In late 1972, Mickey Rooney was suffering from financial difficulties due to unsuccessful business ventures and non-payment of income taxes. Living in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Rooney decided to locally film a low-budget comedy for the family trade. Rooney created the film THE GODMOTHERS from an idea by his friend Jerry Lester, who appears in the movie as Rooney’s brother. In this gangster spoof, the two of them run afoul of Frank Fontaine, playing a “godfather” named Don Palermo, and a 3-foot 9-inch hood (“The Hawk”) played by Billy Barty. While hiding out from the godfather, Mickey and Jerry disguise themselves as airline stewardesses and flirty ladies—becoming “The Godmothers” of the title.
By this point in his career, Mickey Rooney was clearly the king of wrongheaded movie choices. From the acid heights of Otto Preminger’s SKIDOO, through the surreal psycho-fest THE MANIPULATOR (aka B.J. LANG PRESENTS), to a sailor-cook in John Frankenheimer’s barely released THE EXTRAORDINARY SEAMAN, Rooney had proven that he would sign on to any project where the check wouldn’t bounce. For THE GODMOTHERS, Rooney not only starred and wrote the script, he also penned a song, "Carnival of Love," which was sung by The Luconto Boys. Rooney’s co-star, an equally-down-on-his-luck Jerry Lester, had years earlier hosted the first network late-night variety show, Broadway Open House, back in 1950. Also featured was frighteningly obese Frank Fontaine, best known as The Jackie Gleason Show-sidekick Crazy Guggenheim. And Car 54, Where Are You?’s star Joe E. Ross played a character called “Gino.” Director William Grefe had worked for years in Florida, filming such exploitation features as DEATH CURSE OF TARTU (1967), THE NAKED ZOO (1970), and the highly successful snake film STANLEY (1972) at various locales around the state.
THE GODMOTHERS was filmed in mid-February 1973, almost entirely in Fort Lauderdale, where hundreds of city residents appeared in the film as featured players and extras. An onscreen statement after the closing credits notes that "Don Palermo's house was contributed by Mr. Samuel Gray for the benefit of the Gray Institute of Molecular Biology, a non-profit organization." Closing credits also acknowledge the Benihana Restaurant of Fort Lauderdale and extend appreciation to the city.
THE GODMOTHERS was rated [G] by the MPAA and had its world premiere in Fort Lauderdale on 12 December 1973. Rooney flew in from Panama to attend the premiere. The film was advertised outside of the Towne Theater at Plantation with these admonitions: “For all the kids that were banned from ‘The Godfather’” and “No parent admitted without the consent of a child.” Portions of the film’s opening credits appeared as pages in "Don Palermo's" financial book that "The Hawk" examines. One page in the book, under "Acknowledgements," features a “gag” list of actors that the filmmakers had hoped to cast in THE GODMOTHERS including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Charlton Heston, Steve McQueen, Gene Hackman, and Mama Cass.
The 78-minute THE GODMOTHERS, distributed by both Viola Film Distributors and Goldstone Film Enterprises, was barely exhibited anywhere after its premiere. The film played only a few times to satisfy the IRS and investors, who wrote it off as a complete loss. THE GODMOTHERS was director William Grefe’s greatest disaster. In a March 1975 interview, Grefe admitted that “It looked good on paper, but when we got into production, it just didn’t work.”
Contemporary reviews of the film are nonexistent. Writing in a 2004 issue of “Shock Cinema,” Steven Puchalski says of the film that “the viewer cringes through pasteboard sets, oversized guns, goofy sound effects, plus a cast that's drunk, senile or both. Honestly, I doubt they had enough cash for even a second take, and only Barty gets away (relatively) unscathed. . . . [The film] plays like a crappy Dean Martin Show skit that went terribly, terribly wrong, and made me long for the comparative subtlety of Jerry Lewis' HARDLY WORKING.”
THE GODMOTHERS has never been issued on any U.S. home video format, although there is a reference to a U.K. tape release in 1981 on the Cinehollywood label.
Mickey Rooney appeared with a group of great character actors (Jo Van Fleet, Keenan Wynn, Slim Pickens, Sal Mineo, R.G. Armstrong) in the little seen film 80 STEPS TO JONAH. This 1969 film has the first ever feature film appearance by singer Wayne Newton—as the dramatic lead no less. Newton plays a drifter, fleeing from police, who becomes involved in a camp for blind children.
The film had some solid talent behind the camera, including director Gerd Oswald (SCREAMING MIMI, BUNNY O'HARE) and cinematographer Joseph LaShelle (THE APARTMENT, MARTY), and contains the only feature film score by pianist George Shearing. And of course, Newton sings four songs in the film, three of which he co-composed.
80 STEPS TO JONAH has never been made available on any video format. Here are three television spots for the film:
Director Michael Hodges and actor Michael Caine, who together made the 1971 British gangster classic GET CARTER, re-teamed the next year for PULP. Caine played a seedy pulp novelist, and co-star Mickey Rooney played an actor who portrayed gangsters onscreen and had Mafia connections in real life. PULP marked the final film of Lizabeth Scott, who had not appeared in feature films since the 1957 production LOVING YOU, starring Elvis Presley. George Martin (LIVE AND LET DIE) scored the film.
PULP didn’t have nearly the critical reception accorded to GET CARTER. Although the film played briefly in Los Angeles in late 1972, mixed reviews and poor box office returns prompted United Artists to cancel the New York opening. PULP eventually opened in New York in 1973 for a one-week booking at a venue showcasing “lost” films.
Before RETURN TO OZ (1985), there was 1975’s JOURNEY BACK TO OZ. The latter was an animated trip back to L. Frank Baum’s magical land and its characters. Mickey Rooney voiced the Scarecrow, and was part of an all-star voice cast, which included his “Mad, Mad, World” co-stars Milton Berle (the Cowardly Lion) and Ethel Merman (Mombi, the bad witch). Also in the cast were Liza Minnelli (Dorothy) and the original Wicked Witch of the West, Margaret Hamilton, this time playing Aunt Em.
The film was a musical, and songs were composed by Sammy Cahn and James Van Heusen, with Walter Scharf arranging and conducting. Unbelievable as it may seem, according to the IMDB “The voice and music recording for "Journey Back to Oz" was actually done a decade earlier than the film's release, in 1964. The producers had to wait several years while sufficient funding was obtained to produce the animated sequences.”
Four years after BABY FACE NELSON, Mickey Rooney appeared in another gangland tale: 1961’s KING OF THE ROARING 20’S – THE STORY OF ARNOLD ROTHSTEIN. David Janssen played the title role of a big-time gambler, while Rooney played his lifelong friend. Franz Waxman scored the film.
KING OF THE ROARING 20’S was the last screenplay for Jo Swerling, who had scripted Hitchcock’s LIFEBOAT and Gary Cooper’s THE PRIDE OF THE YANKEES. It was also the last film of Jack Carson, who had co-starred with Rooney in 1956’s MAGNIFICENT ROUGHNECKS.
Wonderful info as always BOB, and may I add a few things. Both the Extraordinary seaman and 80 steps to Jonah both got their TV premiere on that great show of the 70's where a bunch of obscure films popped up THE CBS LATE MOVIE.William Grefe, was a very interesting man who I dealt with. I loved his mini budget effort DEATH CURSE OF TARTU-67- and I mention a few times on this board, the music score for this film was fantastic. I wish I could track info on it.
Although the advertising for 1959’s THE LAST MILE makes the film look like another gangster film, it’s actually a prison picture. Rooney stars as “Killer Mears,” a convict on death row. The film was based upon a 1930 stage play of the same name by John Wexley. The play was an early, critical success for actor Spencer Tracy, who starred as "Killer Mears" on Broadway. And Clark Gable garnered attention from Hollywood film studios when he starred as Mears in the Los Angeles run of the play. For his part, Rooney gives an intense and sometimes brutal performance.
THE LAST MILE is available as a made-on-demand DVD from the MGM Limited Edition Collection. I definitely recommend it. The film was produced by Max J. Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky, who would go on to form Amicus Productions and produce a string of horror and science fiction films in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Mickey Rooney attempted to withdraw from the production of 1950’s QUICKSAND in order to star in that same year’s “A Ticket to Tomahawk,” but producer Samuel H. Stiefel, Rooney's partner in the independent production company that made QUICKSAND, held the actor to his contract. Dan Dailey got the role in “A Ticket to Tomahawk.” It’s hard to say whether Rooney was better or worse off for appearing in a minor film noir rather than a run-of-the-mill western.
QUICKSAND has fallen into the public domain, and numerous DVD versions of the film can be found, although the ones by Image Entertainment or the Roan Group are probably the best.
In 1951, Rooney got his chance to appear in a western when he starred in MY BROTHER, THE OUTLAW. Rooney plays a greenhorn from New York, who goes west to find his brother (Robert Stack). The Eagle-Lion release was based on the 1936 novel South of the Rio Grande by noted western writer Max Brand. The title “My Brother, The Outlaw” was later changed to “My Outlaw Brother” after RKO began legal action against the former title, claiming it infringed on the 1943 RKO production “The Outlaw.”
.....In 1951, Rooney got his chance to appear in a western when he starred in MY BROTHER, THE OUTLAW.....
By this time Rooney had already starred in OUT WEST WITH THE HARDYS (1938) and GIRL CRAZY (1943) as well as several western-themed Mickey McGuire shorts in the late '20s-early '30s as I recall.
Maybe the Mick was still bending the information to fit the occasion when he claimed MY BROTHER, THE OUTLAW as his first!
On a sadder note, current news is that Mickey's body is still waiting at the Forest Lawn Mortuary to be claimed for burial. It seems the various factions of his family are fighting over the estate and the remains and the shockingly meagre monetary inheritance that is left.
In 1966, Rooney and Lex Barker co-starred in the British thriller 24 HOURS TO KILL. Barker played the captain of an international flight, and Rooney was the flight’s purser, on the run from a gang of gold smugglers. The film’s story was conceived by Harry Alan Towers, writing under his usual pseudonym of Peter Welbeck. Towers was a noted genre writer and filmmaker, who made a number of Fu Manchu films with Christopher Lee, and later worked extensively with Jess Franco.
B.J. LANG PRESENTS is a 1971 horror film that focuses on a mad movie director played by Mickey Rooney. The low-budget film, which Rooney was at one time slated to direct, is basically a three-character drama, with Luana Anders and Keenan Wynn co-starring. The film, which was released on VHS as “The Manipulator,” may be most interesting for its Gil Melle score.
Many know that Mickey Rooney starred in 1938's "Boys Town" along with Spencer Tracy. The film was one of the top money-making pictures of the year, and won two Academy Awards: one for Tracy as Best Actor (his second in two years following 1937's Captains Courageous ) and one for Eleanore Griffin and Dore Schary for Original Story. Additionally, the film was nominated for Best Picture and Norman Taurog was nominated for Best Direction. Rooney received a special Academy Award in 1938 for his unique contributions to the screen as a juvenile player.
Fewer remember the 1941 sequel MEN OF BOYS TOWN. M-G-M started discussing the sequel shortly after the release of "Boys Town" because the $5,000 paid to the institution for the rights to the Boys Town story was almost all used by the home to cover costs incurred during the film's production. Donations to Boys Town decreased after the release of the 1938 picture, ostensibly because the ending gave the impression that its financial standing was stronger than it actually was.
For the sequel, Spencer Tracy, Mickey Rooney, Bobs Watson and several of the "boys" in MEN OF BOYS TOWN recreated their roles from the original, and the sequel was also directed by Norman Taurog. Although some exteriors were shot on location at the real Boys Town near Omaha, NE, many of the exteriors and interiors of the facility were recreated on M-G-M's Stage 15. Reviews were mixed for the sequel, and many compared it unfavorably with the original.
The Manipulator , yep, Keenan Wynn was another aging youth actor who did a bunch of low budget efforts at the end of his career.[THE MAN WHO WOULD NOT DIE, DEVIL'S RAIN,HIGH VELOCITY,LASERBLAST,COACH, PIRANHA,LUCIFER COMPLEX,THE DARK,CLONUS HORROR,THE GLOVE,HYSTERICAL,WAVELENGHT,HYPER SAPIEN PEOPLE FROM ANOTHER STAR ETC]
MANDERLEY'S comment reminded me of that comic script i wrote. There is a scene in the movie at a cemetery where they are ready to place the coffin in the ground and the relatives all have angry faces, bickering about who is getting what from the dead man's will,. Their yapping away yelling at each other while the priest in dismay looks on. Suddenly the so called dead man opens the lid of the coffin and is ready to get out, one of the cousins bickering pushes him back in the coffin and yells at him, Mind your own business, get back in there.[ha;ha;ha;ha] life is one big joke.
BABES IN ARMS (1939) was the picture that marked Busby Berkeley's debut as an M-G-M director. Mickey Rooney was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor for his role in this film, but lost to Robert Donat for “Goodbye Mr. Chips.” The ending of the film in which Rooney spoofs Franklin D. Roosevelt in the production number "God's Country" was removed for a 1948 reissue of the film, but the sequence has been restored for current video versions.