Rooney Tunes

Photo: Catherine Ledner

Though you may not have heard much from Mickey Rooney lately, the 83-year-old former child actor has, in fact, been touring the country with Jan (his eighth and probably final wife). And now they’ve brought their revue to New York, paying tribute to Patsy Cline, Judy Garland, and former Rooney wife Ava Gardner at the Irish Repertory Theater. Before they arrived, Boris Kachka talked to the couple by phone from their home in Ventura County.

Jan: We don’t have an extension that works at the moment, but we’ll trade back and forth. Do you want to start with Mickey?

Sounds good.
I’ll put you on hold. [Hold music is Cyndi Lauper’s “All Through the Night.”]
Mickey: Hello. Delighted you called.

So the show used to be called One Man, One Wife?
No, it never was; that was mistaken. That doesn’t make any sense, One Man, One Wife. Now it’s Let’s Put on a Show.What’s your favorite part of the show?
Well, the duets. We do [sings] “If you say either, and I say either/You say neither and I say neither.” Would you like to talk to Jan?

Sure. Jan, what happened to One Man, One Wife?
Mickey didn’t care for the connotation of “This just happens to be one of the wives.” He said to change it.

You’re Mickey’s eighth wife …
We’ve been together officially for 26 years.

How did you know that this marriage would stick?
I saw something in him. He’s old-fashioned—not old, but old-fashioned. He was a frisky guy, though, don’t get me wrong. That eye roves around at a lot of women, I’ve noticed.

You still have that problem?
He still has a roving eye. I don’t tell people that, but I guess I just told you, didn’t I!

Do you ever fight?
Yes, we’re the Bickersons.

Do you bicker about the show?
Very seldom. Because after all, he’s the top banana.

But you sing better.
Maybe at this point. Who knows what I’ll sound like at 83.

How old are you?
Let’s just say I haven’t seen 50 for a couple years. I don’t want to be boxed into a particular age, because I just finished some films, and I’m the spokesperson for Garden State Life Insurance.

Can I speak to Mickey?

You’ve been in show business for 80 years?
Well, yeah, but a lot of people have been in show business for 80 years.

Well, not that many, really. What do you think of child actors?
Name one.

Haley Joel Osment.

He was in The Sixth Sense, with Bruce Willis.
Oh, yes, I know. But I think that we need young people to aspire to be in musicals.

Variety said your comic timing is better than your singing.
We do everything to the best of our abilities. Here’s Jan … Hi, I just want you to know, Mickey sings some beautiful songs. You caught him on a raspy day.

What music do you like, Jan?
All types. I like Usher. There are contemporary artists Mickey likes, too. [Mickey, shouting from afar: Elton John!] Yes. Elton John. He went crazy over meeting Mickey.

You and Mickey collaborate on canvas as well?
I work in acrylics and watercolors and he works in oils and acrylics. I had some space flowers sold.

Space flowers?
I just drew some flowers and they looked like outer-space flowers would look.

But sometimes you paint on the same canvas?
It’s abstract. I’m not sure I’d attempt to do a landscape with him—but maybe.

Rooney Tunes