Monday, April 07, 2014

What Sucks...The Reaper

My Mickey Rooney story.

I was working the 6A desk as an NBC page (Conan’s studio).  Plum assignment.  Your job is to answer the phone, order food when needed and ready the dressing rooms for guests.  Conan was using Mickey Rooney as an extra for something.  I’m pretty sure he was playing a plant in the audience.  The sketch wouldn’t have been rehearsed until something like 3:30 or 4 the earliest.  Wouldn’t be filmed until 6ish. Mickey, and his son, (Mickey’s son was his manager/ wrangler) were there at 10-Friggin-AM.

At the time I was living in an apartment with a few friends from college in Weehawken, New Jersey. One of my roommates worked at NY1 as the entertainment news-desk editor, and chiefly worked nights.  So all day long I am at my page desk, (wearing a polyester page uniform) with 4’8 Mickey Rooney sitting next to me, being insane.  Just nuts.  He had an old fashioned, show biz energy about him. Like a real-life version of Martin Short’s character Jackie Rodgers, Jr.  I think he was maybe 81 at the time and he knew two speeds, upbeat and asleep.  He’d ask me questions, call me “fella” and kind of have this manic energy about him as he waited around, not knowing exactly what he was waiting for, smiling at passersby, beginning stories, and then not finishing them.

I should say that when you worked the 6A Desk job, part of the experience was working with and getting to know the many different personalities that worked on the show. The security guys would ask you to look out for when their guests arrived. The sound-tech guy would ask you to look out for a phone call he was expecting. The music coordinator would give you a heads up when the band needed something and so on and so forth.  Everyone had distinct personality and when they weren’t super-busy, they’d hang with you and congregate by your desk.  (The desk was right by the studio entrance.)  On the day Mickey was there however, the desk, normally a hub of activity, was, besides me, a ghost town.

So there I was working with Mickey next to me.  He would smile, then look off. Once the phone rang and he grabbed it saying “Mickey Rooney, here!” before laughing a long and hardy laugh and handing it to me. “Yes”, I said to the person on the other end, “that was Mickey Rooney.  He just grabbed it.  Because he’s sitting right next to the phone.”

The News 4 people (who worked across the hall) would walk by, look at me, then look at Mickey Rooney, then back at me. It was surreal.  Janice Huff, Len Berman, Sue Simmons all did double takes as Mickey Rooney sat next to me, occasionally coughing deeply.

Mickey’s son would leave for long stretches of time, leaving me to essentially watch his dad.  Finally, Mickey’s rehearsal time came, and then time for the show, and he was off.

I went out for a few beers that night, bewildered I spent a good chunk of my day with an insane Mickey Rooney. When I got home, it wasn’t long before long my roommate who worked at NY1 came home as well.  He too walked in with the thousand-yard stare of a man who could not believe what he just experienced.  His first words were that I’d NEVER believe how crazy his night was. You see, Mickey Rooney came to NY1 that night, shepherded around by his son (who I am pretty sure was later accused of elder abuse) and hung out for 4 hours.  And he was completely insane.

I looked up at him, and told him that he, without question, had to be shitting me, as I myself had also spent significant time that day with Friggin’ Mickey Rooney and yes he was fucking nuts.  The sobering thought uniting us being that two random people, in a city of millions, who lived in the same Weehawken apartment, had both not just run into, but dealt all day with, an insane Mickey Rooney.

It was fucked up, yo.  RIP, Mickey.

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