Tim Rooney         (1947-2006)
The Aspiring Painter, Part 2
Though from a family of actors, Tim had made only one television appearance before joining the Mickey Mouse Club for the first season. A impulsive urge to dabble in the visual arts led to his early dismissal from the show, but it didn't stop him from going on to a career acting in television and films, with occasional stints as a singer and stand-up comedian.
He was born Timothy Hayes Rooney in Birmingham, Alabama on January 4th, 1947. Tim's father was the famous actor Mickey Rooney. His mother, Miss Alabama of 1944, was Betty Jane Rase, who sang professionally under the name B. J. Baker. Tim had very little experience with show business prior to doing the Mickey Mouse Club. His sole credit was an appearance on an episode of The Donald O'Connor Show, on January 29, 1955, two months before auditioning for the club.
How Tim and older brother Mickey Rooney Jr came to be selected for the show is unknown to me. Walt Disney was adamant about not automatically hiring the children of his acquaintances among Hollywood's elite. Candice Bergen, for one, was not selected, though she auditioned and her father Edgar Bergen lobbied for her. So it seems likely that both Rooney brothers had to audition and take their chances, just like the other kids. What may have happened is that Mickey Jr auditioned and was hired first, before his brother. Tim may actually have come onto the show as a replacement for Paul Petersen, which would explain why Tim wasn't in the Disneyland Debut of the Mouseketeers.
Tim was the second youngest Mouseketeer, far younger than Cubby O'Brien and Karen Pendleton. Nevertheless, he showed himself a capable performer in the very few production numbers in which he took part. The only one currently available for viewing is from the first show broadcast on television, called Friendly Farmers, where Tim sang and danced with Bronson and other Mouseketeers.
How Tim and Mickey Jr came to be dismissed was first related by Cubby during an interview on The Tomorrow Show in 1975. He recalled that they went into the paint department one day and mixed a lot of different colors together. This foray occurred after the Disneyland Debut of the Mouseketeers, for Mickey Jr was in the line-up that day.
In the normal course of affairs, such behavior would be shrugged off as typical for boys their age, but in the pressure-filled atmosphere of a studio this proved fatal for their Mousekareers. Neither Tim nor Mickey ever gave their side of the story in public, and it well may be that there were other factors at play. For one thing, the first season was now half-filmed and the producers were beginning to realize they didn't really need twenty-four kids. And for another, though good actors and singers, Tim and Mickey were a bit light in the dancing department. So a little mischief might have served as an excellent excuse to slim down the payroll.
After leaving the show, Tim was set to move onto other jobs, but around age ten was stricken with polio. He was paralyzed for two years, and spent some time in rehabilitative therapy afterwards, so that it was 1961 before he was able to resume his acting career. He bore an amazing resemblance to his father in his teenage years, less so in later life.
During the early sixties Tim appeared on episodes of Maverick, Surfside 6, and Room For One More, as well as the films King of the Roaring Twenties (1961) (with his father), Village of the Giants (1965) (with Johnny Crawford and Tommy Kirk), and Riot on Sunset Strip (1967) with Dickie Dodd and the Standells. He had a regular role on his father's series Mickey during the 1964-65 season, and appeared in multiple episodes of Bewitched, Gidget, and Dr. Kildare during 1965-66.
In 1972 he had a feature role in The Loners, went on The Tonight Show to promote the film, and two years later appeared in Storyville. In the eighties he did voice-over work for animated television shows The Jetsons and Mister T. Rooney also tried folk-rock singing and standup comedy. His other interests included owning and racing thoroughbred horses. Late in the nineties he formed a production company with his older brother called the Rooney Entertainment Group.
Tim had been battling a disease called dermatomyositis for five years. This condition, which most often strikes adults between 40 and 60, results in progressive muscle weakness, making it difficult to move, swallow, or even breathe. For him it must have been a frightening reminder of the paralysis that affected him as a child, yet his friends and family have said he bore this affliction in good spirits. Tim passed away on September 23, 2006, at his ranch in Hemet, California.