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How Mickey Rooney's heart swelled with pride over Glasgow link

HE was the little man with the big heart, and his heart swelled with pride whenever he thought of his Glasgow connection.

LOOKING BACK: Snapshots of Mickey Rooney's life.
LOOKING BACK: Snapshots of Mickey Rooney's life.

The Hollywood star Mickey Rooney, who has died at the age of 93, twice visited the city in later life, in 1996 and 2006. On both occasions, he spoke with pride of his link with Glasgow.

His father, Joseph Ninnian Yule, was born on April 30, 1892 at 47 Polmadie Street in the parish of Govanhill. Detailed research carried out by Andrew Byatt and Mairi Wilson at the Scottish Actors Studio traced Rooney's family line back to Ninian Yool, his earliest known Scottish ancestor, born in 1785. They also uncovered papers from the 1910 census in Brooklyn, indicating the Yule family's arrival in the US.

Rooney was born in New York in 1920. He had not reached his second birthday before he became part of his parents' vaudeville act, clad in a miniature tuxedo. In time, of course, he went on to become one of the world's biggest film stars.

In February 1996 he brought his one-man show, Mickey Rooney in Mickey Rooney, to the King's Theatre, and also led a Scottish Actors Studio workshop over three days, on A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Seizing the opportunity to visit his roots, he took his wife Jan in a black stretch limousine to the street where his father was born.

He also met a man he hadn't seen for 50 years. Ian MacPherson, 79, last saw Rooney when he was serving in the RAF during the Second World War.

He said: "I remember I had bought tickets to go and see Mickey in a show called Jeep Jamboree but when we got to the door I realised that I'd got tickets for the wrong night. We couldn't get in to the show after coming nearly 20 miles.

"It was then that I saw Mickey in a pub and told him what had happened. He asked us where we were from and when I told him 'Glasgow' he got us into the show and we went to the after-show party. It was great. He was delighted that we were Scots and told us about his father.''

Rooney himself said: "I remember that evening in '45 well. Jeep Jamboree was a great show.''

In interviews around the same time, he declared: "I love Scotland and I am so proud to be a Scot. I want to see films made in Scotland with Scottish actors, directors and writers with Scottish themes."

Asked how Scottish he felt, he replied enthusiastically: "Oh very much so - and from an early age, because I knew my father was from Glasgow .... When they had St Patrick Day parades in New York and the Irish were out in force I used to wish they would have a Scottish day. From an early age, to be a Scotsman has meant so much to me."

In 2006, aged 85, he and Jan returned to Glasgow with their touring production, Let's Put on a Show, at the Royal Concert Hall.

He said: "We'll be happy to be in Scotland. We love to entertain and we love the history and everything else about Scotland - we're just going to enjoy it so much."

His visit to his father's birthplace 10 years earlier had clearly left its mark: "It opened up a whole new life that I didn't know and I got to find out more about my ancestors. We have a book that we were given by the people of Glasgow and we refer to that quite often."

Glasgow's Lord Provost Sadie Docherty said yesterday: "Although I didn't meet him personally I understand that Mickey was very proud of his Scottish roots, having visited the city on a number of occasions. Like his Glasgow-born father, he was a true performer, the epitome of showbusiness, having a wide and varied career that spanned many decades. He will be a sad loss to the entertainment industry."

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