At the height of a career that was marked by precipitous declines and raging comebacks, he played the role of Andy Hardy in a series of fifteen films that epitomized American family values. A prolific talent, he became a noted character actor later in his career, and could sing, dance, clown, and play various musical instruments. Laurence Olivier once said he considered Rooney "the greatest actor of them all," and Clarence Brown, who directed him in two of his earliest dramatic roles, National Velvet and The Human Comedy, said he was "the closest thing to a genius I ever worked with."
Rooney first performed in vaudeville as a child and made his film debut at age six. At age thirteen he played the role Puck in the play and later the film, A Midsummer Night's Dream in an acclaimed performance, which critic David Thomson praised as "one of cinema's most arresting pieces of magic." He co-starred in Boys Town with Spencer Tracy, who won an Oscar for his role. At nineteen he was the first teenager to be nominated for an Oscar, for his leading role in Babes in Arms, co-starring Judy Garland, and was awarded a special Juvenile Academy Award in 1939. Overall, between the age of 15 and 25, while at his peak, he made forty-three pictures and co-starred alongside leading actors, including Judy Garland, Wallace Beery, Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor. Rooney developed into one of MGM's most consistently successful actors, and a favorite of studio head, Louis B. Mayer.
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