Legend's son at home in Hemet
Mickey Rooney Jr., in show business since childhood, is also involved in ministry

BY NANCY SANDERSON
THE PRESS-ENTERPRISE
HEMET

Mickey Rooney Jr. has appeared in movies and on television. He's hobnobbed with stars and traveled extensively. But he calls Hemet home -- and loves it.

"I've been coming here since I was a kid," said Rooney, whose famous father is a film song-and-dance legend. "My mom's mom owned property in San Jacinto, and we visited often. My brother and I used to swim up at Soboba Springs Resort when it was a place for movie stars to come to get away from it all."

And like his namesake, Rooney has been in show business most of his life. Unlike his father, however, he's more than 6 feet tall.

"I had a tall mother," he says.

Mickey Rooney Jr., born in 1945 to Rooney and his second wife, was the first of the actor's nine children. His parents met while the star was in the Army, stationed in Birmingham, Ala. His mother, the former Betty Jane Rase, was Miss Alabama 1944 and a gifted vocalist.

Mickey Rooney Jr.'s show business career began in 1955, when he and his brother Tim were chosen as Walt Disney Mousketeers because they could sing, dance and act. They appeared on the Mickey Mouse Club for a year.

Although his parents divorced, Mickey Rooney Jr. saw his father frequently and met many Hollywood stars.

He recalled meeting Judy Garland, his father's leading lady in many films, at a party at Garland's home in Brentwood when he was 13. He remembered walking into the home and seeing singer Mel Torme and, at the piano, Steve Allen.

"So you're Mickey's first-born son," Garland said to him when they met. "You're a fine-looking young man."

Rooney says he was never starstruck around celebrities. "Around Mickey Rooney, showbiz people were a given," he said.

Rooney has an intense interest in music and plays guitar, keyboard, bass, drums, harmonica and writes music. That all started here.

"My grandmother, Nanny Rase, had a ukulele," he said. "When I was 11 years old, she asked if I would like her to show me some chords. I could play the chords she showed me. I put those chords to use on a classical guitar, and I was hooked."

While his famous name has opened doors for Mickey Rooney Jr. -- he hosted "The Andy Hardy Theater" on Channel 11 when he was 17 -- the path wasn't always easy. He said he had to work twice as hard to prove himself.

He met his wife, Laura, in 1986. He is a born-again Christian, and she is a Messianic Jew. They both say their relationship started by talking about the Lord.

Today, they minister through The Lord's Link Ministry. Laura plays a harp and sings, and they share their stories about surviving "life in the fast lane."

This month, Rooney and his brother Tim were named spokesmen for the Western Eagle Foundation in Temecula. The foundation is dedicated to feeding the hungry and offering help to those in need.

Mickey Rooney, his wife and a friend, John Whittinghill, perform together. They play and sing good-time rock 'n' roll and gospel tunes as the group Mickey Rooney Jr. and Friends. On Tuesdays, they perform at the Cahuilla Creek Casino in Anza and have been booked by the Pechanga and Soboba casinos in July.

Although the Rooneys like the slower-paced lifestyle in the Valley, they did not come there to retire. An upcoming project includes an autobiography and a TV movie, they said.

 

Published 5/22/2001