This description and illustrations appeared in the November 4, 1944, issue of the Post.
It would be hard to name anything more thoroughly American than the grand and glorious event which takes place on a certain Tuesday of every fourth November. To portray this national phenomenon, to capture its traditional spirit, we could think of no living artist better equipped with native understanding than Norman Rockwell. In his search for a truly representative background, Rockwell went straight to the heart of America; specifically, to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. By the time his pictorial preview was completed, he had created a new character: The human, likable citizen who adorns these pages and the cover of this Post. We have christened him Junius P. Wimple. You will, we hope, see more of him in Posts to come.
Rockwell, we reasoned, always knows his characters through and through. As Wimple’s creator, he knows how Wimple thinks, feels—and votes. Therefore, why not trick the artist into revealing Wimple’s secret, and thus learn the outcome of the election before it takes place? So we wired Rockwell: “Which one is Wimple voting for?” Promptly, the guileless artist answered by wire, collect: “For the winner.”
Today is the centennial of the birth of Mickey Rooney, the once-golden boy of Hollywood with likely the longest-running career of any American (or otherwise) film actor.
After beginning his lifelong stint in show business in a specially-tailored tux in his parents’ vaudeville shows at 15 months old, Rooney landed his first film role at age 6 and didn’t stop until 2014, the year he passed away.
The America of Rooney’s films at the height of his celebrity – when he played the lovably well-intentioned troublemaker Andy Hardy in 16 movies – was The Saturday Evening Post’s America: one with a freshly-ironed moral fabric and joyful endings. In fact, Rooney was a Post boy. As the Post bragged in a short piece in 1942, the actor won a medal at age 13 for selling magazines door-to-door and even at the studios where he made his Mickey McGuire movies: “Andy Hardy, as portrayed by Rooney, more often than not engages in financial enterprises that backfire, but in real life Rooney got away to a fast business start with no adolescent detours.”
The Post’s coverage of Rooney wasn’t always so laudatory, however. By 1962, he was just another example of “moral decay in America” as an editorial shone light on his multiple nasty divorces and thousands in back taxes. “Nothing in this sad story surprises us, Hollywood being the way it is,” the Post printed, “but we remember Andy Hardy.”
The now-familiar arc of the innocent child star becoming a frighteningly flawed adult perhaps began with Rooney’s departure from the saccharine cinema of the Hardy family into the trappings of wealth and fame. But he couldn’t play Andy Hardy forever, and he didn’t want to.
In 1947, the year after Rooney’s last film as Andy Hardy (with the exception of the 1958 revival), the Post published a lengthy profile of the actor called “Hollywood’s Fabulous Brat.” Rooney had spent three years – 1939, ’40, and ’41 – as the biggest box office draw in Hollywood, and he had a reputation for being belligerent, on the set and off. He was also seeking more substantial work.
“I’ll never make another Hardy picture,” he told the Post, incorrectly. “I’m fed up with those dopey, insipid parts. How long can a guy play a jerk kid? I’m 27 years old. I’ve been divorced once and separated from my second wife. I have two boys of my own. I spent almost two years in the Army. It’s time Judge Hardy went out and bought me a double-breasted suit. With long pants.”
Rooney wanted to stretch his wings as he had when he played Puck in Warner Brothers’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1935, when The New York Times reviewed his “remarkable performance” as “one of the major delights of the work.” He wanted to enter into a new chapter of complex films like the forthcoming gritty boxing drama Killer McCoy and the Eugene O’Neill-adapted musical Summer Holiday. After the decades-long run of Hardy family movies and musicals with Judy Garland, however, Rooney’s box office draw dwindled.
Since conquering the motion picture industry with nothing but talent and grit, Rooney couldn’t have foreseen a future where he wasn’t at the top. He imagined he could reinvent his career with the same momentum he always had. As Nancy Jo Sales wrote in Vanity Fair after Rooney died in 2014, “his career suffered from his juvenile appearance, and his diminutive height — he wasn’t a boy anymore, and he wasn’t a leading man, so where did he fit in? — but he never gave up.” Rooney kept making films into the 21st century, delivering memorable performances in movies like The Black Stallion and It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. In 1979, he took on Broadway in the successful revue Sugar Babies, spawning years of tours.
Rooney’s undeniable talent steered him toward a lifelong commitment to entertainment. Given his start in the demanding realms of vaudeville and the old Hollywood studio system, the performer never hesitated to master new skills, like banjo-playing or crying on demand, to satisfy his audience. This was perhaps never more true than in 1941, when Rooney performed at President Roosevelt’s Inauguration Gala.
Alongside talents like Charlie Chaplin, Ethel Barrymore, and Irving Berlin, Rooney was expected to contribute an act of celebrity impersonations. He had a better idea: he would play his three-movement symphony Melodante on piano instead. As the Post reported, “The audience of 3,844 celebrities laughed when Rooney sat down at the piano that evening and shot his cuffs as he poised his hands over the keyboard.” They thought he was doing a bit. After he played the 19-minute score he had written himself, however, they burst into applause.
For Rooney, the label “triple threat” was an understatement. Starting from a poor broken home, he gave everything he had to build his iconic career, but it never turned out exactly the way he wanted. “People look at me and say, ‘There’s a lucky bum who got all the breaks,’” he said in 1947, “Yeah, I got the breaks — all in the neck.”
Featured image: Gene Lester, The Saturday Evening Post, December 6, 1947
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Featured image: 167 residents of the Bikini Atoll were leaving their homes in the Marshall Islands. (Wikimedia Commons)
Today, it’s a time capsule. A Sinatra record playing on my portable record player as I studied for an exam in U.S. History, the little known “Night We Called It A Day.” Still a favorite. There was a moon out in space/But a cloud drifted over its face/You kissed me and went on your way/The night we called it a day.
The place was my dorm room at Stephens Junior College for Women in Columbia, Missouri, in 1942.
It was a time when men weren’t allowed on dorm floors above the entry lobby except the day of arrival or departure, for hellos and goodbyes and moving trunks. That included fathers. Brothers. Fiancés. It mattered not. And it was standing policy that if you were caught (even seen) in a car with a member of the opposite sex without written proof from home that he was your brother or fiancé, you were subject to immediate and automatic expulsion.
When you went into town for dinner or over to the University of Missouri to see the latest student play, you had to sign out … and back in, a counselor at the door that would be locked (depending on your year) at 10:00 or 11:00.
My first year, my roommate was from the Lone Star State. We quickly dubbed her “Texas.” Her father had a grocery store, and her packages from home came in big, big, big boxes. One of the first things I learned in college was that Hershey bars come packaged in boxes of 24 — not a good thing for me. (One of the special offerings of Stephens College was a Diet Table, for those who could lose a few pounds while gaining a wealth of new knowledge.)
The social life of Stephens revolved around the “Blue Rooms” — areas in dorms where we gathered to smoke, because we weren’t allowed to smoke in our rooms or anywhere else on campus. The Blue Rooms also had soft drinks and various snacks, as well as light lunches.
I particularly remember my visits the Sunday afternoons following our trips to town to see the latest movie. One time, it was Now, Voyager, and when I walked into the Blue Room I frequented near my dorm it was obvious who’d also just seen the film — the girls who were lighting two cigarettes and handing one to a friend, as Paul Henreid had done in the film. One of the more famous moments in his romance with Bette Davis, handing Davis the second cigarette.
Another time, everyone was singing, “You must remember this, a kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh ….” But not as well as Dooley Wilson in Casablanca.
I don’t remember any war movies then. But the war was a factor in my being there. Stephens was the choice my parents decided upon (principally, my mother) because I was just 16 when I graduated from high school and the war had started. She apparently foresaw that college life would no longer be a Good News movie; indeed, universities would become training centers for the U.S. Armed Services — Army and Navy Air Force pilots and bombardiers — and she liked Stephens’ approach to female education.
Its president, James Madison Wood, felt that while women were entitled to an education — equal, in principle, to that of men — they had special needs and interests. He addressed this with the creation of a group of clinics for the Stephens girls. The clinics were highly publicized, perhaps because of the novel approach or perhaps because of the nature of some of the clinics.
The Marriage Clinic drew my second year roommate, who left school to marry her hometown sweetheart, then stationed at a Naval Air Training base. There was a Budget Clinic, to which my father kept pointing me. At a Fashion Clinic, I had a formal designed for me. And a Glamour Clinic — the one that had gained the most national attention. The one to which Stephens girls would go to learn how to make the most of their physical attributes: hair, make-up, lipstick colors.
My mother, for whom the Glamour Clinic was an added attraction to the other lures of Stephens, wanted me to get an appointment shortly after classes started. But, what with one thing and another — getting textbooks, settling in to classes — I had not made an appointment. Then, word spread about those who had.
They came back with their hair cut!
If that doesn’t sound like much today, it was the kiss of death then. We wore our hair long. Mine — even with the upturned curl of an incoming wave — grazed my shoulders. No way was I going to go near a place that wanted to cut my hair! And so I resisted my mother’s increasingly persistent questions in her letters as to when I had an appointment at the Glamour Clinic. That was an important feature she’d noticed in the school catalogue. Why didn’t I take advantage of all my opportunities at Stephens?
As the time for Christmas break approached, I felt I could not go home without going to the Glamour Clinic. It meant so much to her. Could I make clear I didn’t want my hair cut? So I went to make an appointment. The only one available was a Saturday in December. I booked it, not realizing it was also the Saturday of Hell Day for sorority pledges.
We were told by our sororities what costume to prepare and wear that day. And we would march around the main part of campus after lunch in our costumes. As with all things then, World War II affected Hell Day.
My fellow pledges and I were Flying Tigers, the name of a group of American volunteers who fought the Japanese in the China Burma Theatre before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
To become a Flying Tiger in Columbia, Missouri, I went into town and bought a suit of men’s long underwear, a package of Rit dye — orange, obviously — and a packet of black crepe paper. I duly dyed the suit and sewed strips of black crepe paper to simulate stripes. I braided some of the strips of black crepe paper for the tail. I made a propeller from the cardboard at the back of a notebook pad and, later, stuck the circular center to my forehead, also front and center, the blades vertical for visibility.
On that December morning I dressed in said outfit and headed across campus to Senior Hall, where all pledges were to dine that morning. Then I returned to my room, ready to head out not to a Saturday class but my appointment at the Glamour Clinic.
I appeared in the doorway as a faculty-type lady opened up for the day. I might be there for my mother but no way was I having my hair cut. Jaw set, words as emphatic as it was in my power to make them, I said, more proclamation than statement: “I won’t let you cut my hair!”
Something about the reaction of the Glamour Clinic lady made me realize that was not my problem. The frozen smile was a clue.
The faux Flying Tiger before her was not only eye-catching for starters, I was all the more noticeably overweight in the suit of men’s long underwear dyed a Technicolor-bright orange. I bulged in all the wrong places. Corrugated cellulite comes to mind. Sometimes the bulges synchronized with my tiger stripes, sometimes not. The wet snowfall had loosened my propeller, not securely stuck to my forehead, and it fell off. When I bent to retrieve it, my tail caught on something and almost came off. I quickly secured it.
Suffice to say, I went through the routine/procedure/protocol of the Glamour Clinic, which was designed to help me learn how to make the most of my appearance, in record time.
I don’t remember a thing until the end, when the Glamour Clinic lady had me seated at one of those basins where you get your hair washed at beauty parlors. I was in the chair, tipped back, head in the big metal tray, as she talked about my eyebrows. She may have plucked one or two stragglers. I just remember she was talking about my eyebrows when a voice was heard in the doorway. I say voice because I was flat on my back and the Glamour Clinic lady had her back to the door.
“I know I’m early, but ….”
“No. No,” said the Glamour Clinic lady. “Come right in.”
It would be hard to imagine a more sincere welcome. The Glamour Clinic lady’s heartfelt Thank you! to a merciful god for her deliverance.
No need to imagine the rest. She snapped me up to a sitting position with a speed that it’s a wonder my eye balls aren’t still spinning.
When I looked to the doorway, I understood the silence that followed. Settled over the otherwise empty expanse of the Glamour Clinic.
A speechless silence.
The next appointment was having trouble getting in.
She had outdone my flying tiger. With the help of some well-shaped cardboard and gray paint, she was a battleship.
Returning to my room, I sat down at my desk, pulled out a piece of stationery, and, pen poised, began.
About my appointment at the Glamour Clinic ….
Featured image: College women playing bridge, 1942 (Wikimedia Commons)