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Signed to an MGM contract in 1934, Mickey Rooney had appeared in nearly two dozen films at the studio by the end of 1937, including the first Andy Hardy picture, A Family Affair (1937). When Love Is a Headache opened in early 1938, Rooney was still playing supporting roles, but 1938 would prove to be his breakout year. He appeared in eight films, including five more Hardy movies, and played a key supporting role in one of the studio's most important pictures of the year, Boys Town.
Rooney is fourth-billed in Love Is a Headache, showing his growing importance to the studio. It's a screwball comedy about Broadway star Carlotta Lee (Gladys George) who is pushed by her press agent (Ted Healy) into adopting an orphaned brother and sister, played by Rooney and Virginia Weidler, for publicity reasons. Franchot Tone plays a Broadway columnist who's in love with Carlotta, but worries about the kids.
Gladys George, a theater actress who had been signed by MGM in 1934, had been playing heavy dramatic roles in tearjerkers such as Valiant Is the Word for Carrie (1936), which earned her a Best Actress Oscar® nomination, and the title role in Madame X (1937). The role of the glamorous Broadway star in Love Is a Headache gave George a rare chance to cut loose with comedy, and she's terrific, her husky voice swooping from the dulcet tones of the grande dame she's turned herself into, to the guttersnipe gravel of the character's origins. Her screwball love-hate banter with Franchot Tone, as comfortable in comedy as he was in drama, is witty and effective.
Ted Healy, who played George's press agent, was a former vaudevillian who created an act called "Ted Healy and his Stooges" with his childhood friends, brothers Moe and Shemp Howard, and Larry Fine. The group made its film debut in 1930, and was signed by MGM in 1933. The following year, Healy left the group for a solo film career, and the "Three Stooges" was born. Healy became a popular character actor, frequently playing comic thugs and fast-talking shysters. Shortly after Healy completed his scenes in Love Is a Headache in December of 1937, his wife gave birth to a son. After too much celebrating, a drunken Healy picked a fight in a bar with three men who beat him severely and left him delirious and bleeding. He never regained consciousness, and died a few days later.
As good as the adults were in Love Is a Headache, the kids stole every scene they were in. Rooney, of course, was a notorious scene stealer, but Weidler had no trouble holding her own against him. They had excellent screen chemistry, and appeared together in several subsequent films. Frank S. Nugent of the New York Times didn't care much for Love Is a Headache -- he called the plot "harebrained" - but had kind words for Rooney and some of his co-players: "Somebody had better do something about his boy Mickey Rooney -- quick!-- before the little rascal runs away with every picture he appears in....The kid has that natural faculty of making everything he plays seem real, which throws into the most unfortunate light those lesser and cardboard characters who are fictitiously involved with him....Whatever breath of life there is in Love Is a Headache must be attributed to...Rooney, with an able -- though obviously restrained -- assist from little Miss Weidler and occasional shots of laughing gags from the late Ted Healy."
Mickey Rooney ended 1938 by earning the number four spot on the list of the year's box office champions. The following year, and for two more years after that, he took the number one spot on the list. It took World War II to slow down the Rooney juggernaut, and even then, he remained on the top box office list for two more years.
Director: Richard Thorpe
Producer: Frederick Stephani
Screenplay: Marion Parsonnet, Harry Ruskin, William R. Lipman
Cinematography: John Seitz
Editor: Conrad A. Nervig
Costume Design: Adrian
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Edward Ward
Cast: Gladys George (Carlotta "Charlie" Lee), Franchot Tone (Peter Lawrence), Ted Healy (Jimmy Slattery), Mickey Rooney (Mike O'Toole), Frank Jenks (Joe Cannon), Virginia Weidler (Jake O'Toole), Ralph Morgan (Reggie O'Dell), Jessie Ralph (Sheriff Janet Winfield), Fay Holden (Mary).
by Margarita Landazuri