He was a hit on stage from age two. So much so that the powers that be in charge of the show invested 50 bucks, big money in those days, to have a pint-sized tuxedo made.
Then by age 30, he was finished. Yet, he couldn't figure out how to make a comeback. The curse of early success does not explain much, really. After all, other young wonderkinds like Shirley Temple and Steve Jobs managed to put together The Next.
The details of that career tragedy are captured in the 2015 biography "The Life And Times of Mickey Rooney." The authors are Richard A. Lertzman and William J.Birnes. Here you can order it from Amazon.
Sure, there's a well known syndrome of how success tends to provide the platform for failure. Jim Collins chronicles that in "How The Mighty Fall." Here you can order it from Amazon. However, the reality is that at each step of our careers there are ways to circumvent disaster. The interesting part is not the peril inherent in success. But how we can prevent it.
Here are four of the very wrong moves Rooney made that we who do endure avoid or quickly fix.
Never growing up. It wasn't that Rooney was stuck in the role of Andy Hardy. It was that he was incapable of making the transition to adulthood. Not professionally. Not personally. Right into his old age he insisted on doing what he wanted, at least at the time. That ranged from not showing up to compulsive gambling.
Usually if we could make the transition from college or graduate/professional schools to accommodating reality, we can make that leap into being grown up. On my legal blog I chronicle the careers of JDs who are stuck in what they decide ought to be.
Blaming. Rooney died with only $18,000 in his estate. Bitter. Among those he fingered as villains were his money-managers. However, along the way, he was the one who didn't take charge of his affairs. The game, especially in these volatile times, is about continual course correction. X, my mentor from my first job, is no longer good for me. So, how do I navigate away nicely?
Being sarcastic. That's an adolescent trait, endearing during that time of self-exploration. Later, it gets in the way of productive professional communications.
A few years ago, I assisted Boston Millennial entrepreneur, Andrew Bachman, with a communications project. Like so many, he had his fall from grace. Since then he has settled with the FTC. But, the odds may be against a roaring comeback because of his seeming inability to communicate without what I experienced as merrily mowing down people with his mouth.
Hiding. Rooney tended to vanish into the ether when things got tough. After whatever mini or major disaster, there's the sensible response of laying low. Then there is also the career-killer of hiding. Usually that takes the form of withdrawing into ourselves. In there we can't spot opportunity. And no one can reach us to guide us out.
If we believe William Shakespeare and Sigmund Freud, mankind is wired to screw up. That's our dark side. But we can manage that. It's not the mistakes, even the whoppers. It's our humility to admit destructive moves and course-correct.
Why couldn't Rooney pull that off? His drinking problem may explain much. Like many alcohol abusers, he became trapped in a web of resentment. After all, from the age of two, he supported his family. Resentment is one of the most sticky emotions. It stuck to Rooney.