The Many Loves of Mickey Rooney: The 8 Women He Married
While happily married for the latter part of his life — the Brooklyn native is survived by wife Jan Chamberlin, whom he married in 1978 — his romantic beginnings were complicated and sometimes contemptuous. From his first wife — the then-rising star Ava Gardner — to his final, lasting pairing with country singer Chamberlin, we look back at his roller-coaster romantic history…
Ava Gardner (1942-1943)
Of all of Rooney’s marriages, his first seemed the most unlikely match. While he was 22, the five-foot-two star of the “Andy Hardy” movies looked considerably younger, and though Gardner was only 20 and had played little besides bit parts, she already radiated a sultry sophistication that was potently adult. With the “Mogambo” star, Rooney seemed to be playing far out of his league, and perhaps he was: They wed in January 1942, and by May 1943, it was over. Gardner, who went on to a lengthy career as a Hollywood sex symbol, would marry twice more, to bandleader Artie Shaw (their marriage was even shorter, a cool 12 months from October 1945 to October 1946), and iconic vocalist Frank Sinatra (their tempestuous union lasted from 1951 to 1957). She died in 1990.
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Betty Jane Baker (1944-1949)
Born Betty Jane Phillips, Rooney’s second wife hailed from Birmingham, Alabama, and when she was 17, she won the Miss Alabama pageant, going on to represent her state in the Miss America competition. That same year, she met Rooney and they soon married; the couple had two children, Mickey Rooney Jr. and Tim Rooney, before splitting in 1949. Betty Jane wasn’t single long — eight days after her divorce became final, she wed songwriter and film composer Buddy Baker, and the two were together until 1958. By that time, the beauty, who changed her name to Betty Jane Baker, was enjoying a successful career in music as a session singer, lending backing vocals to recordings by Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Bobby Darin, and Phil Spector. Her third and final marriage, in 1961, was to respected jazz guitarist Barney Kessel, which lasted until 1973. She succumbed to a stroke in 2002.
Mrs. Rooney No. 2 and No. 3: Betty Jane Baker and Martha Vickers (AP Images/Everett Digital)
Martha Vickers (1949-1951)
Born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1925, Vickers first gained attention in Hollywood as a model, and was signed to a contract with Universal in 1943, though she only ended up with a handful of bit parts. In 1946, she moved over to Warner Bros., and was cast in a meaty supporting role in “The Big Sleep” with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Vickers drifted back into smaller roles, and gained attention for dating James Stewart before marrying producer A.C. Lyles in 1948. The marriage was a short-lived disaster, and in 1949, Vickers became Mrs. Mickey Rooney. The next year, they welcomed a son, Teddy Rooney, but Mickey’s drinking took a toll on the relationship, and they divorced in 1951. Three years later, Vickers wed Chilean athlete-turned-actor Manuel Rojas, and returned to acting, focusing mainly on TV work. They had two children before splitting in 1965; cancer claimed Vickers in 1971.
Elaine Devry (1952-1958)
Born Thelma Elaine Mahnken, Rooney’s fourth wife, Elaine Devry, was born in Compton, California, in 1930. Naturally photogenic, she began modeling at the age of 15, and won a school beauty contest while attending Compton Junior College. While there, she fell for the star of the CJC basketball team, Dan Ducich, and they married in 1948. After relocating to Butte, Montana, Ducich opened an aluminum siding business, but a year later he was convicted of armed robbery, and Devry divorced him in 1952. She returned to modeling, including some nude photos for Theda and Emerson Hall, while also working as a waitress. While practicing her golf swing at a Hollywood driving range in the fall of 1952, Devry met Rooney, who wasted no time asking her out. In November 1952, he proposed, and the next day they flew to Las Vegas and were married. In 1954, under the name Elaine Davis, the fourth Mrs. Rooney made her screen debut in “The Atomic Kid,” a comedy that happened to star her husband. Elaine and Mickey’s marriage proved rocky, and in 1958, they both fell in love with other people. By the end of the year, the couple was in the midst of a messy breakup, with Rooney filing for a divorce in Mexico so he could marry his mistress, who was pregnant. Once the divorce was finalized in 1959, Devry threw herself into television and film roles, and worked steadily through the 1960s and most of the 1970s. After 1978, Devry retired from acting, except for a pair of TV projects in the 1990s. In 1967, Devry summed up her relationship with Rooney by telling a reporter, “Living with Mickey is no bed of roses. Six wives can’t all be wrong.”
The actor with fourth wife Elaine Devry (Everett Digital)
Rooney with Barbara Ann Thomason, whose life ended tragically (Everett Digital)
Barbara Ann Thomason (1958-1966)
Of all Rooney’s marriages, his fifth was easily the most difficult and the most tragic. Barbara Ann Thomason was born in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1937, and in 1951 her family moved to Inglewood, California. Thomason began entering beauty contests while she was in high school, and after graduating, she took up modeling and, under the stage name Carolyn Mitchell, landed small roles in two low-budget movies, “Dragstrip Riot” and “The Cry-Baby Killer” (the latter starring a young Jack Nicholson). In 1958, she was introduced to a married Rooney at a nightclub and he quickly became infatuated. When Thomason discovered she was pregnant, she demanded Rooney divorce Devry and marry her, and he complied, but only after a complicated series of Mexican weddings and divorces and a large settlement for Devry. While Barbara and Mickey first stood before a judge in Mexico in late 1958, it wasn’t until they renewed their vows in 1959 in Los Angeles that the union was legally recognized in the United States. By that time, the Rooneys had already welcomed a daughter, Kelly Ann Rooney, and were expecting their second child, Kerry Yule. The couple would have two more children, Michael Joseph and Kimmy Sue, but in 1963, Thomason discovered Rooney was having an affair with a stripper, and she soon met Yugoslavian actor Milos Milosevic. The two fell into an affair while Rooney was away filming, and in 1965 Thomason filed for separation, moving into Milosevic’s home with their children. While Rooney and Thomason had made plans to divorce, they briefly considered reconciliation; when Milosevic learned of this, he shot Thomason to death and immediately turned the gun on himself in January 1966.
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Marge Lane (1966-1967)
Lane was a close friend of Thomason, and they had dinner together on the night she was murdered. Both Marge and Mickey were emotionally devastated by Thomason’s death, and on the rebound, they entered into a relationship. Rooney and Lane promptly married, but divorced after only 100 days. Years later, in an interview in which he talked about his less-than-stellar record in matrimony, Rooney mentioned his sixth wife, Marge, and quickly added, “I think that was her name, anyway.”
Rooney with Marge Lane and Carolyn Hockett (Everett Digital)
Carolyn Hockett (1969-1975)
Not much is known about Carolyn Hockett, who married Mickey Rooney in a ceremony at Las Vegas’s County Courthouse Wedding Chapel in May 1969, while Rooney was performing at the Freemont Hotel. At the time they were wed, Rooney was 48 and Hockett, a secretary at Florida hotel, was 25. It was her second marriage; Rooney adopted her son from her first marriage, Jimmy, and in 1970 they welcomed a daughter, Jonelle Rooney. Mickey and Carolyn parted ways in early 1975.
Jan Chamberlin (1978 – )
One could say the eighth time was the charm for Rooney — his marriage to Chamberlin managed to outlast his other seven combined. Born in 1939, Chamberlin was raised in Los Angeles, and married for the first time when she was 18 to actor and script supervisor Lynn Aber. After eight years, Jan and Lynn divorced, and she began pursuing a career in music. In 1974, Chamberlin was working with Mickey Rooney Jr., then working as a country musician, when she was introduced to his famous father. While she was 18 years younger — and three inches taller! — than the veteran actor, they bonded over their love of music and she moved in with him in 1976. They married two years later, and remained together for the rest of his life. Their marriage hit a rough patch when Christopher Aber, Jan’s son from her first marriage, was accused by Mickey of elder abuse; he alleged that his stepson verbally and physically abused him and interfered with his financial affairs. Mickey’s attorneys filed a restraining order against Aber, over Jan’s strong objections; in 2011, Aber reached a settlement with Rooney, and the restraining order was nullified.
The Brooklyn native with his eighth — and final — wife, Jan (AP Images)