Born Joe Yule in 1920, Mickey got his start as "Mickey McGuire," a preteen rapscallion in a popular series of silent movie shorts. In the mid-1930s, he moved on to teenage dramas, many with the strong gay subtext common in the era.
In Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936), his rough street kid Dick falls in love -- quite literally -- with the upper-crust Ceddie (Freddie Barthlomew).
In The Devil is a Sissy (1936), his rough street kid Gig is torn between regular guy Buck (Jackie Cooper) and upper-crust Claude (Freddie Bartholomew).
Audiences never tired of two teenage boys gazing into each other's eyes.
But Mickey -- and MGM -- hit paydirt with the Andy Hardy series, 16 movies (1937-1946) about a rambunctious small town teenager. Who was girl-crazy, a new and bizarre characteristic for teens in mass media of the day (boys were expected to become interested in girls at the end of adolescence, not at the beginning).
What Kind of Flower Are You?) The producers countered by displaying Andy's muscles as much as possible. He strips down for bed; he bounces down the stairs shirtless; he goes swimming, even in winter, and in a revealing Speedo-style swimsuit. As much as 30% of each movie is devoted to beefcake shots of Mickey Rooney's body and bulge (visible here).
Jackie Cooper (left) is a little more obviously bulgeworthy.
The ploy worked. The Andy Hardy movies hit the top of the box office, and Mickey Rooney was named the most popular star in Hollywood three years in a row.
He also starred with Judy Garland in three popular movie musicals about kids winning or saving things by putting on a show, and continued the male-bonding romances in Huckleberry Finn, Boystown, A Yank at Oxford and Men of Boystown.
Mickey Rooney kept working into his 90s, with starring roles in such movies as Wreck the Halls (2008) and The Empire State Building Murders (2008), and small but memorable roles in The Muppets (2011), Driving Me Crazy (2012), and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (2014).