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What had begun in 1937 as A Family Affair starring Lionel Barrymore as Judge Hardy (Lewis Stone would play the role in the rest of the series) had morphed into the Andy Hardy franchise, with MGM cranking out twelve films in eight years. The Hardys were a "typical American family" living in Idaho with son Andy (played by MGM's top juvenile actor, Mickey Rooney) getting into numerous scrapes which always seemed to come out alright in the end. It was good, clean fun and very much a product of its time. The series was especially popular with MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer. Although known for his ruthlessness in business, Mayer was said to have cried while watching every Hardy film. Having grown up in Canada a dirt-poor refugee from the Ukraine with an abusive father, the Hardy family reflected everything he wished his life had been. It was also good exposure for up-and-coming actresses like Lana Turner, Ann Rutherford, Judy Garland, Kathryn Grayson, Donna Reed, and Esther Williams, who all appeared in Hardy films at the beginning of their careers.
In 1939, Mickey Rooney was riding high as the number one box office attraction in the world because of the Hardy films and others like Boys Town (1938) and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939). But by 1943 his life was very different. No longer the top box office draw; his marriage to Ava Gardner had ended, leaving him devastated; he routinely received draft notices that MGM kept appealing to keep him out of the Army; and the Andy Hardy films were losing popularity. It wasn't all Rooney's fault. MGM was running out of ideas for the series; Rooney at 24 was getting a bit long in the tooth to play a teenager; and the country was in the middle of World War II.
Like millions of American men, Rooney had received his draft notice in August, 1941. As Arthur Marx wrote in his book, The Nine Lives of Mickey Rooney, "The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer files are bulging with correspondence between MGM and Local Draft Board 245. The full weight of the world's most important film studio was thrown behind an effort to keep Mickey Rooney out of uniform. Mayer turned that problem over to [MGM Vice President ] Eddie Mannix, who, in a sworn affidavit to the draft board, on behalf of Loew's Inc. [the parent company of MGM], submitted a "request for occupational deferment." Claiming that Mickey Rooney was a "necessary man, within the meaning of the selective service regulations, to an industry," Mannix pleaded that Mickey should be reclassified 2-A. To bolster his argument, Mannix even included in the affidavit a scene from an up-and-coming Andy Hardy film, Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble (1944). In the scene, Andy announced to his mother and father that he was thinking of volunteering for military service. Mrs. Hardy was shocked that her "baby" would voluntarily risk his life when it was improbable that he would be drafted for at least a year. But Judge Hardy was of the opinion that Andy should do what his conscience dictated...The affidavit went on to state that "the 25 million Americans who will see this picture must gain a greater and fuller understanding of, and sympathy with, the American fundamentals. We plan that each succeeding Hardy picture will further this idea, carry Andy, as he grows older, closer to the war, and reveal through Andy and his parents, the actual experiences of the young American boy who has taken such a step, The morale of the Hardy family should, and will, be the highest type of morale of the American family. Moreover, Mickey is irreplaceable and it will cost the studio millions in other films planned and ready to go with him starring in them, if he is drafted." Rooney was given a three-month extension, and several more until he finally went into the Army in June 1944, a month after the release of Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble .
The critics had been complaining that the Hardy series was getting stale and they were particularly harsh with Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble, as evidenced by this review in the New York Times: "It takes a set of identical twins to launch Andy Hardy on his college career with all the confusion and hugger-muggery so vital to the Hardy saga. But the launching has been completed in Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble, which came to the State [Theater] yesterday, and it's fairly safe to say that we'll have Mr. Mickey Rooney at college now for the next eight years. At least, it probably will take him that long to be graduated if his higher education continues as it has started. The twins, Lee and Lyn Wilde, weave through the story to the complete confusion of Mr. Rooney and Herbert Marshall, and, adding the audience, it's unanimous. The stock comedy bits naturally associated with dual identification are all there as are the stock comedy bits naturally associated with a precocious youngster matriculating into the university. A new touch is added to the series with the introduction of Keye Luke, the Chinese actor, who as the new Hardy family doctor, probably has found a lifetime profession which will be steadier and less wearing than that of medicine. All in all, the picture isn't too difficult, identical twins and all. At least M-G-M hasn't as yet gotten around to producing two identical Mickey Rooneys."
Producer: Carey Wilson
Director: George B. Seitz
Screenplay: Aurania Rouverol, Harry Ruskin, William Ludwig, Agnes Christine Johnston
Cinematography: Lester White
Film Editing: George White
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: David Snell
Cast: Lewis Stone (Judge Hardy), Mickey Rooney (Andy Hardy), Fay Holden (Mrs. Emily Hardy), Sara Haden (Aunt Milly Forrest), Herbert Marshall (Dr. M.J. Standish), Bonita Granville (Kay Wilson).
BW-107m. Closed captioning.
by Lorraine LoBianco
The Nine Lives of Mickey Rooney, by Arthur Marx, 1986
New York Times Film Review May 5, 1944