The Sordid Love Life of Mickey Rooney

September 7, 2022

Diminutive actor Mickey Rooney enjoyed a long career in show business that started when he was just 17 months old and continued until 2014 when, at the age of 93, he reprised his role of Gus in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, which wrapped up filming about six weeks prior to his death. But this article is not going to discuss his acting accolades. Instead, it will focus on his off-screen antics. More specifically, his love life. 

This colorized portrait was issued as publicity for the 1946film 'Love Laughs at Andy Hardy', also known as 'Uncle Andy Hardy', which was Rooney's first film after returning from two years in the army. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)

Mickey Rooney was a typical Hollywood womanizer. In these colorized photographs, we will look at the salacious love affairs, eight marriages, and tragic love stories of Mickey Rooney.

A Baby-Faced Ladies Man

Mickey Rooney stood only 5-foot, 2-inches tall, and had a round, youthful face. That landed him many roles as a typical American teenager even when he was in his twenties. Off set, it seemed as though Rooney’s teenage hormones were in overdrive. He was girl crazy from a young age.

Not just girl crazy … Rooney was woman crazy, too. When he was just 18 years old and working on the 1938 film, Marie Antoinette, he had a romantic fling with one of his co-stars. Norma Shearer was twice Rooney’s age and, as a recent widow, she was both experienced and lonely. The public learned about the affair, and it was quite the Hollywood scandal at the time. Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM, confronted Rooney about the situation. According to stories, Mayer lifted Rooney by the lapels and shouted at him, “I don’t care what you do in private. Just don’t do it in public!” Of course, Rooney didn’t listen. 

Mickey Rooney’s Early Marriages

A colorized pic of American actor Mickey Rooney and his first wife American actress Ava Gardner shortly before their wedding, January 1942. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Mickey Rooney was 21 years old when he began wooing a young starlet named Ava Gardner. At the time, she was a newcomer to the entertainment industry and, undoubtedly, starstruck by the attention the famous and popular Mickey Rooney was showing her. According to stories, Rooney seduced Gardner, who was just 19 years old and then proposed to her. The marriage lasted less than a year when Gardner filed for divorce.

Rooney’s second marriage was to Betty Jane Phillips who was the reigning Miss Alabama when they wed in 1944. This marriage lasted nearly five years and the couple had two children, but it was not a happy marriage. Rooney had a wandering eye and an eagerness to act on it. Phillips was pregnant with their second child when Mickey Rooney was cast in National Velvet opposite a very, very young Elizabeth Taylor. One day, Phillips decided to surprise her husband on set. She walked in on the 14-year-old Taylor performing a sex act on Rooney. She filed for divorce shortly afterward.

Married to the Mob?

Mickey Rooney’s fourth marriage was to a model named Elaine Devry. Devry’s ex-husband, however, was a mob guy who owed the mob boss a lot of money. By all accounts, Elaine Devry came on hot and heavy to Mickey Rooney not simply because he was a famous actor, but because she hoped he would give her the money to pay back the Mafia. Rooney loved to brag about his wealth, but the truth was, he was cash-strapped. He was paying alimony and child support and, since he was past his youthful prime, was not landing as many acting roles as before.

Although Rooney didn’t give her the money she wanted, he did pursue her aggressively. He asked her to marry him more than 30 times before she finally agreed. When she finally said yes, Rooney arranged for them to marry the next day.

Typical of Mickey Rooney, he began to date another woman, beauty pageant queen Barbara Ann Thomason, while he was still married to Devry. After a very public affair and a sticky, costly divorce, Rooney was free to marry Thomason.