In many of their films, Judy Garland plays the girl who pines for Mickey Rooney. In reality, the actors’ decades-long friendship went far beyond romantic love. “There was more than a love affair,” Mickey explained. “It was so special. It was a forever love.”
The pair, who were first teamed up in 1937’s Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry, met years earlier at Lawlor Professional School in L.A. “Judy sang and Mickey couldn’t believe her voice,” Richard A. Lertzman, co-author of The Life and Times of Mickey Rooney, tells Closer in the new issue, on newsstands now. Young Judy was equally smitten by Mickey. “She loved his talent and energy,” he says.
It seemed like serendipity that they both ended up signed with MGM Studios. Before their first scene together, Mickey, the more established actor, advised Judy to deliver her dialogue “like you’re singing it.” The advice helped her to relax and find the emotion in her words.
Over the next two years, the Andy Hardy movies became huge moneymakers at the box office — putting more pressure on Mickey and Judy. “They needed those movies to be churned out. No downtime,” says Lertzman’s co-author William J. Birnes. But the experience of being in the trenches — and going on promotional tours that committed Mickey and Judy to 34 live shows a week — only brought them closer.
After their final film, 1943’s Girl Crazy, Mickey and Judy went their separate ways, but their friendship remained. “[His daughter] Kelly told me that they used to go over to Judy’s house in the1960s,” says Birnes. “The kids would play, and Mickey and Judy would sit at the piano and sing.”
The loss of Judy in 1969 left Mickey heartsick. “Judy, as we speak, has not passed away,” he said. “She’s always with me in every heartbeat of my body.”
For this story and more, pick up the latest issue of Closer magazine, on newsstands now!