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Actress attempts suicide at home of movie star, August 1958

August 14, 2008 |  4:04 am
Actress attempts suicide at movie star's home, 1958

Barbara Thomason, Mickey Rooney's fifth wife, 1958
Los Angeles Times file photo

Barely visible beneath the retouching, an autograph by "Carolyn." 
She was the fifth Mrs. Mickey Rooney, between Elaine Mahnken (No. 4, 5 1/2 years) and Margaret "Margie" Lane (No. 6, 104 days). She's the one who was shot to death by her crazy boyfriend. But I'm getting ahead of the story.

Her name was Barbara and at 17, she was Miss Muscle Beach, Miss Surfestival and Miss Bay Beach for 1954. The Times noted her "winning measurements, which pleased the judges" as 5-3, 120 pounds, 36-21-35.

By 1958, she was sharing a place at 1436 Laurel Ave., with Pat Landers, a nightclub singer, and as Carolyn Mitchell had appeared in two Roger Corman pictures, "Dragstrip Riot," featuring Fay Wray, and "The Cry Baby Killer," starring Jack Nicholson.

Maybe what happened on that night in August 1958 makes sense if you're a 21-year-old beauty queen involved with a 38-year-old movie star and have a couple of girlfriends help you try to land him.

Mickey Rooney and Ava Gardner Mickey Rooney and Betty Jane Rase Mickey Rooney and Martha Vickers
1. Ava Gardner, 1942-43
2. Betty Jane Rase, '44-48
3. Martha Vickers, '49-51
Mickey Rooney and Elaine Mahnken Mickey Rooney and Margaret Lane Mickey Rooney and Carolyn Hockett
4. Elaine Mahnken, '52-58
6. Margaret Lane, 9/10/66-12/24/66
7. Carolyn Hockett, 1969-74
Mickey Rooney's marriages, 1942-1974
This is what they told police: While Rooney was at a dinner party in Beverly Hills, Barbara took an overdose of sleeping pills at his home, 12979 Blairwood Drive, Sherman Oaks. Then she called Landers to come up and help her.

Landers brought along another girlfriend, Kiff Chance, who is identified as an actress in some stories and as an agent in others. Chance's main claim to fame appears to be getting pushed into a pool by Frank Torre of the Braves, who was at a rowdy Bel-Air party with Lew Burdette, Gene Conley and Red Schoendienst while Milwaukee was in town to play the Dodgers.

Barbara was unconscious when Landers and Chance arrived, so they decided to wake her up by undressing her and putting her in the swimming pool. Just for good measure, Landers took off her clothes so she could get into the pool and dunk Barbara in the water.

When that didn't work, Landers called her doctor, who told her to contact the police. The Fire Department also responded and took Barbara to North Hollywood Hospital, which released her the next day. According to Rooney's agent, Red Doff, Rooney got home, found notes all over the house, visited the hospital to check on Barbara and went home after he found out she was fine.

Mickey Rooney and Barbara Thomason
Los Angeles Times file photo

Barbara Thomason and Mickey Rooney, June 5, 1959.
Barbara, who claimed she merely took the wrong pills by mistake, said of Rooney, "I'm madly in love with him and he with me," but Doff insisted to The Times that there was no romance. In fact, when the story finally broke in the papers, Rooney had left for an engagement at Harrah's Club in Lake Tahoe.

"It's all a publicity stunt cooked up by these three girls," Doff told The Times. "Sure Mickey knows Barbara and has taken her out a few times. But Mickey likes all girls. After all, he's not even divorced yet and here someone is trying to get him married already.

"I'm Mickey's closest friend and you can quote me as saying that he enjoyed Miss Thomason's company just as he did the many other girls he has been out with since separating from his wife. But that's as far as it went!"

While Rooney was busy in Tahoe, supposedly perfecting his golf game, boxer Art Aragon joined Barbara's friends in  Los Angeles in insisting that she and Rooney were involved.

"If Mickey says he wasn't serious about Barbara, he's not telling the truth," Aragon said. "Pat [Landers], Mickey, Barbara and myself were out together just before the [Carmen] Basilio scrap and he couldn't keep his eyes off her."

Barbara Rooney and baby
Photograph by the Los Angeles Times

Barbara and Kerry Rooney, Dec. 30, 1960.
Eight months after the purported overdose, Rooney announced that he planned to marry Barbara in a year, as soon as his divorce from Mahnken was final. In fact, Rooney had already married Barbara in December after getting "a secret quickie Mexican divorce," The Times said in June 1959. In fact, Barbara was pregnant with Kelly, the first of their four children, who also included Kerry, Kyle and Kimmie Sue.

Less than six years later, on Jan. 24, 1966, Rooney sued for divorce, charging Barbara with mental cruelty over her involvement with Milos Milosevic, 24, an explosive, small-time actor from Yugoslavia who had a bit part in "The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming." Rooney charged that Barbara "was allowing, permitting, encouraging or harboring" Milosevic.

Milosevic was "very pleasant but nuts,"  according to an actor who worked with him on "The Russians Are Coming." Milosevic "would drive sports cars and aim for people. They would have to jump out of his way. This was always a big laugh to him," the actor said. In filing for divorce, Milosevic's ex-wife, Cynthia Bouron, said Inglewood police had arrested him on charges of assaulting her.

On Jan. 30, 1966, Barbara visited Rooney at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, where he was recovering from an intestinal infection he caught while filming in the Philippines, presumably "Ambush Bay." She used a hidden microphone to record their conversation with the help of private detective Herm Schlieske.

She and Schlieske returned to the Rooney home at 13030 Evanston St., where they were joined by Milosevic, and two of her friends, Wilma Catania, a visitor from New York who was staying in the guest house, and Susie Sydney. Also in the house at the time were three of the Rooneys' four children.

Mickey Rooney and Barbara, 964
Los Angeles Times file photo

Mickey Rooney and Barbara in 1964.   
The Times said the group gathered in the den, where Barbara played the tape. Partway through the conversation, Barbara apparently turned off the hidden microphone she was using, so the tape was incomplete, The Times said. But at one point in the recording, she said: "If it makes you unhappy for me to see Milos, then I won't even see him as a friend."

The people dispersed about 7:30 p.m. and about 8 p.m., Milosevic and Barbara went into the master bedroom and locked the door, The Times said.

With the children in bed, Catania called out to Barbara, asking if she and Sydney could borrow the car to attend a party in Hollywood. There was no answer, so the women left. Catania said she returned about 2:30 a.m. and went to bed in the guest house.

Mickey Rooney's children
Photograph by George R. Fry / Los Angeles Times

Attorney  Harold A. Abeles escorts three of Barbara and Mickey Rooney's children from their home at 13030 Evanston St. after the murder-suicide.

Early the next afternoon, with no sign of Barbara or Milosevic, Catania and the maid unlocked the bedroom door and found the couple on the bathroom floor. He had shot her once in the jaw and then killed himself, using a nickel-plated .38 semiautomatic that Rooney bought in 1964.

Milosevic's body was returned to Yugoslavia at his mother's request. Barbara was buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale after a memorial at Church of the Recessional. During Barbara's service, Rooney was "grimly composed, but her mother ... and sister sobbed throughout the ceremony," The Times said. Barbara Ann Thomason, Miss Muscle Beach 1954, was 29 years old.

Footnotes: In 1970, Milosevic's ex-wife, Cynthia Bouron, alias Samantha Lou Bouron, brought a paternity suit against Cary Grant, saying that he was the father of her daughter Stephanie Andrea. Grant rejected all of her claims, saying that he had nothing to do with her and the case was dismissed when she refused to take a blood test. On Oct. 30, 1973, Bouron's body was found in the trunk of a car that was parked for several days at the Market Basket, 11315 Ventura Blvd. She was fully dressed, and had been tied up and beaten to death. The killing apparently remains unsolved.

In 1978, Rooney married Jan Chamberlin. This year, they will be celebrating their 30th anniversary.