Saturday, September 6, 2014

Babes on Broadway (1941)

Theatrical Film Poster

Mickey Rooney's career in show business began before he could have chosen any other path in life. He was practically born performing and many of his films about up and coming stars devoted to entertaining an audience or washed up actors of a time that no longer exists forgotten by modern audiences, reflect his life. But, none of his films can fully reflect the passion he had for entertainment, or the tragic loses he suffered along the way. Mickey Rooney lived through every stage of film history. He started his career on vaudeville stages and in silent films, and even this year Mickey was working and filming movies that have not yet been released. Mickey always worked for his successes, and nothing in life was ever simply handed to him. He earned his place among the stars of MGM and Hollywood.

Mickey Rooney and Bette Davis receiving
 their crowns as king and queen of the movies.

Very popular among movie buffs and Mickey Rooney fans are the series of musicals he filmed with Judy Garland in the late 30's and early 40's. It was in 1940 that Mickey Rooney was crowned the "king of the movies" by the Academy, topping actors older and with more films under their belts, such as Clark Gable, and his Boys Town co-star Spencer Tracy. Honored with him was Bette Davis, who won this title above sirens of the screen such as Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer. Following the success of previous Mickey and Judy musicals, Babes in Arms and Strike up the Band, Arthur Freed produced another film staring the two, who were taking Hollywood by storm and exciting America's youth. 

Mickey Rooney and Ava Gardner were married
 in 1942 and remained married for only a year.
Babes on Broadway, to me, represents a different time in our country. In this 1941 film, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland play aspiring entertainers; Mickey, a hopeful actor, and Judy, as always, an amazing vocalist. Mickey finds himself in New York City with his two acting partners, played by Ray McDonald and Richard Quine. There they perform in cellars for anyone who will stop to listen, while pursuing every talent agent in the city to hopefully become the next big stars of Broadway. This film showcases a time in America that revolved around the attainable American dream. Anything was possible if you were willing to work for it, and Mickey, both in this film as Tommy Williams and in his life, worked tirelessly to become the star we remember him as today.
Margaret O'Brien at 4 years old
 in Babes on Broadway

Although Mickey and Judy were paired together in nine films, and always appeared together at events and award shows, it is well known that the two were never together romantically. Even during the short filming of this one movie, countless events occurred that solidified the fact that they would never be. Filming was postponed when Judy secretly flew to Las Vegas to marry her first husband, David Rose. And on set, Mickey Rooney fell for an extra, the unknown Ava Gardner, on her first job under MGM contract.

A portion of Margaret O'Briens notes for the TCMFF
The film also features the start for many up and coming stars, including Margaret O'Brien in her first film. She has an uncredited role as a young child auditioning for a Broadway director, based upon the day her mother brought her to MGM Studios to audition for Vincent Minnelli and Arthur Freed. She will also star alongside Mickey in his last acting role in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which will be released in 2015. At the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival this year, Margaret O'Brien spoke about Mickey's love for movies which thrived his entire life.

Mickey Rooney and his father, Joe Yule,
 in an Andy Hardy film.
Another uncredited actor in this movie was Mickey Rooney's father, Joe Yule. Mickey Rooney's father was a vaudeville performer from before his son was born, until shortly before Babes on Broadway was filmed. Mickey had not seen his father from the time he moved with his mother to California when he was two years old, until he was eighteen years old and successfully working at MGM. Mickey's father was not working as successfully in vaudeville, and when the two were reunited, Mickey Rooney convinced Louis B. Mayer to give his father a contract at the film studio. You can find familiar faces of talented stars even as extras, and each and every role shines in this film. Virginia Wielder, who replaced a role set for Shirley Temple (much like Judy did years before in The Wizard of Oz) played a well received role, and was another young star whose had an early appearance in a Mickey Rooney movie, 1938's Love is a Headache. Among others who received a start in films from Babes on Broadway was Donna Reed, who appeared in one scene as a secretary.

Virginia Wiedler acting alongside Mickey
 Rooney in Love is a Headache
Featuring music written by Arthur Freed and dance numbers directed by Busby Berkeley, this film represents the best of it's time. One song from the film, How About You, written by producer Arthur Freed and Broadway's Burton Lane was nominated for an Oscar for best song. On it's surface, Babes on Broadway seems like any other MGM musical, and any other Mickey and Judy film. But, reflects a poignant time in the life of Mickey Rooney, where he was at his best and when we remember him, we should remember him at this moment. Finding love with the first of eight wives, dominating the box office, and performing his heart out with Judy Garland, while they were both young and lively and able to give demanding performances. Mickey and Judy, at 21 and 19, respectively, were both doing what they were put on this earth to do, at their bests. This film, autobiographic and theatrical all at once, reflects every actor's ambitions for fame, all the while hiding the cruel aspects of it, especially by making New York City streets of the 40's seem clean and wholesome at every turn. We know now the sad lives that many actors led, but this film preserves a better image of them, and lets audiences believe for a time that the glamorous aspects of the entertainment industry are all that they seem to be.
A promotional still for the film

This movie also means a lot to me, personally. When I was 11, this filmed sparked an interest in classic movies for me, and since watching it that first time, disregarding all school work to fully engross my attention on breathtaking dance numbers and soon, finding myself tearing up at Mickey and Judy's very heartfelt romantic scenes, I have seen this film to many times to count. It remains the only film I have ever purchased on iTunes, and it has lead to my interest in all classic films, and my connections with other people in the wonderful film community. I owe it all to Mickey and Judy for putting on a show so many years ago. Although they are gone, their memory will remain for all time in the hearts of those who they inspired through film, music, and passion for entertainment.

This post is part of The getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club taking place throughout the month of September.  Please visit the getTV schedule for details on Rooney screenings throughout the month and any of the host sites for a complete list of entries.


  1. I was charmed and touched by your personal affection for "Babes on Broadway". We all have that one extra special movie and yours is a true musical classic.

    I've never watched it in terms of the tumultuous personal lives of those young people involved. I'm sure that will enhance my next viewing.

  2. This was actually the film that introduced me to Rooney (I was an early convert to Garland) so I share your personal affection for this film. Despite the number of times I've watched this, it was a great post - I didn't know, for example that Rooney's dad had an uncredited part, that must've been a great step in their relationship.

  3. Loving Judy as I do it's hard to believe it's been years since I see this. You've made me want to STAT! Thanks so much for contributing this great commentary for the blogathon. What talents!!! Sure don't make 'em like Rooney and Garland anymore!


  4. What a heartfelt post! I loved how you described the importance of the movie in your life, and how much Mickey and Judy meant. Judy was special to me since the beginning, but I took a little longer to get hooked on Rooney... and have yet to see Babes on Broadway! I'll keep an eye on Margaret O'Brien and Donna Reed ;)
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

  5. I am continually amazed by the amount of information available on this subject. What you presented was well researched and well worded in order to get your stand on this across to all your readers.
    broadway show tickets