The unknown people who have contributed to films such as 2001 and Where Eagles Dare, and how Hollywood's longest-serving star died worth just £10,000

Mickey Rooney

Mickey Rooney

First published in Paul Welsh by

I have been enjoying myself filming interviews with people connected with Borehamwood’s fascinating film heritage as part of the Elstree Project.

Apparently, I have done nearly 50 interviews for our archives so far, although my colleague Howard Berry has undertaken the ones that required travel. For instance, Howie and students from the University of Hertfordshire did a return trip of 12,000 miles to record a 35-minute interview with Steven Spielberg. That is beyond my energy levels nowadays, but I did enjoy doing our latest two interviews in the viewing theatre at Elstree Studios.

The first interview was with Keith, who was the project manager for Brent Walker and oversaw the part-demolition of Elstree Studios. We had not met for 22 years, but I enjoyed our conversation. Equally, I enjoyed interviewing Damian, who as a 21-year-old lad came down to London from Liverpool as a carpenter and a few days later found himself working at MGM in Borehamwood on such productions as 2001, The Prisoner and Where Eagles Dare. It was all fascinating stuff.

I was also oddly enough standing outside the Walford Underground Station on the outdoor set of EastEnders and found myself talking to the granddaughter of the marvellous actor Alistair Sim, who has worked behind the scenes on the series for more than 20 years. As we were leaving, actress Patsy Palmer gave us a smile and a wave as she drove past. Patsy has made the brave decision to quit EastEnders and try her luck in Hollywood.

I was sad to learn of the death of two old timers I had the pleasure to meet. Oscar-winning director of photography Ossie Morris, whom I interviewed over lunch at Elstree Studios more than 30 years ago when he was filming Dark Crystal, and Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney.
Ossie’s screen credits included Moby Dick, The Guns Of Navarone, Oliver and Fiddler On The Roof.

Ossie told me: “Elstree Studios in the 1950s was very factory-like with the staff clocking in each day and freelancers like myself having to sign in. I used to sign in as Mr Black and sign out as Mr White, leaving security to ponder what happened to Mr Black and how the hell Mr White got in.”

I briefly met Mickey Rooney after his one man show in St Albans a few years ago. Mickey had a staggering career beginning in the silent era as a three-year-old and lasting 90 years. I cannot imagine anyone will ever match such longevity in showbiz.

I was appalled a few years ago to see the Academy Awards had placed Mickey Rooney many rows back from here-today, gone-tomorrow stars. Such is showbiz.

It is sad that after such a record he died worth only £10,726, having earned millions. It is reported in his will he disinherited his wife and eight children and at the time of his death had returned to work to buy a suitable burial plot in Hollywood. At the time of writing, it is reported his family are fighting with his last carers over his final resting place, while his body resides in a morgue.

I have just watched the first installment of Britain’s Got Talent and fully understand why more than 50 million residents of the UK don’t bother to watch it. The acts seemed to consist of a few talented members of the public, as the title suggests, but also a lot of people who are not
resident here and acts provided by talent agencies.

There were the usual sob stories and a panel of judges, some of whom must thank the invention of botox and nip and tuck. When will television accept that audiences don’t mind seeing people on screen who look their age.

Thank heavens I don’t have to appear on screen, as they would have to give me a wig, botox, facelift, removal of bags under the eyes, dye my tash and give me a corset. I like to think I have earned my laughter lines.

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