Andy Hardy died today, and I’m not going to cry. I am not going to cry because everyone I meet today will ask, “Why are you crying?” and I can’t say “Andy Hardy died today,” because their eyes will glaze over, their heads will nod to the left, and they’ll ask, “I’m sorry, who is Andy Hardy?” I will then sigh and walk away, because I know there is no point in discussing it.
I think most folks over 70 know that the great Mickey Rooney was Andy Hardy, and that when Mickey died, Andy died with him. Mickey created Andy Hardy on the screen. Mickey owned Andy and that’s it.
I guess I am officially old now, because I saw all the Hardy series, and I remember most of them.
More than sore knees and feet, more than thinning hair, failing eyesight and memory, remembering dialogue from Andy’s scenes with his father, Judge Hardy, makes one feel old.
Mickey made about 16 of the Hardy family movies, and when they opened at the crumbling, seedy old Michigan Avenue Movie Theater, I was there.
The first ones I missed when they opened. They were in the late 30s. But I caught up, because my mother was a movie fan and for most of the year during the Great Depression, she went to the movies four nights a week. She loved Jean Harlow’s and Myrna Loy’s pictures, and they often ran with a Hardy family picture.
By 1940 I was a movie addict. During the summers, I went every night and twice on Sundays. I would sidle up to her and plead, “Mama, can you spare a dime?”
She’d reply, “I don’t want you looking at the war movies, and don’t tell me about them.” All I had to say was, “It’s an Andy Hardy picture, two of ‘em.” I got the dime.
The Hardy family of “Carvel” was a fantasy land for a boy who had just lost his father. Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone) always had the right advice to solve Andy’s problems, and he was always there.
The remaining Hardy films I finished at a Rooney film festival at the Beacon Theatre in Manhattan in 1958. It cost me a lot more than a dime.
Of course, Mickey and Judy Garland became major stars with all of those great Busby Berkeley musicals that made tons of money and wiped out the Hardy image. As for Mickey, Laurence Olivier, appearing on a late night talk show in the 60s, was asked which American actors he considered the best. He called Mickey “the greatest of them all.”
Few people today, with the exception of film buffs, remember Mickey’s greatest performance, as Army, in Rod Serling’s 1962 “Requiem For A Heavyweight,” with Anthony Quinn and a stunning dramatic performance by Jackie Gleason. That and his “Boys Town” role with Spencer Tracy, proved Olivier right.
My personal moment with Mickey/Andy came when I was working in a bookstore on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Late one hot summer afternoon, I was standing in front having a cigarette, when I looked down the block a few stores away, and saw a man come flying out of the tailor shop. He clearly had been tossed out, but got up and brushed himself off while still exchanging some colorful words with the tailor.
A few minutes later, my manager, Mr. Noonan, who knew every star in Hollywood and their secrets, passed the scene, and came down the street to me.
“Poor Mickey Rooney,” he said,” He can’t seem to stay out of trouble.”
I was stunned. That little balding man who was picking himself from the curb was my old movie hero, Andy Hardy. I turned away. I didn’t want to know anymore.
Goodnight Mickey, where ever you are, we had some good and bad times together, and it only cost me a dime.
Andy Hardy died today and I’ll cry if I want to.
Editor’s note: Mickey Rooney died Sunday.
J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.