Mickey Rooney taught 'South Park,' Bradys, Muppets how to put on a show

When news of Mickey Rooney's death spread late Sunday and into Monday, there was one phrase that made it into almost every tribute to the legendary actor: "Let's put on a show!"

  • Slideshow Photos

    Image: Mickey Rooney

    Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    The actor-singer-dancer may have been short of height, but he loomed tall with his enduring talent.

  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Mickey Rooney -

    Seen here in 1987, Mickey Rooney spent the majority of his life in show business, and died on April 6, 2014.

    AP
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Little man -

    At age 6, Rooney was already posing like a pro for promotional photos like this one, which is dated approximately 1925.

    Uncredited / AP
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Putting on a show -

    Rooney, aged 7 in this photo, had a clear stage presence early on.

    Uncredited / AP
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    All-American boy -

    Rooney as a child, 1930. He appeared in his first film in 1926, a short called "Not to Be Trusted."

    Getty Images
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Dotted line -

    A savvy veteran of Hollywood by age 13, Rooney is shown reading his movie contract before signing, with his manager Harry Weber looking on, in Sept. 1934. Rooney reportedly received $150 per week from the movie studio.

    AP
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Gang's all here -

    Judy Garland, Jackie Cooper, Diane Lewis and Mickey Rooney (left to right) check out a ball game in Hollywood in 1936.

    AP
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Good boy -

    Rooney starred as Whitey Marsh with Spencer Tracy as Father Edward J. Flanagan in 1938's "Boys Town."

    Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    On the ropes -

    In "Boys Town," Rooney was coached by Spencer Tracy's Father Flanagan (also pictured, Frankie Thomas).

    AP
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Tuning up -

    Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland starred alongside one another in 1939's "Babes in Arms," and ultimately made ten films together.

    Everett Collection
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Dynamic duo -

    Rooney and Garland strike a pose during the CBS Lux Radio Theater broadcast of 1940's "Strike Up the Band."

    Getty Images
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    True Hollywood glamour -

    Rooney wed his first wife Ava Gardner in 1942; here, the two pose shortly before the nuptials. They split in 1943.

    Getty Images
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Boots on the ground -

    Private First Class Mickey Rooney does some impressions for the infantrymen of the 44th Division of the U.S. Seventh Army in April 1945. He was a member of a three-man unit making a jeep tour to entertain the troops in Germany, and received a Bronze Star Medal for his work.

    AP
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Hi-yo, Silver! -

    Butch Jenkins, Elizabeth Taylor and Rooney pose atop a horse in a promotional photo for 1945's "National Velvet."

    AP
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Come dancing -

    Elizabeth Taylor and Rooney shared a little dance backstage in 1947.

    Getty Images
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Third time around -

    In 1949, Rooney was ready to wed Martha Vickers, but they both had to wait for divorces from their spouses first. Vickers became Rooney's third wife later that year.

    AP
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Ooh, la la! -

    Mickey Rooney created a French caricature in Jacques Devereux, which he played on "The Mickey Rooney Show" (1954-55).

    Getty Images
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Atten-hut! -

    Rooney earned his third Oscar nomination for playing G.I. Dooley in 1956's "The Bold and the Brave."

    AP
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Tell the truth -

    Rooney played Pinocchio, the toy who would be a boy, in a 1957 TV movie.

    Uncredited / AP
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Controversial role -

    Mickey Rooney plays the role of I.Y. Yuniosh in the 1961 film, "Breakfast at Tiffany's," a role that became the subject of extensive critical commentary and review.

  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    End of the line -

    Mickey Rooney played Grady in "The Twilight Zone" episode "The Last Night of a Jockey," which was written by Rod Serling and originally broadcast on Oct. 25, 1963.

    Getty Images
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Full of Hope -

    Rooney played Lefty Duncan in 1965's "Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater." It was his second of two appearances on the program.

    NBC via Getty Images, file
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Back to school -

    Rooney appeared with Sammy Davis Jr. and Connie Stevens in a 1972 episode of the short-lived "NBC Follies."

    Getty Images
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    In living color -

    Rooney played Mickey Mulligan opposite his third wife, actress Elaine Devry, in "The Mickey Rooney Show." They divorced in 1958.

    Getty Images
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Horse of a different color -

    Rooney received his final acting Oscar nomination for his role in 1979's "The Black Stallion," in which he appeared with Michael Higgins, Teri Garr, Kelly Reno, Kristen Vigard and Clarence Muse.

    Everett Collection
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    I Love New York -

    Ann Miller and Mickey Rooney film a portion of an "I Love New York" commercial in 1980, surrounded by the titular Sugar Babies from the musical comedy review of the same name.

    AP
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Gotham guy -

    Rooney also appeared alongside Elizabeth Taylor in an "I Love New York" commercial, this one filmed in 1981.

    AP
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Golden boy -

    In 2007, Rooney posed with some of his awards, including an honoray Oscar given to him in 1983 for recognizing his then-50 years in the business, and an Emmy for his work in 1982's "Bill."

    Mario Anzuoni / Reuters
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Last in the line -

    Rooney and his final wife, Jan Chamberlin, wed in 1978 and separated in 20013. Here, they pose together at the 14th annual Screen Actors Guild awards in January 2008 in Los Angeles.

    Kevin Winter / Getty Images
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    On the Hill -

    Rooney gave testimony on Capitol Hill in 2011 about elder abuse, something he said he had suffered himself at the hands of a family member. "I felt trapped, scared, used ad frustrated," he told the Senate committee.

    Alex Brandon / AP
  • Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014

    of

    Mad world -

    Rooney, who co-starred in 1963's "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," was on hand to kick off The Last 70mm Film Festival, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in July 2012 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

    Chris Pizzello / AP

Rooney and acting partner Judy Garland organized and put on shows in multiple musicals, raising money for everything from a high-school band contest ("Strike Up the Band") to saving their college ("Girl Crazy"). 

And if what they say about imitation and flattery is true, Rooney and Garland were the most flattered duo in Hollywood, because the "let's put on a show and save our town/some orphans/the senior center/a circus" concept became a reliable small- and big-screen plot line that's still used today. Not everyone handles it with the sheer charm and naiveté of Rooney — sometimes the concept is used as parody — but even those generations far too young to have watched a Rooney movie have surely seen it onscreen. Here are some favorites.

The Muppets need to save their theater! Twice!
Why are people always trying to tear down the Muppets' theater? What did Kermit and Fozzie ever do to them? The "put on a show" concept worked swimmingly to bring Jim Henson's furry friends back to the big screen in 2011's "The Muppets," where new friends Walter (is he a man? or is he a Muppet?), Gary (Jason Segel) and Mary (Amy Adams) help the main Muppets sing and dance to raise $10 million and save their beloved theater from mean oilman and subtly named villain Tex Richman (Chris Cooper), who wants the oil beneath it.

If the plot sounded familiar, it's because the Muppets did it all a decade earlier on TV, in 2002's "It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie." That time around, Joan Cusack plays Rachel Bitterman (again with the subtle villain-naming) whose threat to foreclose on the Muppets' theater sends Kermit spinning through an "It's a Wonderful Life" homage.

The Bradys put on many totally groovy shows
The delightfully square "Brady Bunch" sure seemed to have a lot of money, what with that giant house and all (though the single bathroom was puzzling). But when they needed to raise funds fast, they turned to the Mickey Rooney model. To raise money for teacher Mrs. Whitfield's retirement, they put on "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in the back yard, with Carol and Mike as Snow White and the Prince, the kids and Sam the Butcher as the dwarfs, and maid Alice hamming it up as the evil queen. 

And the Bunch switched the show to a musical act when dim Jan messes up the engraving of a silver platter for Mike and Carol's anniversary. Never fear, the Bradys simply form the Silver Platters musical group and compete on a talent show — although they come in third, with first place going to Patty's Prancing Poodles.

The Bradys made this plot so iconic that it was revisited in the classic 1995 "The Brady Bunch Movie," when they entered a "Search for the Stars" contest to pay their property taxes. (Their dated act impressed the judges — The Monkees — and they claimed an undeserved win.)

Blues Brothers save the orphanage
Saving a building or earning a gift for a teacher or parent is one thing, but saving a batch of forlorn orphans is the ultimate reason to put on a show. And that's just what "The Blues Brothers" did in the 1980 classic comedy starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. Of course, Rooney and Garland were never chased through the streets of Chicago by hundreds of police, but times had changed.

Chef Aid
Even those raunchy little "South Park" kids got in on the Rooney-inspired show-giving. In the 1998 episode "Chef Aid," the boys' pal Chef needed $2 million to stay out of jail, so the kids quickly organized a Farm Aid-style show called Chef Aid. It doesn't go that well: Famed bat-biter Ozzy Osbourne chomps off Kenny's head.

Image: "South Park" Comedy Central via AP
Stan, Chef and Kyle on "South Park."

Follow Gael Fashingbauer Cooper on Google+.

TOP