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Most “Earth-Like” Planet Found Yet

The newly discovered planet, Kepler-186f, is the first Earth-size exoplanet circling in its star’s habitable zone. The media worldwide is gleaming with fantastical headlines, but readers in the know may have an inkling the result is less than it seems.

The diagram compares the planets of our inner solar system to Kepler-186, a five-planet star system about 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. The five planets of Kepler-186 orbit an M dwarf, a star that is is half the size and mass of the sun. [Click link below for more.] Image Credit:  NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

It’s just one more on a long laundry list of exoplanets. But it’s the first on a list of Earth-like exoplanets.

NASA’s Kepler mission announced the discovery of Kepler-186f — the smallest and most Earth-like planet found to date — in a press conference today. Only minutes after the embargo lifted, the media worldwide gleamed with fantastical headlines about this potentially habitable planet.

But readers in the know may already have an inkling that these headlines suggest a bigger breakthrough than the research shows.

“Some people call these habitable planets, which of course we have no idea if they are,” says exoplanet expert Stephen Kane (San Francisco State University). “We simply know that they are in the habitable zone, and that is the best place to start looking for habitable planets.”

Here’s the problem: the crippled Kepler space telescope has unleashed a windfall of exoplanets over the years and we’ve been talking about habitable ones ever since. There’s one here, here, and three more here. Oh and we’ve even talked about habitable moons here (but of course we haven’t had much luck on that front yet).

The discovery of habitable exoplanets and even extraterrestrial life is quite possibly the Holy Grail of science. Every astronomer wants to be the one to make the discovery and every reporter wants to be the first to write about it. So we throw around the term Earth-like like it’s a frisbee.

But by definition, to be Earth-like, a planet must be both Earth-size (less than 1.25 times Earth’s girth and less than twice Earth’s mass) and must circle its host star within the habitable zone — the band around a star where water could potentially exist in its liquid state, an essential component for life.

Of the nearly 1,800 confirmed exoplanets found in the past two decades, approximately 10 orbit their host star in the habitable zone. Before today, the smallest exoplanet on this list was Kepler-62f. But at 1.4 times the size of Earth, this exoplanet isn’t Earth-like at all (at least not by our regimented standards). It’s a super-Earth, which could mean it’s a rocky planet with oceans and an atmosphere, or it could be completely gaseous. Without a solar system analogue, the nature of any given super-Earth is hard to pin down.

Kepler-186f sizes in at 1.11 times the girth of Earth. But as with quite a few of Kepler’s planets, the system is too distant and therefore too faint to perform follow-up radial velocity observations, which would show the planet’s gravitational tug on its host star, and therefore reveal its mass. The team has to estimate its weight based on some pretty big assumptions.

A diagram of planets in the habitable zone. NASA

The planet’s small size is a telltale sign that the composition is solid; it will have a hard time holding on to even the lightest elements, such as hydrogen and helium, so it probably doesn’t have a thick gaseous atmosphere either. But its composition could range from pure ice to pure iron, which results in a mass ranging from 0.32 to 3.77 times Earth’s mass. We may find in future years that this planet actually weighs more than twice as much as Earth, making astronomers re-classify it as a super-Earth after all.

Even so, there’s a huge difference between finding an Earth-like exoplanet and finding Earth’s twin. Kepler-186f’s orbit takes it along the outer edge of the star’s habitable zone so any liquid water on the surface would still be in danger of freezing. However, the team hopes that if the exoplanet is a little more massive than the Earth, this extra mass would result in a thicker atmosphere and therefore better insulation.

While Kepler-186f is a first, “it’s not a record we wish to keep,” Quintana says. “We want to find more of these.”

Eventually we’ll have collected a long laundry list of Earth-size exoplanets, and we’ll be able to take a closer look at each one, looking for key elements in their atmospheres and studying the activity of their stars. I fully think that if Earth 2.0 is floating somewhere in the nearby cosmos, we’ll find it. Just not today.


Elisa V. Quintana et al. “An Earth-Sized Planet in the Habitable Zone of a Cool Star” Science, April 18, 2014

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Drama at Saturn: The Birth (or Demise) of a Moonlet?

New images from NASA’s Cassini mission show bright spots along Saturn’s A ring, likely caused by a small moonlet in the process of forming or shattering.

Supernova Remnant in Technicolor

Take a look at this supernova remnant from radio waves to x-rays to see multiple features of its bubble-like expanding shock wave.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, April 18-26

Jupiter and Saturn rule the evening sky and Venus reigns in the pre-dawn twilight. For a challenge, peek at asteroids Vesta and Ceres, both just past opposition.

Tour April’s Sky: One Last Look at Winter’s Stars

Contributing editor J. Kelly Beatty takes you on a guided tour of April’s sky. Download the mp3 and head outdoors to see Jupiter, Mars, and take one last look at the brilliant stars of winter.

Community News:

Record Crowds and Hot Products at Northeast Astronomy Forum
Sky & Telescope editors and staff made our annual pilgrimage to the astronomy expo to meet with our readers and get the scoop on the bevy of new products unleashed this year.

Last Month for SkyWeek TV
April 2014 will be the last month covered by Sky & Telescope’s wildly popular SkyWeek TV show.

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APRIL 15, 2014 Dave Granlund’s cartoons have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek.

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SPLC report: Users of leading white supremacist web forum responsible for many deadly hate crimes, mass killings

April 17, 2014

Wade Michael Page (Contributed)
  • Nearly 100 people in the last five years have been murdered by active users of the leading racist website, Stormfront, according to a report released today by the SPLC’s Intelligence Project.

Registered Stormfront users have been disproportionately responsible for some of the most lethal hate crimes and mass killings since the web forum became the first hate site on the Internet in 1995, a month before the Oklahoma City bombing. The report found that hate killings by Stormfront members began to accelerate rapidly in early 2009, when Barack Obama took office as the nation’s first black president.

A similar racist web forum, Vanguard News Network (VNN), was used by neo-Nazi and former Klan leader Frazier Glenn Miller, who has been charged with the Sunday murder of three people he mistakenly believed were Jews in Overland Park, Kan. Miller, who apparently changed his last name in recent years to Cross, logged more than 12,000 posts on VNN, whose slogan is, “No Jews, Just Right.”

“Stormfront is the murder capital of the racist Internet,” said Heidi Beirich, report author and Intelligence Project director. “It has been a magnet for the deadly and deranged. And VNN is almost as bad.”

Stormfront users have included Wade Michael Page, who shot to death six people before killing himself at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012; Richard Andrew Poplawski, who murdered three Pittsburgh police officers in 2009; and Anders Behring Breivik, who bombed a government building in Norway, killing eight people, and then massacred 69 people, most of them teenagers, at a summer camp in 2011.

Stormfront’s homicidal trend began just four years after the site went up. On Aug. 10, 1999, Buford O’Neil Furrow, a known Stormfront user, left his parents’ home in Tacoma, Wash., and drove to Los Angeles, where he shot and wounded three children, a teenage girl and an elderly woman at a Jewish day care center. Furrow then shot and killed a Filipino-American postal worker. But the trend took off after Obama’s inauguration in January 2009.

A young Don Black (seen here in Klan robe) has known most key racist leaders in his life, including David Duke (in tie); Jerry Ray, the brother of Martin Luther King assassin James Earl Ray; and Joseph Paul Franklin, a racist serial killer who was executed last year. (The Tennessean / Jimmy Ellis)


Racist online forums serve as a birthing den for self-described “lone wolves” by feeding their rage. Investigators find that most offenders openly advocate their ideology online, often obsessively posting on racist forums and blogs for hours every day, while absorbing the hatred around them. The typical visitor attracted to Stormfront is a frustrated, unemployed, white adult male living with his mother or an estranged spouse or girlfriend. She is the sole provider in the household.

Stormfront generates thousands of dollars a month in advertising revenue and donations, but its founder, former Klan leader Don Black, shrugs off any responsibility for what his website has wrought.

Black, 60, has been involved in the racist movement since he was 15. The first person he met in the white nationalist movement was James Clayton Vaughn. Vaughn, who later changed his name to Joseph Paul Franklin, became probably the most prolific racist serial killer in U.S. history, targeting interracial couples and killing as many as 20 people in several states between 1977 and 1980. Franklin, who was convicted of eight murders, was executed last year.


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Since 1980, Martin Kozlowski has chronicled the social and political scenes in a wide range of publications. Visit Martin’s Web site.

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Carol Grimaldi, shown in 2006, was the face and voice of Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, while her husband, Pasquale, was its hands. Credit Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times

Her death was confirmed by a spokesman for Juliana’s Pizzeria, the restaurant she and her husband opened in 2012, more than a decade after selling their first pizzeria to a new owner. No cause was given, but she was known to have been treated for cancer.

The Grimaldis opened their pizzeria at 19 Old Fulton Street in 1990 and sold it — and its name — in 1998.

They later became embroiled in a highly publicized legal dispute with the buyer over questions of quality control, the ownership of business names and the right of an entrepreneur to compete with the person to whom he or she has sold a business.

During the couple’s eight-year run as owners — when the restaurant’s industrial neighborhood under the Brooklyn Bridge was a haven for squatters and artists and had not yet become boomtown it is now — Grimaldi’s was known for serving a pizza of transcendent quality almost from the first pies out of its coal-fired oven.

Within a year of its opening, Grimaldi’s was rated among the city’s best pizzerias by The New York Times and Arthur Frommer’s tourist guides. When the Zagat Survey published its first guide to Brooklyn in 2002, Grimaldi’s (which Mr. Grimaldi was still involved in, as a consultant) ranked as one of the two best restaurants of any kind in the borough, along with Peter Luger Steakhouse. Under new ownership, Grimaldi’s has become a national chain.

Employees knew Mrs. Grimaldi as the face and voice of the place, running the dining room while her husband, the pizza maker, was its hands. He was known for exacting standards, covering ingredients, the density and pounding of the dough and, most important, the use of the coal-fired brick oven, one of the few to be found in the city’s pizzerias at the time.

Mrs. Grimaldi’s good-natured enforcement of the restaurant’s customer code — no slices, no deliveries, no reservations, no credit cards — became as much a part of the lore of the pizzeria as her husband’s thin-crust pizza speckled with black pepper and basil.

Pizza ran in Mrs. Grimaldi’s family. Pasquale (Patsy) Lancieri, her uncle, founded one of the city’s first pizza restaurants, Patsy’s Pizzeria, in East Harlem in 1933; it continues to be rated one of the best in the city. Mr. Grimaldi began working there when he was 13 and learned his coal-fired brick-oven style of pizza-making from Uncle Patsy, as he was known to the couple.

Patsy’s, in fact, was the original name of the Grimaldis’ pizzeria on Old Fulton Street. It was not until 1995, when the Lancieri family sold the original Patsy’s that the Grimaldis gave their own name to their restaurant.

Carol Lancieri was born in Harlem in 1938. A family spokesman declined to provide further details about her early life or to identify survivors aside from her husband.

Mrs. Grimaldi and her husband said they were retiring when they sold the restaurant in 1998, but afterward they dabbled in smaller enterprises, never making it a secret that they missed the restaurant business. In 2012, they decided to come out of retirement full bore. When the new owner of Grimaldi’s, Frank Ciolli, decided to move to larger quarters a few doors away in a lease dispute, the Grimaldis rented their old place and started fresh. They called the new restaurant Juliana’s, after Mrs. Grimaldi’s mother.

That set off another skirmish in the Grimaldi-Ciolli pizza war, with Mr. Ciolli claiming that they were trying to put him out of business.

Mrs. Grimaldi was asked by an interviewer about starting a new venture, in the face of stiff competition, at a late stage in life.

“A little competition is healthy,” Mrs. Grimaldi replied.




Wayne Henderson in 2010. Credit David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters

His wife, Cathy, said the cause was heart failure triggered by diabetes.

The Jazz Crusaders, who shortened their name to the Crusaders in 1971, placed 19 albums on the Billboard Top 200, eight of them in the Top 50. Their funky, danceable renditions of songs by the Beatles, Carole King and others extended their reach beyond jazz fans. So did original songs by Mr. Henderson, like “Keep That Same Old Feeling.” At their height the Crusaders opened for the Rolling Stones.

“We are the fathers of jazz-funk-fusion, and I am a funkster at heart,” Mr. Henderson said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times in 1995. “We took pop tunes like ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘So Far Away’ and did them melodically with a groove, so people could dance if they wanted.”

That groove — subtle, almost mesmerizing repetitions of a theme — was the essential characteristic of the Crusaders’ music. Its influence can be heard today in acid jazz, house music and hip-hop.

Mr. Henderson was born on Sept. 24, 1939, in Houston, where he and three high school friends formed a group called the Swingsters in 1952. The others were Wilton Felder, a tenor saxophonist; Joe Sample, a keyboardist; and Stix Hooper, a drummer.

As teenagers they traveled the Gulf Coast playing strip clubs and hole-in-the-wall joints, even as they aspired to emulate the cutting-edge work of jazz artists like John Coltrane.

“There’s nothing city-slick about what we do,” Mr. Sample said in an interview in 2003 with the London newspaper The Independent. “It’s a combination of southeast Texas and Louisiana roots.”

The group, which settled in Los Angeles in the late 1950s, drew praise for its unusual sound, which featured melody lines played by tenor saxophone and trombone in unison. Mr. Henderson, known as Big Daddy, became the group’s spokesman and wrote and arranged many of its songs.

They changed their name to the Jazz Crusaders in 1961 and recorded their first album, “Freedom Sound,” for the Pacific Jazz label that year. Their 1962 recording of “The Young Rabbits,” a high-energy Henderson composition, led to comparisons to Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, the leading proponents of the stripped-down style known as hard bop.

In the early 1970s they dropped “jazz” from their name — because, they explained, people kept telling them they liked their music but didn’t understand jazz. Their new music was different in more than name. An electric bassist and guitarist were added. So were vocalists. Mr. Sample began playing electric keyboards.

“We were the co-creators of funk music,” Mr. Henderson told The Kansas City Star in 2006. “Other guys started the jazz-funk thing, too — Cannonball Adderley, Herbie Hancock — and we started selling records just like the pop guys. And we kept the integrity of the music.”

In 1975, Mr. Henderson left the group to concentrate on producing artists like the vibraphonist Roy Ayers and the drummer Chico Hamilton. He also worked as a studio musician with Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell and many others. In later years he periodically reunited with members of the group, most recently in October, in London. His wife said he was working on starting a new group, the Super Blues Crusade, at his death.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Henderson, who lived in Los Angeles, is survived by his sons, Wayne Jr. and Randy, and two grandsons.

Mr. Henderson explained his songwriting process in a 2004 NPR interview. It began when a melody popped into his head. “And when you can hum it,” he said, “then the next thing comes, obviously, the rhythm, man. See, once I get my melody, then I lay into my rhythm, and then fill all those beautiful harmonics.” He added, “But I think melody — I’ve got to think that first.”




Zeituni Onyango Credit Josh Reynolds/Associated Press

Her death was confirmed by Margaret Wong, a Cleveland lawyer who represented Ms. Onyango in her immigration case. She said that Ms. Onyango had cancer and respiratory problems.

Ms. Onyango was the half-sister of Mr. Obama’s father.

Mr. Obama wrote about his aunt in his 1995 memoir, “Dreams From My Father.” She served as his guide in Kenya — and his guide to some painful family history — during his visit there in 1988. She said that Mr. Obama’s father, who died in a car crash in 1982, had taken her in when her husband became abusive and she had no money.

But there was little or no contact between Mr. Obama and his aunt while she fought to immigrate. She attended his inauguration in 2009, but the two apparently did not see each other.

Ms. Onyango moved to South Boston on a valid visa in 2000 and sought political asylum in 2002. It was denied in 2004, and she was ordered to leave the country, but she refused.

She was living in relative anonymity in Boston until just before the 2008 presidential election, when her illegal status was reported by The Associated Press. The Times of London found her in what it described as “run-down public housing.”

At the time, aides to Mr. Obama said that he had not known that she was in the United States illegally and that “any and all appropriate laws” covering her situation should be followed. The aides said that he would not intervene in her case and that the two had had no contact.

To escape media scrutiny, Ms. Onyango moved to Cleveland, where the Kenyan community took her in, said Ms. Wong, who helped her obtain a green card.

In seeking asylum for Ms. Onyango, Ms. Wong argued that if she were forced to return to Kenya she would face undue attention and perhaps danger because of her nephew’s fame. To be granted asylum, people must show that they would face persecution in their home countries.

In Boston, Judge Leonard Shapiro granted Ms. Onyango asylum in 2010. She died before being granted citizenship.

Ms. Onyango was born in Kenya on May 29, 1952, under a mango tree, and delivered by a midwife in the absence of medical care, Ms. Wong said. She raised a family in Kenya and worked in the computer department at Kenya Breweries, where she managed a staff of 25.

Her memoir, “Tears of Abuse,” was published in 2012. In it she wrote, “The Obama clan is like the Baobab tree; the strength lies in its roots.”

Correction: April 12, 2014
An obituary on Thursday about Zeituni Onyango, President Obama’s aunt, misstated her relation to the president’s father. She was his half-sister, not his stepsister.SOURCE



Mickey Rooney, the exuberant entertainer who led a roller-coaster life — the world’s top box-office star at 19 as the irrepressible Andy Hardy, a bankrupt has-been in his 40s, a comeback kid on Broadway as he neared 60 — died on Sunday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 93.

His death was confirmed by his son Michael Joseph Rooney.

He stood only a few inches taller than five feet, but Mr. Rooney was larger and louder than life. From the moment he toddled onto a burlesque stage at 17 months to his movie debut at 6 to his career-crowning Broadway debut in “Sugar Babies” at 59, he did it all. He could act, sing, dance, play piano and drums, and before he was out of short pants he could cry on cue.

As Andy Hardy, growing up in the idealized fictional town of Carvel, Mr. Rooney was the most famous teenager in America from 1937 to 1944: everybody’s cheeky son or younger brother, energetic and feverishly in love with girls and cars. The 15 Hardy Family movies, in which all problems could be solved by Andy’s man-to-man talks with his father, Judge Hardy (played by Lewis Stone), earned more than $75 million — a huge sum during the Depression years, when movie tickets rarely cost more than 25 cents.

In 1939, America’s theater owners voted Mr. Rooney the No. 1 box-office star, over Tyrone Power. That same year he sang and danced his way to an Oscar nomination for best actor in “Babes in Arms,” the first of the “Hey kids, let’s put on a show” MGM musicals he made with Judy Garland.

He was box-office king again in 1940, over Spencer Tracy, and in 1941, with Clark Gable taking second place. Three years earlier, in The New York Times, Frank S. Nugent had written of Mr. Rooney’s performance as the swaggering bully redeemed by Tracy’s Father Flanagan in “Boys Town”:

“Mickey is the Dead End gang rolled into one. He’s Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and King Kong before they grew up, or knew a restraining hand. Mickey, as the French would understate it, is the original enfant terrible.”

Mr. Rooney’s personal life was as dynamic as his screen presence. He married eight times. He earned $12 million before he was 40 and spent more. Impulsive, recklessly extravagant, mercurial and addicted to playing the ponies and shooting craps, he attacked life as though it were a six-course dinner.

Movie audiences first saw him as Mickey McGuire, a tough kid in a battered derby hat, in a series of two-reel shorts based on a popular comic strip. (The first short in which he had a starring role, “Mickey’s Circus,” was thought to be lost, but a print was found, along with many other silent films, in the Netherlands this year.)

At 13, he auditioned for the role of the mischievous sprite Puck in the great Austrian producer-director Max Reinhardt’s 1934 Hollywood Bowl production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Though unfamiliar with Shakespeare, Mr. Rooney impressed Reinhardt, who cast him in the play and — along with James Cagney, Dick Powell and Olivia de Havilland — in the movie version he directed with William Dieterle a year later. He was a sensation.

From 1936 to 1944, Mr. Rooney made more than three dozen movies. Under contract at MGM, he brought vitality even to bit parts like a Brooklyn shoeshine boy in “Little Lord Fauntleroy” (1936), the kid brother in the film version of Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah, Wilderness!” (1935) and a young deckhand on a fishing boat in “Captains Courageous” (1937).

Along with Deanna Durbin, Mr. Rooney was given a special Academy Award in 1939 “for bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth.” The next year he received his Oscar nomination for “Babes in Arms.” His second nomination was for his performance in the film version of William Saroyan’s “Human Comedy” (1943) as the messenger boy who delivers telegrams from the War Department telling families in a small California town that their sons have died. That movie seems saccharine and preachy more than 70 years later, but time has not tarnished the desolation on Mr. Rooney’s face when he reads those telegrams.

A Career of Ups and Downs

Although his career was one of the longest in show business history — almost 90 years separated his first movie from his last — it was crammed with detours and dead ends. (“There have been crevices, fissures, pits, and I’ve fallen into a lot of them,” he told The Times in 1979.)

His elfin face and short, stocky body were part of the problem: At 28, with adolescent roles no longer an option and adult roles hard to come by, he said he would give 10 years of his life to be six inches taller. Yet most of his wounds were self-inflicted.

He married in haste — he wed Miss Birmingham of 1944 after knowing her for less than two weeks — and repented in haste. He turned his back on MGM, the studio that had made him a star, for the mirage of running his own production company, and ended up mired in debt and B movies. Suits for alimony, child support and back taxes pursued him like tin cans tied to the bumper of the car he was driving to his next wedding.

When he needed money most desperately, he could always play Las Vegas. “I was a smash hit at the Riviera, where I drew $17,500 a week and lost twice that on the crap table,” Mr. Rooney wrote in his 1991 autobiography, “Life Is Too Short.”

At one point in 1950, the only job he could get was touring Southern states with the Hadacol Caravan. Admission to the shows was a box top from a bottle of a 26 percent alcohol tonic that the government soon forced off the market.

Yet he always bounced back, often higher than anyone expected.

Not including the Mickey Maguire shorts, Mr. Rooney made more than 200 movies, earning a total of four Academy Award nominations — he was nominated for best supporting actor as the fast-talking soldier who dies trying to protect $30,000 he won in a craps game in “The Bold and the Brave” (1956) and as the trainer of a wild Arabian horse in “The Black Stallion” (1979). (Because of his size, Mr. Rooney played a lot of jockeys and, as his waistline expanded, former jockeys who had become trainers. He was the vagabond who helps Elizabeth Taylor turn an unruly horse into a steeplechase champion in her breakthrough film, “National Velvet,” in 1944.)

He was also nominated for five Emmy Awards and won one, for his performance in the 1981 television movie “Bill” as a developmentally disabled man who has spent most of his life in an institution and must learn to live in the outside world.

An Early Start

Mickey Rooney was born Joseph Yule Jr. in a Brooklyn tenement on Sept. 23, 1920. His mother, Nell Carter, danced in a burlesque chorus line. His father was a top banana, a lead comic, but only on second-rate circuits.

Sonny Yule, as he was known, grew up in boardinghouses in a dozen towns, but he lived backstage and, before he was 2 years old, onstage. His parents separated when he was 4, each of them taking $20 of the $40 they had saved.

For a year he had a normal childhood with his mother in Kansas City, Mo. Then she read in Variety that Hal Roach was looking for children for his Our Gang comedies. A few weeks later, the two of them left for Hollywood.

His mother turned down an offer from Roach’s assistant to try Sonny out at $5 a day. In vaudeville, one always waited for a better offer. But no second offer came. There were too many mothers eager for $5 a day.

It was back to Kansas City and then back again to Hollywood. Sonny got a job in a musical revue for $50 a week. “Marvelous for a five-year-old,” wrote the Los Angeles Times theater critic. A few months later he was Mickey McGuire at $250 for each “Toonerville Trolley” short. His professional name was changed to Mickey McGuire until the creator of the comic strip objected. But he kept the Mickey.

Nobody ever doubted his talent. Of his “all but unimprovable” performance in “National Velvet,” James Agee wrote “He is an extremely wise and moving actor, and if I am ever again tempted to speak disrespectfully of him, that will be in anger over the unforgivable waste of a forceful yet subtle talent, proved capable of self-discipline and of the hardest roles that could be thrown it.”

In “Little Lord Fauntleroy,” “Captains Courageous” and “The Devil Is a Sissy” (1936), Mr. Rooney was a foil to MGM’s $2,500-a-week child star, Freddie Bartholomew. Decades after seeing “The Devil Is a Sissy,” the critic Walter Kerr remembered “a brief but instantly shocking moment.” Fifteen-year-old Mickey played a street urchin whose father was to be electrocuted that night. “Without warning, the street lights dimmed, just for a second or two,” Mr. Kerr wrote in The New York Times in 1979. “As Mr. Rooney glanced upward, the swift and silent realization, the ashen pain, that washed over his face and then was as hastily self-consciously erased was — most literally — staggering.”

By “Lord Jeff” (1938) Mr. Rooney and Mr. Bartholomew, playing delinquents in a naval reform school, had equal billing. In the last of their five movies together, “A Yank at Eton” (1942), Mr. Rooney was the star.

But MGM’s cleverest use of Mr. Rooney was teaming him with Judy Garland. His enormous energy and her voice and vulnerability melted the screen in four musicals. That the plots were more or less the same did not matter. In “Babes in Arms,” they put on a show to raise money for their out-of-work parents. In “Strike Up the Band” (1940), they raised money for a high school band contest. In “Babes on Broadway” (1941), they wanted to send orphans on an excursion to the country. And in “Girl Crazy” (1943), the money their Wild West Rodeo raised saved their college. What really mattered were Mickey’s brash charm, Judy’s sincerity and the songs by the Gershwin brothers, Rodgers and Hart, and others.

They were also teamed in three of the Andy Hardy movies and — before either of them was famous — in “Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry” (1937), as a jockey who is tricked into throwing a race and the girl who tries to help him.

Running to the Altar

Mr. Rooney was 21 when he married the 19-year-old starlet Ava Gardner in 1942. The studio fought the marriage and was equally upset at Mr. Rooney’s divorce a year later.

This was just the first chapter in what would be a long and tumultuous marital history. Mr. Rooney was divorced six times, and the divorce petitions all had similar complaints: He had a fiery temper, and he would leave home for days or even weeks at a time.

Drafted into the Army in 1944, Mr. Rooney met Betty Jane Rase, an Alabama beauty queen, at a party. “Sometime after the seventh bourbon or maybe the seventeenth,” Mr. Rooney wrote in “Life Is Too Short,” “I asked Miss Birmingham if she’d like to become Mrs. Mickey Rooney, and she said yes.”

They divorced in 1949. His third marriage, to the actress Martha Vickers, who had played Lauren Bacall’s nymphomaniac sister in “The Big Sleep,” lasted three years. His fourth wife was another beauty queen, Elaine Mahnken, who later recalled, “While they were dunning him for bills, he’d be out buying two new Jaguars.” She handled the finances and brought Mr. Rooney to the brink of solvency. He rewarded her by going to Las Vegas and losing $50,000.

His fifth marriage, to Barbara Thomason, an aspiring actress, ended tragically. When Mr. Rooney declared bankruptcy in 1962, soon after the birth of their third child, he had $500 in cash and almost $500,000 in debts, and he owed $100,000 in delinquent taxes. The I.R.S. gave him an allowance of $200 a month, so he borrowed money to play play the ponies. A month after they separated in December 1965 and began a messy custody battle, Barbara Thomason Rooney was shot to death by a jealous lover, Milos Milosevic, who then used the same gun to kill himself.

By then, Mr. Rooney’s career was at low tide. As he grew older and wider, the pugnacious cockiness that had been charming when Andy Hardy sipped sodas with Judy Garland, Lana Turner, Ann Rutherford or Esther Williams in the Carvel drugstore seemed rancid. He drank too much and was addicted to sleeping pills. In December 1959, after he had apparently had a few drinks too many, Mr. Rooney made a fool of himself on “The Tonight Show”; the audience applauded when the host, Jack Paar, asked him to leave.

He could still be an electrifying actor, and often was, especially on television. He inherited the title role in “The Comedian,” written by Rod Serling, on “Playhouse 90” in 1957 because a half-dozen other actors had refused to play a lecherous, vicious and greedy comedian. The role won him his first Emmy nomination.

But he took virtually every part he was offered in those years, and he was most often seen mugging his way through bad movies. He replaced Donald O’Connor in the last of a series about a talking mule, “Francis in the Haunted House” (1956). In “Everything’s Ducky” (1961), one of his co-stars was a talking duck. In “The Private Lives of Adam and Eve” (1960), a low-budget oddity for which he shared director credit with Albert Zugsmith, he played the Devil in an extended dream sequence. He was a manic advertising executive in search of sex symbols in “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini” (1965), a beach-party movie of which The Times critic Howard Thompson observed that anybody expecting the worst would not be disappointed.

The Spotlight Returns

Things began turning around for Mr. Rooney in the 1970s. He stopped drinking and became a born-again Christian. In 1978, after two more marriages and divorces, he married Jan Chamberlin, a country singer whom he met through his son Mickey Jr. Their marriage, his eighth and last, brought stability to his life. And a return to stardom was just around the corner.

It took a year to put together the boisterous and proudly old-fashioned burlesque-style revue “Sugar Babies,” in which Mr. Rooney’s co-star was the former MGM hoofer Ann Miller. It was his Broadway debut.

Mr. Rooney fought over every skit and argued over every song and almost always got things done his way. The show opened on Broadway on Oct. 8, 1979, to rapturous reviews, and this time he did not throw success away.

“Sugar Babies” ran for three years. Mr. Rooney’s performance earned him a Tony nomination. A road company with Carol Channing and Robert Morse was not a success — audiences wanted only one top banana, Mickey Rooney — so he spent four more years on the road with the show.

In 1983, Mr. Rooney was given an honorary Academy Award “in recognition of his 60 years of versatility in a variety of film performances.”

He continued performing until the end. He had roles in “Night at the Museum” (2006), “The Muppets” (2011) and other movies and at his death was working on two movies, “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” and “Night at the Museum 3.” In 2007 he and Ms. Chamberlin began touring in a “one man, one wife” show with the nostalgic title “Let’s Put On a Show.”

In Mr. Rooney’s later years, his life became tumultuous once again. In 2011 he obtained a restraining order against his stepson Christopher Aber and Mr. Aber’s wife, Christina, charging them with withholding food and medicine and forcing him to sign over his assets. He repeated his allegations in Washington before the Senate Special Committee on Aging. He later filed suit against them; the suit was settled last year, with the Abers agreeing that they owed Mr. Rooney $2.8 million.

In addition to Ms. Chamberlin, from whom he was separated, his son Michael, from his marriage to Ms. Thomason, and Mr. Aber, Mr. Rooney’s survivors include three other sons, Mickey Jr. (from his marriage to Ms. Rase), Theodore (from his marriage to Ms. Vickers) and Jimmy (from his marriage to Carolyn Hockett); four daughters, Kelly Ann, Kerry and Kimmy Sue Rooney (from his marriage to Ms. Thomason) and Jonelle Rooney (from his marriage to Ms. Hockett); and another stepson, Mark Aber. His son Tim died in 2006. For all the ups and downs of Mr. Rooney’s life and career, there was one constant: his love of performing. “Growing up in vaudeville,” he once said, “made me cognizant of the need to have fun at what you’re doing. You can’t get it done well without it being fun. And I’ve never felt that what I do is ‘work.’ ”

Correction: April 8, 2014
An obituary in some editions on Monday about the actor Mickey Rooney misspelled part of the name of a 1956 movie in which he starred. It is “Francis in the Haunted House,” not “Frances in the Haunted House.” The obituary also misstated where Mr. Rooney lived. He lived in Los Angeles, not Westlake Village, Calif.
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A commentor, Mark Lussky, on my blog post, “Black Women Worried About Army Hair Regulations“, asked the following question:

“How does the new Army hair standard compare with the hair standards of the other uniformed services?”

As an update on the hair regulations instituted by the United States Army, here is a recent article from CNN on the hair issue.


Army’s ban on dreadlocks, other styles seen as offensive to some African-Americans

By Halimah Abdullah, CNN
updated 8:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014

The Army's new guidelines on unauthorized hairstyles has minority women in knots. The Army says the guidelines ensure uniformity. Some black soldiers say the requirements are racially biased.
The Army’s new guidelines on unauthorized hairstyles has minority women in knots. The Army says the guidelines ensure uniformity. Some black soldiers say the requirements are racially biased.


    • Army’s updated appearance guidelines ban many African-American hairstyles
    • African-American soldiers; scholars say rules against dreadlocks, twists, cornrows are biased
    • Army says the regulation is needed to maintain a professional, uniform look among soldiers
    • Controversy touches on historic tensions about black hair and white beauty standards

Washington (CNN) — The U.S. Army’s new ban on many types of ethnic hairstyles has African-American women who wear their coifs in dreadlocks, braids and cornrows in a twist.

The Army’s regulations stipulate such guidance as hair “must be of uniform dimension, small in diameter (approximately ¼ inch), show no more than 1/8 (inch) of the scalp between the braids.”

Dreadlocks “against the scalp or free-hanging” are banned. “Unkempt” or “matted” braids and cornrows are also considered dreadlocks and “are not authorized,” according to the regulations that were updated this month.

It’s that type of language, words like “unkempt” and “matted,” that read to some African Americans, as code for racial bias.

“These new changes are racially biased and the lack of regard for ethnic hair is apparent,” Sgt. Jasmine Jacobs of the Georgia National Guard wrote in a White House petition she started in late March asking the Obama administration to reconsider the policy.

Currently, the petition has more than 13,000 signatures.

White House petition

“We feel let down,” Jacobs told the Army Times. “I think, at the end of the day, a lot of people don’t understand the complexities of natural hair. A lot of people, instead of educating themselves, they think dreadlocks and they think Bob Marley, or they see women with really big Afros and they think that’s the only thing we can do with our hair.”

The updates in appearance standards were crafted, in part, with the help of African-American female soldiers and are intended to clarify the professional look of soldiers, said Troy Rolan, an Army spokesman.

Previous regulations did not specifically address things such as braid widths or numbers, or the definition of twist styles.

“Many hairstyles are acceptable, as long as they are neat and conservative,” Rolan said, noting the Army has banned dreadlocks since 2005.

If soldiers aren’t happy, they can go through a formal process to request changes to the hairstyle regulations, the Army said.

“We encourage soldiers to make use of this process by sending recommendations and examples of hairstyles which could present professional appearances and conform to the regulation,” Rolan said.

The rules’ conciseness isn’t the problem, say some African-American women and black studies scholars.

The problem, they say, is a perception that ethnic hair that is “natural” or not straightened with heat or chemicals is somehow unruly, unkempt and must be carefully regulated to fit within white cultural norms.

Black female soldiers say new grooming reg is ‘racially biased’

“In a broad sense, it’s just another example of U.S. institutions policing black style,” said Mark Anthony Neal, an African-American studies professor at Duke University. “And it’s not that there aren’t other examples of such policing among other racial and ethnic groups. But, given the fraught relationship between black identity and culture and what some Americans might perceive as ‘normal,’ it strikes a particularly dissonant chord among some blacks.”

Mandating what should be done with black hair is a particularly sensitive matter.

During slavery and for generations after, hair texture, along with skin complexion, was used to classify which slaves were more valuable, given jobs in the master’s house rather than the field, and — by default — deemed beautiful.

Straighter hair, lighter skin and features that looked white were considered preferred traits, African-American scholars noted.

Those values were internalized and perpetuated within the black community for years in a way that was particularly damaging to the self-esteem of black women, African American scholars said.

“The gender dynamic here is also important; hair is so tied to the idea of black womanhood and self-esteem,” Neal said. “There have been many stories, for example, of the extra scrutiny black women with locs or dreads face going through airport security. The Army’s ban is just another knock from the dominant society that somehow black women are out of step with the so-called status quo.”

Black pride and natural hair movements have emphasized that all hair types and the rainbow of skin hues are all beautiful.

However, the Army’s regulations, some natural hair advocates and African American scholars fear, might suggest to black soldiers that their tresses must be straightened or closely cropped in order to fit in and be valued.

Army: Female focus group helped determine new hair rules

That type of pressure is “both unfair and racially biased,” said Imani Perry, an African-American studies professor at Princeton University.

“While it is reasonable for the military to expect some degree of conformity and neatness in hairstyles, those expectations ought to take into account the variety of natural hair textures people have,” Perry said. “For many African-American women who have tightly curled, coily or kinky hair, cornrows braids and locs are styles that allow for ease of close to the head grooming. Hence, banning those hairstyles puts black female soldiers in a difficult bind with respect to the requirement.”

That type of pressure is “both unfair and racially biased,” Perry said adding that the Army conformity isn’t absolute because female soldiers are allowed to wear their hair long.

“Likewise, consideration ought to be made for different textures of hair,” Perry said. “Otherwise, a burden is placed disproportionately upon some soldiers due to an immutable characteristic, natural hair texture that is tied to race.”’s AJ Willingham contributed to this report



In answer to Mark Lussky’s question, I looked into how the other branches of the U.S. military handles hair requirements:

United States Marines

>Ch 5            1. Short Hair Length. Short hair is defined as hair length that extends no more than 1 inch from the scalp (excluding bangs). Hair may be no shorter than 1/4 inch from the scalp, but may be evenly graduated to within 2 inches of the hair line. Bangs, if worn, may not fall into the line of sight, may not interfere with the wear of all headgear, and when worn with headgear must lie neatly against the head. The width of the bangs may extend to the hairline at the temple. MARADMIN 504/07  >Ch 5             2. Medium Hair Length. Medium hair is defined as hair that does not extend beyond the collar’s lower edge (in all uniforms), and extends more than 1 inch from the scalp. Medium hair may fall naturally in uniform and is not required to be secured. When worn loose, graduated hair styles are acceptable, but the length, from the front to the back, may not exceed one inch difference in length, from the front to the back (see Figure 1-3). The regulations for the wear of bangs detailed above are relevant. No portion of the bulk of the hair as measured from the scalp will exceed approximately 2 inches (see Figure 1-3). MARADMIN 504/07   3. Long Hair. Long hair is defined as hair that extends beyond the collar’s lower edge. Long hair will be neatly and inconspicuously fastened or pinned, except that bangs may be worn. The regulations for the wear of bangs detailed above are relevant. No portion of the bulk of the hair, as measured from the scalp, will exceed approximately 2 inches (except a bun, which may extend a maximum of 3 inches from the scalp) and no wider than the width of the head. MARADMIN 504/07   >Ch 5         (b) Hairstyles. Faddish and exaggerated styles to include shaved portions of the scalp other than the neckline, designs cut in the hair, unsecured ponytails (except during physical training), and unbalanced or lopsided hairstyles are prohibited. Hair will be styled so as not to interfere with the proper wear of all uniform headgear. All headgear will fit snugly and comfortably around the largest part of the head without distortion or excessive gaps. When headgear is worn, hair should not protrude at distinct angles from under the edges. Hairstyles, which do not allow the headgear to be worn in this manner, are prohibited. Examples of hairstyles considered to be faddish or exaggerated and thus not authorized for wear in uniform are (this list is not all-inclusive); locks and twists  [MODERATOR: Locks and twists are primarily a hairstyle worn by Black American women] (not including French rolls/twists), hair sculpting (eccentric directional flow, twists, texture or spiking), buns or braids with loose hair extending at the end, multiple braids that do not start at the top of the head, hair styles with severe angles, and loose unsecured hair (not to include bangs) when medium/long hair is worn up.  MARADMIN 504/07   >Ch 5            1. Braids. Medium and long hair may be braided. Multiple braiding (defined as more than two braids) is authorized. When worn, multiple braids shall be of uniform dimension, small in diameter (approx. 1/4 inch), show no more than 1/8 of an inch of scalp between the braids and must be tightly interwoven to present a neat, professional, well groomed appearance. Foreign material (i.e., beads, decorative items) shall not be braided into the hair. Braids must continue to the end of the hair in one direction, in a straight line, and can be worn loose per medium hair length guidelines or secured to the head in the same manner as described for medium or long length hair styles. Ends shall be secured only with inconspicuous rubber bands. If multiple braids are worn they must encompass the whole head. MARADMIN 504/07   >Ch 5            2. Hair Extensions. Hair extensions are authorized for medium and long hair only. Extensions must have the same general appearance as the individual’s natural hair. MARADMIN 504/07   >Ch 5            3. Wigs. Wigs, if worn in uniform, must look natural and conform to the above regulations.”

United States Navy:  “You will be obligated to keep your hair neat, clean and well-groomed. Your haircut and style should present a balanced appearance. Ponytails, pigtails, widely spaced individual hanging locks and braids that stick out from your head are not allowed. You can, however, have multiple braids.”

United States Air Force:

“ Braids, micro-braids and cornrows are authorized. However, they must be a natural looking color for human beings similar to the individual’s hair color; conservative (moderate, being within reasonable limits; not excessive or extreme) and not present a faddish appearance. A braid is three or more portions/strands of interwoven hair. When worn, multiple braids shall be of uniform dimension, small in diameter (approx ¼ inches), show no more than ¼ inch of scalp between the braids and must be tightly interwoven to present a neat, professional and well-groomed appearance. Braids must continue to the end of the hair in one direction, in a straight line, and may be worn loose or a secured style within hair standards in paragraph 3.1.3 above. Dreadlocks, (defined as long strands of hair that have been twisted closely from the scalp down to the tips; heavy matted coils of hair which form by themselves, eventually fusing together to form a single dread; or unkempt, twisted, matted individual parts of hair), shaved head, flattops and military high-and-tight cuts are not authorized hairstyles for female Airmen.”

United States Coast Guard

“Haircuts and styles will present a balanced appearance. The hair may touch, but not fall below a horizontal line level with the bottom edge of the back of the collar neatly and inconspicuously fastened, pinned or secured to the head and must not fall below the lower edge of the collar. No portion of the bulk of the hair as measured from the scalp will exceed two inches and will be conservative and conform to the guidelines listed herein. When a hairstyle be of uniform dimension, small in diameter and tightly interwoven in symmetrical fore and aft rows that minimize scalp exposure and present a neat, professional, well-groomed appearance. Hairpins (bobby pins), small barrettes, elastic bands, scrunchies, and small combs that are plain black, dark blue, brown, or color similar to the individual’s hair are authorized. Widely spaced individual hanging locks, dreadlocks, braids, or pigtails that protrude from the head are not authorized. Lopsided and extremely asymmetrical styles are not authorized. Foreign material (e.g., ribbons, beads, decorative items) will not be woven into the hair. Braid ends will not protrude from the head, and will be secured only with inconspicuous material that matches the color of the hair. Headbands or sweatbands are not authorized. Hair will not extend below the eyebrows [MODERATOR: I take this to mean no bangs.] Hair accessories shall not add more than two inches of bulk or interfere with the proper wearing of all style of hats.”.

In the meantime, those of you who wish to support the petition against the Army’s bans on Black American women’s hair styles may sign the petition  here.

As of my posting this information, the petition had 15,823 signatures.

They need 84,177 to reach their goal of 100,000 signatures by April 19, 2014.

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storyidforme: 64637330 tmspicid: 23140868 fileheaderid: 11244612

Army Black Hair

This undated image provided by the US Army shows new Army grooming regulations for females. New Army regulations meant to help standardized and professionalize soldiers¿ appearance is now coming under criticism by some black military women, who say changes in the requirement for their hair are racially biased. The Army earlier this week issued new appearance standards, which included bans on most twists, dreadlocks and large cornrows, all styles used predominantly by African-American women with natural hairstyles. More than 11,000 people have signed a White House petition asking President Barack Obama, the commander-in-chief, to have the military review the regulations to allow for ¿neat and maintained natural hairstyles.¿ (AP Photo/US Army)

Updated: April 7, 2014 1:50PM

WASHINGTON — New Army regulations meant to help standardize and professionalize soldiers’ appearance are now coming under criticism by some black military women, who say changes in the hair requirement are racially biased.

The Army last week issued new appearance standards, which included bans on most twists, dreadlocks and large cornrows, all styles used predominantly by African-American women with natural hairstyles. More than 10,000 people have signed a White House petition asking President Barack Obama to have the military review the regulations to allow for “neat and maintained natural hairstyles.”

Some black military women, who make up about a third of the women in the armed forces, feel they have been singled out with these new regulations.

“I think that it primarily targets black women, and I’m not in agreement with it,” said Patricia Jackson-Kelley of the National Association of Black Military Women. “I don’t see how a woman wearing three braids in her hair, how that affects her ability to perform her duty in the military.”

Even before the current controversy, the association had already planned to showcase the hairstyles of African-American women in the military throughout the years at its national convention in Phoenix in September.

While she also feels the new regulations unfairly target black women, former association president Kathleen Harris said she could understand why the regulations needed some uniformity. “The military is supposed to be conservative,” she said. “My thing is that some folks look gorgeous in their twists, and some people go overboard. The twists are not small twists but they’re real large ones and it doesn’t fit the cover, your hat.”

The changes and several other Army appearance modifications were first published in the Army Times.

“The Army is a profession, and one of the ways our leaders and the American public measure our professionalism is by our appearance,” Army Sgt. Maj. Raymond F. Chandler III said of the updates on the Army’s website.

The changes also banned several male hairstyles, including Mohawks and long sideburns. Body piercings were also specifically banned, with an exception made for earrings. Also banned was the use of wireless earpieces outside a vehicle and tattoos visible below the elbow or knee or above the neckline. Current soldiers would be permitted to keep any tattoos not deemed racist, sexist or extremist.



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