The Niagara Falls Review
Memories of Mickey
Hollywood star who died this week once filmed at the Fort Erie Race Track
He was short in stature, but also short on pretension.
So says a local man of Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney, who died Sunday at the age of 93.
Tom Quarantillo got to know Rooney back in 1977 during the filming of The Black Stallion, in Fort Erie.
Quarantillo was on summer break after a school year of teaching special education at Garrison Road School when fellow teacher Peter Foebel suggested they look into some work as extras for the film shooting at Fort Erie Race Track.
“So we went and we tried out,” Quarantillo said.
“They pulled us aside for some reason, and I don’t know why, but they asked us if we wanted to have a little bit more of a role rather than just be in the crowd scenes. “So we said sure, we’d love too.” After taking out temporary membership in the actors union, they were no longer mere extras, they were dining on craft services provided to cast members and rubbing elbows with Mickey Rooney, star of movies like Breakfast At Tiffany’s, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and the Andy Hardy series. “That first day, we got to meet Mickey Rooney, right off the bat,” Quarantillo said.
He said Rooney, who had been a movie star since his teenage years, had a disarming charm about him.
“We were waiting around his trailer, and he was kinda late — the golf game took longer than he expected — and he showed up, and the crotch of his pants was totally ripped.
“He says, ‘Come on into the trailer.’ Three or four of us guys were there and we all went in. He took his pants off — he’s sitting there in his undershorts, having the seamstress sew the pants for him.”
Quarantillo said Rooney talked with them as if he’d known them for years.
“He was sitting there chatting with us, telling us about his golf game,” he said.
Quarantillo got to know Rooney during long spells between filming over the next five or six days at the racetrack and Niagara Christian Collegiate.
“He was very personable. A very nice guy,” Quarantillo said. “He was full of stories. He would tell us stories about his past. Talked about his golf game. He would play the piano every once in a while and we’d sing with him — just to kill the time.”
Quarantillo said he even exchanged recipes with Rooney.
“He loves to cook, and he had a recipe for lasagna and I gave him my recipe for doing chicken wings on the barbecue.”
Quarantillo said filming of the movie’s climactic race was shot during a regular race day at the Fort Erie track to take advantage of the crowd. He said dur- ing a break in filming, he, Rooney and another guy placed a bet on a race and won $100, which they split three ways.
The movie, set in the 1920s, is about a boy who befriends a wild stallion and ends up riding it in a match race against two of the day’s fastest thoroughbreds. The movie stars Kelly Reno as the young protagonist, Rooney as horse trainer Henry Dailey and Teri Garr as the boy’s mother. It was released in 1979. Rooney was nominated for an Academy Award for best actor in a supporting role (he lost to Melvyn Douglas from the movie Being There).
The memories of Rooney came back to comfort Quarantillo early this week when he heard of the movie star’s death.
“He is just a giant in my mind, even though he’s a very small-statured man,” the 66- year- old retired educator said.
“But he had such as shinning personality, he just took over a room.”