To mark the 50th anniversary of the Salk polio vaccine last week, the University of Pittsburgh brought in 84-year-old stage and screen legend Mickey Rooney, along with his wife, Jan (Chamberlin). The duo performed a number from their "Let's Put On A Show," delighting the audience. He has made over 200 films and received an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement, as well as an Emmy and several Golden Globes. Rooney, christened Joe Yule Jr., was practically born on stage, appearing at 15 months with his vaudevillian parents. A ladies' man in his youth, he married eight times (beginning with Ava Gardner) and has nine children. Rooney, like St. Augustine, found religion later in life. He's been happily married since 1978 to his wife and singing partner.
Q. You were quite a Romeo.
A. Well, I don't know about that, but the fact is I guess I played the part.
Q. Why so many marriages?
A. A lot of people in Hollywood have a lot of marriages. It's nothing to be proud of; we'd all like to be married for the first and only time. Now I've been married for 30 years. Today it's something strange when you stop to think about it. ... And I don't want to mention any names, but God, everything you hear is, "They went together for two weeks, had a honeymoon, split up, and then they got divorced." I mean things are so silly.
Q. Do you think getting all that attention at a young age is damaging?
A. No, I don't think so. You do what God intended you to do, and we all have a part to play -- you, too, and everybody else.
Q. Would you characterize yourself as ambitious?
A. I think it's a good quality in life for everybody to be ambitious, and a lot of people aren't. Well I got news for you, my folks, as you know, were in vaudeville and burlesque. I grew up in show business, and that's continued. My wife, Jan, loves show business too. She was a singer before I met her. We made three pictures together. I never considered anything else. We love it. We actually have a star on Hollywood Boulevard together for live entertainment. It's in front of the Kodak Theater. It's the first time that has ever been done. It happened last April.
Q. So how many stars do you have?
A. Four stars, including one with my wife.
Q. Do you think there will be a surge of spiritualism with the Pope's death?
A. Oh, I think it is a very sorrowful thing, but I also think we have to remember we have other religions. We love everybody, and we want everybody in the world to get along. I am a veteran of foreign wars. I was in the Second World War, and I was decorated. Now I belong to VFW Post 48. I have the Bronze Star. I was at the White House and met Franklin Roosevelt. We are very proud of our troops and proud of our country. I think everybody should stop and tell their children how proud they are of our country too.
Q. How many presidents have you met?
A. Oh, I think about six.
Q. Has your measure of success changed over the years?
A. No. I just think that it's important if you are in show business for people to be nice to you and remember you and ask you different questions. Everybody who's in show business has fun. I made two pictures, "Military Policeman" and "Off Limits," with my friend Bob Hope, and I mean we had fun together. Then, of course, I did "Requiem for a Heavyweight" [airing Thursday at 6:30 p.m. on Turner Classic Movies] with Anthony Quinn and Jackie Gleason. There was "The Black Stallion" and, of course, "Boys Town," where I am the mayor for life.
Q. How do you think you will be remembered?
A. Well, I don't think one ever knows. I think you just do the best with the life God gave you.