08 April 2014

Mickey Rooney in Oz

Mickey Rooney had the rare distinction of playing two roles in prominent dramatic adaptations of the Oz books.

In 1974 Rooney provided the voice of the Scarecrow in Journey Back to Oz, an animated feature based loosely on L. Frank Baum’s first sequel, The Marvelous Land of Oz, with Dorothy thrown in. Dorothy’s voice was recorded by a young Liza Minnelli, daughter of one of Rooney’s frequent costars at MGM.

In 1998-99 Rooney played the Wizard in an arena-stage adaptation of the MGM Wizard of Oz, with the most prominent venue being Madison Square Garden in New York. His costars included Eartha Kitt as the Wicked Witch and Jessica Grove as Dorothy. Visually the older Rooney was a good match for W. W. Denslow’s drawings, but of course audiences wanted to see a Wizard who looked like Frank Kramer.

In the article announcing that production’s arrival in New York, Playbill magazine reported this anecdote:
MSG spokesperson Geoff Cohen relayed an amusing Rooney incident that occurred while the tour was in Chicago: “When Mickey takes off in the balloon at the end of the show, he’s in the basket, which is constructed with cables attached to the rim. Two guys on the floor hold the ropes to keep him from taking off. So Mickey’s supposed to lean forward and wave goodbye to everyone, and he says ‘I really don't know how this thing works’ and ‘You’re spoiling my exit!’ But this time, one of the floor guys held on to the ropes too long, so the basket flipped over, and Mickey was hanging upside down, holding onto the railing, twelve feet above the ground. It was a dangerous situation, but what did he do? Not only was he as cool as you could ask for a person to be, he looked up at the audience and said, ‘I guess I’m not leaving quite yet... You see I really don’t know how this thing works!’”
At the time Rooney was seventy-seven years old.

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