I worked with Mickey Rooney once, on a thirty-second cheap-as-paper spot for some product, God knows what. We set up camera and lights in some tiny hotel room off Times Square, it was probably in the early Eighties.
We set up at 10, scheduled to shoot at 11. I worked with several stars of the old days in that era; even the nice ones were prone to leave you waiting a while while they primped, trying to recapture long-lost glory. They were, after all, survivors of the ultimate vanity profession. And Mickey had been out of the spotlight for awhile, so I expected someone a bit down in the dumps. I wouldn’t have been surprised by bitter and spiteful, either – I’d seen that from people who’d fallen from much less lofty heights.
Knock on the door at 11, here’s Mick. Tiny man, hair like old roots get hair, smile bigger than his face and enough energy to power the city. Neatly dressed and presentable but looking his age and who cares?
“Hey, nice to meet ya, where do you want me?”
We showed him the setup, pinned the mike to his lapel, did he want a run-through? Nope.
Turned on the lights, rolled camera, Mickey said his lines without cue cards word-perfect. I think we did three takes but we could have used any of them interchangeably, they were all virtually identical. The spot was 30 seconds, his read was 28 on the money.
“Anything else ya need? Another angle, maybe?”
Nope. He’s got his coat on and gone. If he was there fifteen minutes, it was a lot.
There was no pretension, no thoughts of art or posterity. It was a job. But ever since then, when I think of professionalism, that memory creeps in.
He knew his work and clearly held himself to a standard. It didn’t matter what we were doing, that wasn’t his job. The product wasn’t his job. He wasn’t trying to control everything. He knew his part in the process, plugged in and did it thoroughly, cooperatively, collaboratively and with a quality control that was absolutely rigid inside himself.
I have my doubts, with what little I know of his life, that he was always so easy to work with. I’m sure he had his edges – seven marriages (is that right?) (Editor’s Note: It’s eight! Talk about diminishing return!) has to be an indication of some big hole inside – but by the time I met him, the guy was a pro in the best sense.
One of the things I like about writing books is that I don’t have to answer to anybody along the way. I set the standards at my own level, such as it is. But not everything in life is that self-contained and when it comes to working with others, you could do worse for a role model than Mickey Rooney at 60.