'I Loved Them All': The Many Wives of Mickey Rooney
"Weddings?" Rooney said in 1993. "I've been to a lot of them"
Mickey Rooney rivaled his National Velvet costar Elizabeth Taylor for number of marriages: He was married eight times throughout his career. As he deadpanned to PEOPLE in 1993: “Weddings? I’ve been to a lot of them.”
Meet the women who helped Mickey Rooney find love, however – in some cases – briefly.
Rooney was instantly smitten with Gardner and pursued her doggedly, according to his autobiography, Life is Too Short. But Rooney’s compulsive habits – among them working, gambling, and philandering – caused the marriage to implode after a little over a year.
Betty Jane Baker
Rooney once described Baker – then Betty Jane Phillips – as “totally oblivious to anything going on outside our home,” a statement which may have led to his second recollection of their marriage: “We just weren’t compatibly compatible.” Rooney had two children with Phillips after they wed in 1944. By 1949, they were divorced, and just eight days later, she married songwriter and composer Buddy Baker.
Martha Vickers worked as a model in Hollywood, eventually earning her highest-profile role in The Big Sleep alongside Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. In 1949, she and Rooney married; the couple had a son, Teddy, a year later. They divorced in 1951.
Rooney met Devry in 1952 while she was practicing her golf swing at a Hollywood driving range. They married that same year, though left each other in 1958 after each falling in love with different people. “Living with Mickey is no bed of roses,” she said of their marriage in 1967. “Six wives can’t all be wrong.”
Barbara Ann Thomason
Rooney met Thomason at a nightclub in 1958, while still married to Devry, and the two began an affair that ended when Thomason discovered she was pregnant and demanded he leave Devry. They married in Mexico in 1958, though the wedding wasn’t recognized in the U.S. until 1959.
In 1963, Thomason discovered Rooney was having an affair; she started one of her own with Yugoslavian actor Milos Milosevic and filed for separation from Rooney in 1965. Sadly, when Milosevic heard Thomason and Rooney were considering reconciliation – however briefly – he shot Thomason, and then himself, to death in January 1966.
Rooney met Lane – a close friend of Thomason’s – while they were both mourning her death, and true to form, promptly entered into a relationship with her. They were married for only 100 days. In the aforementioned PEOPLE interview, Rooney, when mentioning his marriage to Lane, said, “I think that was her name, anyway.”
Presumably because Rooney had not yet had a Vegas marriage, he married Carolyn Hockett at Las Vegas’s County Courthouse Wedding Chapel in May 1969. He was 48 at the time; she was 25. In 1970, they had a child, Janelle Rooney. They divorced in 1975.
In 1974, Chamberlin was working with Mickey Rooney, Jr., then a professional country musician. Eventually, she was introduced to Mickey Rooney Sr., and despite the 18-year age difference, the pair hit it off. They married in 1978, and though their union certainly weathered its share of Rooney’s foibles – like brandishing a picture of Jan at her thinnest to interviewers, “not because it bothers me but because it bothers her” – the marriage lasted longer than the rest of Rooney’s put together.
The union did hit a rough spot in 2011, when Rooney accused Chamberlin’s son, Christopher Aber, of elder abuse; he and Chamberlin were separated at the time of his death.
But when PEOPLE asked Rooney in 1993 if he’d marry all these women again, he said, “Absolutely. I loved every one of them.”
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