don’t want any part of that,” he said.

“I want to talk to you about Let’s Put on a Show.”

It’s a musical montage Mickey’s been touring for the last few years with Jan and a trio of musicians who used to accompany the likes of Frank Sinatra.

There are old movie clips, some jokes, duets, and Mickey plays piano, said Jan.

“We want the people who come to say, ‘Gee, we’re glad we came,’” said Mickey.

“We’re looking forward to it.”

Efforts to steer Mickey back to more interesting stories about his life failed.

“I’m 89, I don’t have time to tell you about it,” he said

He was married eight times, first to Ava Gardner. His fifth marriage ended in a murder/suicide pact. Pinup model Barbara Ann Thompson was discovered dead in bed beside her lover. The pair used Mickey’s pistol to do the deed.

Mickey’s marriage to Jan has lasted 32 years, but he didn’t want to talk about that either.

“I haven’t got time to tell you about my personal life.”

He also battled drug addiction and gambling problems that almost bankrupted him in the 1970s.

But Mickey denied it.

“I had no drug addiction. Do you suffer from drug addiction?” he said.

“Where did that come up?”

His battle with addiction, and his transformation into a born-again Christian are in almost every story and biography about Mickey.

“I don’t believe bios,” he said.

“I’ve been Christian all my life.”

He’s also a member of PETA, a radical animal rights group that is adamantly opposed to dog sledding.

Coming to the North, it made sense to ask Mickey his take on mushing.

“I think sled dogs are wonderful animals,” he said.

He’s never been mushing.

“I have no time for that.”

And he’s never been to Alaska.

“Why would I go there?” he said.

He’s not going to be in the Yukon long either.

“Maybe another time,” he said.

“We’re just happy we’re coming.

“You tell everybody we send our best and stay warm.”

Mickey’s turning 90 this month.

He’s had career highlights.

“And lowlights too – I haven’t got time to tell you about them though,” he said.

Is he ever going to retire?

“Hello,” said Mickey.

Then, he hung up the phone.

His agent e-mailed an hour later:

“Did everything go OK?

They thought the phone went dead.”

It was explained Mickey hung up the phone when asked about retirement.

No offence was taken when the line went dead, e-mailed his agent.

“Mickey said to tell you his maxim, ‘Don’t retire, inspire.’”

Let’s Put On a Show is at the Yukon Arts Centre on September 8, starting at 8 p.m.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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