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Mickey Rooney, wife wow adoring crowd

June 15, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Memories of Judy Garland, Clark Gable, Jean Arthur, James Cagney and other Hollywood heavyweights formed the soul and spine of Mickey Rooney's nostalgic show at The Maryland Theatre on Saturday evening.

With 80 years of show business reminiscences at his beck and call, Rooney, 82, drew liberally from them.

Next Sunday marks the 34th anniversary of Judy Garland's death, but Rooney still refers to her as the "other woman" in his life.

"We weren't just a team," Rooney said, leading into film clips of "Words and Music," their last film together in 1948, and a reunion segment for her television show in the early 1960s. "We were magic."


On their way into the theater, some of Rooney's fans said the same about him and his career.

Vi Lamorte of Walkersville, Md., remembered seeing Rooney and Ann Miller many years ago perform "Sugar Babies" in Washington, D.C.

"It was so good, we didn't want it to end," she said.

Lamorte's husband, Michael, hasn't forgotten Rooney's role in "Young Tom Edison," his favorite Rooney film.

"I've never seen him in anything that I didn't like," Michael Lamorte said.

The Lamortes decided on a whim Saturday afternoon to try to get tickets for Rooney's touring show, which is called "One Man, One Wife." It turned out that there were plenty left. As a film clip montage kicked off the show, about 130 people were seated in the audience, roughly 10 percent of the theater's capacity.

When Kathleen Lucas of Hagerstown heard Rooney was going to be in Hagerstown, she immediately called her mother, Trudy Brown, who was eager to see the show.

"He's been around," Lucas said. "He's funny. He's cute."

"He's no spring chicken. It might be our last chance to see him," said Kathleen Lucas' husband, Dick, who liked Rooney and Spencer Tracy in the 1938 movie "Boys Town."

Kathleen Lucas said her mother, who traveled around the world as an Army nurse during World War II, and Rooney "grew up together - kind of, sort of."

Just before the show began, Lou Sloan of Hagerstown said she was looking forward to seeing Rooney again.

Forty-five years ago, Sloan said, she was a camera girl at the 500 Club in Atlantic City. She saw all the stars - Rooney, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sophie Tucker.

Decades after working with Rooney, "I want to see if he improved," Sloan said with a laugh as she walked to her seat.

At its heart, Rooney's show was a sampling of his vaudeville, burlesque and musical upbringing. A film clip of him wildly gesticulating as he conducted an orchestra gave way to other bits spanning his celluloid life, from boy to aged man.

Rooney's life was the musical Saturday. He guided the audience from Albany, N.Y., where his backstage sneeze at his father's show led to his first performance, to Kansas City with his mother, to Hollywood, where he made a home and a life.

Songs punctuated the turning points of "One Man, One Wife" and film clips and Rooney's impersonations were pathways to yesteryear.

Jokes lightened the entire journey. Frequently, the punch line was his notorious string of failed marriages.

Of first wife Ava Gardner, Rooney quipped, "Boy could she - cook. ... She lost her recipe for toast."

Early in the show, he urged the women on the right side of the audience to stand.

"Let's say hello to my ex-wives," he joked.

"Alimony's like pumping gas in another guy's car," Rooney joked.

After a half-hour of one-liners, songs and movie business recollections, Rooney brought out his current other half - his wife of 25 years, Jan Chamberlin Rooney. Together, they sang the Gershwin classic "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off."

During her time on stage, Jan, the clearer, stronger, more resonant vocalist, mostly sang on her own - namely, Frank Sinatra's "Makin' Whoopee" and Patsy Cline's "I Fall to Pieces" and "Crazy."

Rooney sometimes sat in the background and implored the audience to applaud for her, and other times stood at her side and looked fondly up at her face.

"Until Jan came along, I didn't know what love was," Rooney said.

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