Sad details of PART 1 of 2 ...
Next Thread |
Previous Thread |
Next Message |
Date Posted: Wednesday, September 23, 03:47:52pm
In reply to:
Mickey Rooney died in 2014, at age 93.
's message, "ARCHIVE: September 23, 1920 ~It was a century ago, MICKEY ROONEY, famed actor, vaudevillian, comedian, producer and radio personality, whose career spanning NINE decades, including #1 box-office superstar in the 1930s, would have been 100 years old on this day _Happy 100! ..." on Wednesday, September 23, 12:19:51pm
Tears and Terror: The Disturbing Final Years of Mickey Rooney. ...
VARIETY.com / by Gary Baum, Scott Feinberg
October 21, 2015
He was one of Hollywood's greatest actors, someone whose estate could have been worth hundreds of millions when he died in summer 2014. Instead, he endured beatings, humiliation and poverty at the hands of his eighth wife and one of her sons, both accused today of elder abuse and destroying a legend.
Mickey Rooney shrieks in pain. Is he OK? "No, I'm not," he says, choking back tears. It's July 2010, inside The Grill on the Alley in Thousand Oaks, and in the midst of an interview with one of the authors of this piece, the diminutive 89-year-old has been kicked under the table by his eighth wife, Jan, as confirmed by his stepson, Chris Aber, who also is at the table. "She kicked him real hard," says Chris with a laugh. Rooney's offense? Rambling in his answers.
This meeting took place because the interviewer (who, as a then-freelance writer, was gathering material for a book) agreed to requirements set forth by Jan and Chris and conveyed to him over the phone by Kevin Pawley, Rooney's Kentucky-based manager: Bring a check for $200 and slip it to Chris when Rooney wasn't paying attention (ostensibly because financial transactions made him uncomfortable) and treat the three of them to lunch at the restaurant (Jan later ordered dinners to go for each of them).
A flip cam at the end of the table rolls as Jan, theatrically seeking the source of what caused her husband's pain, peers under the table for a moment and then turns to Chris and scolds him for confirming, in part, what the general public only would learn later: In his final years, Rooney was the victim of ongoing elder abuse.
The alleged wrongdoing and how it went on for so long has been a mystery until now. Five years after that interview, and more than a year after the star's death, an investigation by The Hollywood Reporter (uncovering legal documents, witness testimony and financial records that never before have been publicized) indicates Rooney's life was more abusive than he let on while he was alive. What's more, the trouble persisted until he died in April 2014 in a Studio City rental, with only $18,000 to his name. (Rooney's body rests at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, where many legendary movie stars are buried.)
Just weeks after Chris was served with a restraining order on Valentine's Day in 2011 accusing him of financially exploiting Rooney as his business manager,
the actor flew to Washington, D.C. Herb Kohl, chairman of the Senate Special Aging Committee, had read press reports that a conservator for Rooney
was pursuing elder-abuse charges, and he invited Rooney to testify about what he'd been through. ...
...As a transcript of that hearing reveals, Rooney, without naming names, tearfully explained that he'd himself been a victim of the increasingly common crime, stripped "of the ability to make even the most basic decisions about my life," leading to an "unbearable" and "helpless" daily existence. In a process that began after Rooney confided in a Disney executive during filming of 2011's The Muppets, Rooney's attorneys filed court papers in their petition for a conservator (to protect him and recover his assets) that revealed the extent of the control he wasn't even allowed to buy food or carry identification.
For her part, Jan, 76, who now lives with Chris at his house (and receives $100,000 a year from Rooney's SAG pension and Social Security benefits), insists that she has been falsely accused and characterizes her late husband's Senate testimony as coerced and unreliable. "Mickey was a 90-year-old man who was in and out of it mentally and was easily influenced by other people," she submits.
Only now will the public learn that the alleged debasement was not just financial but physical, too. ...
...Numerous family members and others close to Rooney say the small-statured actor frequently was abused by Jan, his wife of 36 years, who weighed twice what he did. THR also has learned that she was struggling with mental health issues during this time. These close acquaintances say Rooney who himself was arrested in 1997 by the Ventura County Sheriff's Department on suspicion of hitting Jan during a fight (the case was dropped) was bloodied and bruised in multiple altercations, in his final years emerging as a feeble man lying to his doctor about why he was being treated for this black eye or that missing tooth. While Rooney always denied spousal abuse, multiple sources tell THR that, when confronted, Jan herself acknowledged assaults. In a long interview with THR via email, Jan is adamant that "I never physically abused Mickey, but we had some minor pushing scuffles, tempers flared when we were angry. Sometimes it was his fault, sometimes mine. We always made up." (As a condition of responding to an interview request, she insisted that THR publish all questions and answers in their entirety. A full transcript can be viewed here.)
One of the insiders is Hector Garcia, who was brought in by the conservator to oversee Rooney's safety, including during periodic visitations with his wife after he moved out of their home. Days after Garcia began this job, he heard yelling and a thump coming from a second-floor bedroom and rushed inside. There, he found Rooney on the ground with Jan standing over him. "I told her, 'You cannot be hitting Mickey; I won't allow it,' " recalls Garcia. "She responded by telling me: 'Get used to it. I hit him because that's the only way he learns by hitting him like a kid.' " (He told her if she did it again, he'd place her under citizen's arrest.) Jan allows, "That might have been one of the very few times when we slapped each other on the arm during an argument. But we never meant to hurt each other."
The abuse claim is complicated by Jan's abiding closeness with son Chris who, accused by Rooney's conservator, attorney Michael Augustine, of stealing $8.5 million from his stepfather, agreed in 2013 to a $2.8 million civil settlement. Garcia describes an incident in which he was bringing Rooney for a visitation with Jan when the actor saw Chris getting into his car and got so upset at the sight of his stepson that he "dropped down to the floorboard of the vehicle and literally started crying, shaking, scared. In fact, he soiled himself, and I had to go clean him." (Responds Chris: "That's ridiculous. Mickey had a problem soiling his pants all the time.")
Chris, 56, who has yet to pay a cent, maintains his innocence: "[Rooney's lawyers] had to save face, so my attorney told me to make up a number, so I made up a number."
Responds Augustine, "He was always in Hawaii, the wife was with the big diamonds they were spending it fast and furiously."
How much Jan knew of Chris' alleged financial wrongdoing remains unclear, as is the contentious role played by her younger son Mark, 53, a former punk rocker with a drug-riddled past who (along with his wife, Charlene) became Rooney's stay-at-home caregiver and extracted the star from the grip of Chris and Jan. Meanwhile, multiple legal entanglements still are keeping L.A.'s Superior Court busy 18 months after Rooney's death, including a dispute over the rights to his estate which could rise in value if key possessions, such as his juvenile Oscar from 1939, are sold that's being pursued by seven of his biological children.
What is clear: One of the biggest stars of all time, who remained aloft longer than anyone in Hollywood history, was in the end brought down by those closest to him. He died humiliated and betrayed, nearly broke and often broken.
...Born Joseph Yule Jr., the only child of a poor chorus girl and burlesque performer who split up when he was 4 (his mother took him from Brooklyn to Hollywood), Rooney made his big-screen debut in 1926, in the silent era, and 88 years later still was at work on the upcoming straight-to-Amazon Prime release Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde the week he died. Rooney was a hit from the start, first in a series of Our Gang-like two-reelers in which he played a kid named Mickey McGuire, then at MGM, where he became a fan favorite and Louis B. Mayer's golden ticket.
For a nation emerging from the Depression and headed into World War II, the vibrancy and can-do spirit of Rooney's screen persona proved irresistible. He stood only 5-foot-3, but he was huge, ranking as the top box-office star from 1939 through 1941 (and certainly one of the best-paid actors of that era) thanks to the appeal of his work as an all-American kid in the Andy Hardy franchise; 10 musicals opposite another prodigy, Judy Garland; and other classics such as Boys Town and National Velvet. In 1939, the Academy awarded Rooney a special juvenile Oscar, and in the next five years, he twice was nominated for the real thing. (No male since has landed a best actor Oscar nom at a younger age.) He would go on to receive two more noms for The Bold and the Brave (1956) and The Black Stallion (1979) and pick up an Honorary Oscar, too, in 1983. No less a thespian than Laurence Olivier called him "the best there has ever been."
But as subsequent child stars from Elizabeth Taylor to Macaulay Culkin, none as popular as Rooney would discover, adjusting to the real world after growing up in a dream factory isn't easy. While his contemporaries attended school, collected an allowance and hoped for a kiss at the movies, Rooney had an education limited to studio tutors, gambled massive amounts at racetracks and slept his way through the studio's stable of budding beauties, including Ava Gardner. At 19, she became his first wife (he was 21). She divorced him after little more than a year because he couldn't remain faithful to her.
Friends say Rooney was ill-equipped to be an independent adult, which he was forced to become after the war ended and he parted ways with MGM, founding his own production company with a business partner. Thus began decades of reckless spending and gambling; bad investments and failed get-rich-quick schemes (like Mickey Rooney Macaroni); alcoholism and pill-popping; and, famously, marriages and divorces, which cost him a pretty penny in alimony. (Rooney did not divorce his fifth wife, Carolyn Mitchell; she was murdered by a rumored lover in 1966 in their home when he was out of town.) Left in the wake of this were 10 children with whom Rooney elected to have little contact; indeed, in his 1991 autobiography, he devoted more words to his pets than his kids.
Richard A. Lertzman, who co-authored the new biography The Life and Times of Mickey Rooney, tells THR that the actor was a "manic personality" who suffered from bipolar disorder. He also contends that Rooney attempted suicide "twice, maybe three times" over the years, with resulting hospitalizations reported as "nervous breakdowns."
In the '70s, as American movies grew more cynical, Rooney struggled to find quality work. He'd blown through most of his money (first declaring bankruptcy in 1962), was reduced to doing dinner theater in Kentucky and, while in L.A., crashed at the Nichols Canyon home of his agent, Ruth Webb, known for hosting eclectic parties. At one soiree, Rooney's oldest son, musician Mickey Jr., now a 70-year-old recluse, brought a date named Jan Chamberlin, an aspiring country singer from L.A. (Lertzman says Mickey Jr. told him they were engaged, while Jan said they were "just friends.") Before long, while Mickey Jr. was away for a gig, Mickey Sr. and Jan, who was 18 years younger, became an item.
Being with Jan meant being with Chris and Mark, her teenage sons (from her marriage to script supervisor Lynn Aber that ended when she was 26). In a 1979 story in People, Chris said he and Mark "were both troublemakers when Mom met Mickey." Mark now says of his mother, "She was always trying to be a singer, always after fame, always trying to date people." She had a history of troubled relationships. "She tried to leave this one guy took us away for a weekend somewhere to hide from the guy," recalls Mark. "And when we got back to the house, the cat was smashed on the table, like into tuna fish. My brother's cat was [dead] in the refrigerator."
Rooney represented the possibility of something better for Jan and her sons Mark says they were on welfare though, at first, Rooney was so destitute he had to move in to their rental home in Sherman Oaks. Eventually, he got together some money and, recalls Mark, "took us to nice dinners, taught us a lot about etiquette and all that stuff, exposed us to a lot of things, you know, horse racing and golf."
Around that time, Rooney's fortunes turned around. He landed his part in The Black Stallion and reluctantly made his Broadway debut in Sugar Babies, a burlesque revue that became a smashing success, running for nearly three years and earning Rooney as much as $65,000 a week. But family members say Jan's frustrations festered; she submitted audition cassettes to places like The Tonight Show, which sent her a polite rejection letter.
Before long, Chris and Mark began working for Rooney first informally, with Chris as a driver and Mark as a chef ("He sent me to chef school") and then as paid assistants. "This is something I loved doing," says Chris. "Imagine going to Sugar Babies and being in the dressing room with all the girls undressing in front of you." Chris later married Christina and moved out while Mark stuck around. By the 1990s, both were headed for trouble: Mark admits to being heavily into drugs (heroin and cocaine) and says Chris was, too "My brother was doing coke this whole time." (Chris had no comment on any past drug use.)
In 1996, Jan reached out to family acquaintance Geraldo Rivera about Mark's troubles, and the TV talk show host offered to pay for him to get treatment. Mark went off for a month to an upscale treatment facility in Nashville Chris Farley was there at the time. ("One thing Chris said at one of the meetings was, 'My idea of a party is a large pizza, a bottle of Jack Daniel's and a gram of coke,' " recalls Mark.) Ten days into his stay, Mark appeared on Rivera's show via satellite, with his brother beside him and Jan in the studio. Chris uploaded this segment to YouTube in 2012.
Soon after, Mark entered an after-care program in Florida. "I got a job at two restaurants," he recalls. "I had a new energy. I was focused." At one restaurant, he met a bookkeeper named Charlene Fevrier, whom he began dating and eventually married. He says he heard little from Jan and Chris, but "Mickey would call all the time, 'When are you coming back? You're all better now.' "
Mark says he wanted to visit home but claims that Jan blocked Rooney from providing the necessary funds. When Mark finally earned enough to return on his own, he says he was shocked by what he saw. "Something happened," he says. "Jan and Chris were running the show."
How does a man who earned tens of millions of dollars during his career wind up with $18,000?
Mark says Rooney had a breakdown while in Australia filming 1998's Babe: Pig in the City, after which his stepfather was prescribed strong medication. He says, "They put him on these brain psych meds and things, and my mom was administering them and she didn't know what she was doing." Adds Charlene, "[Jan] said, 'I have to keep him high to be onstage, and I have to keep him quiet and subdued when he's at home.' " (Jan denies this.)
Mark, Charlene and Augustine contend that Rooney, after declaring bankruptcy in 1996, was told (erroneously) by Chris that his pensions from SAG, AFTRA and Actors Equity had been cashed out and he would have to work to keep his home and health and medical benefits. (Chris denies this and says he committed no wrongdoing in connection with his stepfather.) Jan and manager Pawley put together a revue for her and Mickey to perform together, Let's Put on a Show, and Chris began booking them at venues of varying prestige across the continent.
Carroll Ballard, who directed Rooney in Black Stallion, ran into him in Toronto that year, after Rooney had done "some kind of theater thing" that was "way below his abilities, and I think he felt embarrassed." Says Robert Malcolm, Rooney's agent after Webb: "Mickey was a star. Jan was not. Jan had a great need for being at the center of things, and that made me uncomfortable."
In 2004, Mark saw Rooney in Branson, Mo., where Chris had booked Mickey and Jan for a gig. Mark says he found Chris "already positioning himself" to get access to Rooney's money, having persuaded Mickey and Jan to move out of their "big and beautiful" home in Sherman Oaks and into a "really crappy rental home" in Westlake Village. Moreover, recalls Mark, "He was on the phone shopping for new Porsches. The guy said he needed to check Chris' credit and paperwork and he goes, 'You've got to check my fing credit? I'm a fing millionaire! What are you talking about?' And I'm like, 'Wait a minute, what's going on here?' "
Another episode disturbed Mark even more: "Chris came in and goes, 'Mickey, I'd like you to sign this. We're going to go for two months and we're going to go here and we're going to do this.' And Mickey goes, 'Ah, wait a minute, Chris, I don't want to sign it right now. Why don't you come back later?' And Chris says, 'Just sign it, come on, sign it!' 'Chris, no, I don't want to sign it.' And he goes, 'Just sign the thing, you fing piece of shit!' "
Family members and Augustine tell THR that this arrangement continued for years, with Chris committing his stepfather to performances, appearances and interviews in return for cash payments, most of which he spent as if they were his own. Chris already had compelled Rooney to add him as a sub-account holder, signatory or authorized user on nearly all of his accounts, debit/credit cards and P.O. boxes. In 1998, Chris was installed as a 49 percent partner in Rooney's production company, Densmore Productions.
Chris maintains that he was always paid a flat salary for his work, which he describes on his LinkedIn page as "coordination of all travel arrangements, public appearances, publicity, bookings and press releases as well as forecasting and overseeing budgetary matters," plus "assisting in all aspects of the actor's personal life, living arrangements [and] supervising estate employees and managing three rental properties." At the same time, court documents avow that while Rooney's home repeatedly was refinanced to withdraw equity, Chris owned two Mercedes, a Porsche and four houses (collectively worth more than $2 million).
A Wells Fargo statement obtained by THR shows that as Rooney's monthly pension and Social Security payments, which totaled more than $11,000 a month, were deposited into an account accessible by Rooney, Jan and Chris, similar amounts were almost immediately transferred out of the account to others, like one named "Tiyana," which is the name of Chris' daughter. "That's the name of an account, that's not a person," argued Chris when confronted with this statement in an interview on Oct. 9. "That's how I remember the name of the account. If you make up an account, then you can put any name you want on it. I could put 'dog shit' on the account, and that's where it goes. It was Mickey's savings account!"
Although Mark and others say that Chris and Jan both took advantage of Rooney, it appears that Chris left Jan to live in relative squalor with her husband Charlene says that Rooney's toilet was left "filthy" and rats were running rampant while Chris and Christina lived nearby in a five-bedroom house (it was sold in 2012 for $695,000) with help. Jan wrote Chris an email in June 2010, obtained by THR: "It is very possible we are going to have to go our separate ways," citing a recent incident in which she alleged that Chris had slammed a car trunk on her head ("It has done something to me. Just what I don't know") and expressing concern about Chris' attitude ("Your HATE is buried so deep").
Soon thereafter, say Mark and Charlene, Chris shut down Rooney's production company and fired his financial advisers save for one, Cindy Smith, who, court documents later would allege, was siphoning off Rooney's money, too, to fund a side business. (Smith cooperated with the conservator in return for having her name removed from the complaint.) Charlene says she spoke with one terminated accountant, Judy Hensley, in 2006, and was told, "I'm kind of friends with her [Smith], so I can't really say too much. But I'll tell you this: You're never going to get them. Call an elder abuse lawyer." (Neither Smith nor Hensley could be reached for comment.)
Chris and Jan entered business dealings with two wealthy men who paid them apparently without Rooney's knowledge for access to the star. Michael Schrimmer, a Glow-Stick entrepreneur from Chicago, paid tens of thousands of dollars for opportunities like accompanying Rooney to a dinner at Steven Spielberg's home. And Ray Willey, a California building preservationist, hired Mickey and Jan to perform at his daughter's wedding and do a signing at his art gallery. (Neither Willey nor Schrimmer responded to calls for comment.)
Both men were involved in The Rooneys, a never-produced reality show pilot about the supposedly zany family life of the couple that was filmed in August 2009. Willey is credited as an EP, having put up $30,000 to fund it, with Schrimmer as associate producer. The first scene in the sizzle reel, set during a memory-lane visit to the Sony lot (formerly MGM), features Jan berating Rooney for, to her mind, foolishly passing on roles in successful films including Heaven Can Wait, Dances With Wolves and Chris pipes up from the back of their chauffeured SUV Cocoon. "Another movie he gave up!" she exclaims in exasperation. "The list goes on and on and on!" Rooney, in response, verges on tears, his face red and fists clenched.
Meanwhile, Mark and Charlene adopted the last name "Rooney" and began selling some of the actor's possessions on eBay without his permission, says Chris. "I've got a whole list," Chris says, "$20,000 worth of stuff!" (He declined to show a list to THR.) Charlene counters that the sales were far more modest and always with Rooney's permission. "He'd say, 'Here's a picture from Sugar Babies, just sell this.' And we'd get the money and buy food or whatever."
When asked about Chris' accusations, Augustine offers a curt reply: "They put a video signed by Mickey or something on eBay for $19.95; he stole $8 million!"
>> END OF PART ONE <<
Next Thread |
Previous Thread |
Next Message |