Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Eight Wives of Mickey Rooney

Mickey Rooney started life as Joseph Yule, Jr., and was born in Brooklyn in 1920,  the son of  Ninian Joseph Ewell of Glasgow and Nellie Carter of Kansas City.   They were both in vaudeville and the father had himself changed his name for show business becoming Joe Yule.  He began performing a scant 17 months later, appearing onstage in his own little tuxedo.    The elder Yule and his mother split up when he was three years old.  His mother returned to Kansas City and in 1925 relocated to Hollywood where she maintained a tourist home and worked to get her little boy into pictures.  She succeeded.  He started out as Mickey McGuire, until the lawyers for the originator of the character also named "Mickey McGuire" sued the studio and won. Then they settled on "Mickey Rooney".     He then went on to star in the Andy Hardy movies opposite Judy Garland and other films.  This was in the period prior to his WWII service.  In 1944 he entered military service as an entertainer of troops and on Armed Services Radio and received a bronze star for entertaining troops in and around a combat zone.

As with many juvenile actors when they can no longer take juvenile roles, by 1945 his best years as an actor were behind him, but he did soldier on as a character actor, most notably in the movie "The Black Stallion" and appeared, if peripherally, in quite a few films, stage productions, and voice acting roles and has continued to work right up to his very last years, making his an astonishingly long career (1).

1.  Ava Gardner (1942-1943)

Gardner was born in Smithfield, NC in 1922, and posed for pictures for her sister's photographer husband on a visit to New York, which led in 1941, to her going to Hollywood as a contract player for MGM.  While there she met Rooney who was a bigger star than she was at the time.  They were married for about a year.  Afterwards she went on to marry Artie Shaw,the band leader, (who has previously been married to Lana Turner)  and Frank Sinatra.  Among others she had relationships with were Ernest Hemingway, George C. Scott, and Howard Hughes (2).

2.  Betty Jane Rase (aka BJ Baker) (1944-1948)

One of the difficulties with discussing women in general and in show business specifically is their tendency to have multiple names.  She was born Betty Jane Phillips in Birmingham, AL in 1927, was Betty Jane Rase at the time she married Rooney and had two of his children, and became BJ Baker later on, having married Buddy Baker.      She was a backup singer for a number of famous recording artists, and provided the voice for one of the characters in the film "Flower Drum Song".  She died in 2002 at the age of 74 (3)
 
3.  Martha Vickers (1949-1951)

Vickers was born Martha MacVicker in 1925 in Ann Arbor, MI.  She began as a model and progressed from there to supporting roles in film and television during the 1940s and 1950s.  The Rooneys had one child, and were married a little over two years.  She died of esophageal cancer in 1971, at the age of 46.  (4).


4.  Elaine Devry (1952-1958)

Elaine Devry was born in 1930 as Thelma Elaine Mahnken in Compton, CA. She met and married Rooney when she worked with him on the film "The Atomic Kid" at which time she was known as "Elaine Davis".  They were married about six years.   She has worked since then in supporting roles in films many popular TV series, including Perry Mason, Bonanza, I Dream of Jeannie, and Marcus Welby, MD.  She said of her marriage to Rooney "Living with Mickey is no bed of roses.  Six wives can't be wrong"(5) 

5   Barbara Ann Thomason (aka Carolyn Mitchell,  Tara Thomas) (1958-1966)

Thomason was born in 1937 in Phoenix AZ.   As a young woman she moved to Los Angeles in hopes of making it in show business.  She won several honors as a beauty queen, in various pageants, and became a dance instructor, and fashion model.  She met Rooney through a mutual friend in 1958 and they were soon married.  They had four children in the eight years they were married.   By 1966 when their marriage was on the rocks, and Rooney was away in the Phillipines making a film, she took up with Milos Milosevic, a Yugoslavian actor whose only film role was a bit part in "The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming".   In the complicated situation created by the separation, divorce negotiations, and tape recordings, one night Milosevic killed Thomason in a murder-suicide (6)


6.  Marge Lane (1966-1967)


A friend of Barbara Ann Thomason,  she helped take care of Rooney's children shortly after his wife died.  The marriage lasted only about 100 days.  

7.  Carolyn Hockett (1969-1974)


Two years later he married Carolyn Hockett, a former secretary working for the Miami Herald. They were divorced after 5 years. 
 
8.  Jan Chamberlin (1978-2013)


She was born Janice Darlene Chamberlin in 1938.  She is a singer and holds the record for staying in a marriage with Rooney, over 30 years,  (7).   Rooney passed away from "natural causes" on April 6, 2014.  He will be laid to rest at Hollywood Forever cemetery next to Paramount Studios in accordance with his wishes (updated April 11). 

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