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Mickey McGuire movies (1927-34)
Moviegoers were first introduced to Rooney at the precocious age of seven, when he kicked off a dizzying run of shorts playing a scrappy kid named Mickey McGuire. Little did they know at the time just how long that relationship would last. The McGuire two-reelers proved to be such catnip for audiences that Rooney would be given a contract by Louis B. Mayer at MGM.
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A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935)
As Puck, the impish sprite in Max Reinhardt and William Dieterle's visually enchanting adaptation of Shakespeare's classic, Rooney possesses the mischievous, firefly charm of an actor whose talent far outreaches his scant years. Is it possible that an elfin 14 year old could outshine thousand-watt costars such as James Cagney and Olivia de Havilland? Go back and watch it. The answer will surprise you.
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Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938)
Arguably the greatest of Rooney's innocently exuberant onscreen couplings with Judy Garland — just one of Rooney's many Andy Hardy movies between 1937 and '58 — shows the girl-crazy teen sensation spreading his cheeky can-do spirit to the fictional town of Carvel like a red-white-and-blue spark plug. The series, which would stretch out to more than a dozen song-and-dance installments and turn Rooney into the biggest box-office attraction of the day, is the very definition of youthful, ''Let's put on a show'' American optimism.
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Boys Town (1938)
Spencer Tracy is the tough-but-fair Father Flanagan, a heart of gold priest who runs a school for juvenile delinquents. Rooney, who comes off like a rip-snorting pint-size Humphrey Bogart, soars as the hard-case bully who finds redemption. Shortly after the film's release, the actor and Deanna Durbin both received a special ''Juvenile Award'' Oscar from the Academy.
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Babes in Arms (1939)
In short order, Rooney and Garland had become a hand-over-fist box-office formula, and their cutesy youthful chemistry crackled in this Busby Berkley take on Rodgers and Hart's musical. Is it sappy and saccharine? You bet — especially in hindsight. But it was also responsible for Rooney's first Oscar nomination.
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The Human Comedy (1943)
Chasing girls, dropping by the soda shop, and putting on a show were the themes that dominate the first decade of Rooney's meteoric career. But in this heartbreaking drama directed by Clarence Brown (and adapted from a William Saroyan story), Rooney earned his second Oscar nod for beautifully playing a teenager who has to deliver bad news to the families of the fallen during WWII.
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National Velvet (1944)
With his short, fireplug physique, Rooney seemed destined to play his fair share of jockeys. It also made him a natural in the role of Mi Taylor — an animal whispering drifter who helps Elizabeth Taylor turn a spirited gelding into the Grand National Steeplechase champ. Still one of the all-time great family films.
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The Bold and the Brave (1956)
A slightly obscure and somewhat forgettable Lewis R. Foster war drama. Mostly memorable for Rooney's rat-a-tat performance as a tough-talking G.I who dies trying to hold onto his craps-game spoils. Not only did Rooney walk off with the picture, he also walked off with his third Oscar nomination.
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''The Comedian'' (1957)
His eager, boyish apple-pie charm was long gone by the time Rooney starred in this stellar Playhouse 90 production (written by Rod Serling and directed by John Frankenheimer). Still, it's here, playing a ruthless and ugly TV vaudevillian that Rooney gives one of his most indelible and against-type turns.
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Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
Great movie, unfortunate part. Blake Edwards' classic about a tragic Manhattan flibbertigibbet (Audrey Hepburn at her most incandescent and iconic) remains timeless...except for one problem: Rooney's grotesque racial cartoon, the offensive bucktoothed punchline, Mr. Yunioshi.
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It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)
Stanley Kramer's hellzapoppin' cross-country comedy features more stars than there are in the heavens. This is the big-studio buckshot approach to comedy early '60s style: throw a thousand gags at the wall and some of them have to stick. And yet, old-school stars (Milton Berle, Buddy Hackett, Phil Silvers, Jonathan Winters, and of course, Rooney) who seem to have been frog-marched out of Chasen's and onto the set make it a nostalgic trip like no other. They don't make 'em like this anymore, folks.
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An undeservedly forgotten hardboiled thriller starring Michael Caine as pulp fiction author hired to ghostwrite an ex-actor's memoir in the Mediterranean. Rooney seems to be having a ball poking at the hot-air balloon of his own off-screen persona.
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The Black Stallion (1979)
Rooney earned yet another Oscar nomination for his turn as the inspiring, flinty-eyed trainer of a boy who wants to turn a wild Arabian horse into a champion in Carroll Ballard's kids classic.
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The Fox and the Hound (1981)
In the back-nine of his career, Rooney tapped his beloved gravel-road voice to lend heart and humor to a handful of animated films. The best is this Disney tale, which also featured the tonsils of Kurt Russell, Pearl Bailey, and Sandy Duncan.
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Rooney won both a Golden Globe and an Emmy for his sentimental and surprising three-hankie performance as a mentally challenged man named Bill Sackter, who late in life has to learn to live on his own.
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Night at the Museum (2006)
Along with Dick Van Dyke and Bill Cobbs, Rooney popped up as a pleasantly familiar face as the surly-geezer security guard in Ben Stiller's hit comedy. ''Do you want the job or not, Snack shack?''