Once one of the most popular boys in America, the Andy Hardy character flourished in a series of MGM family comedies from the late 1930s to the middle 1940s. Mickey Rooney's dynamic portrayal of the character was an important factor in the great success of the movies. The Hardy Family lived in Carvel, the sort of idealized small town that existed only on studio backlots. In addition to Andy, the household consisted of his father, Judge Hardy, his mother, his sister, and his maiden aunt. Millions of movie fans followed Andy from adolescence to young manhood in the years just before and during World War II.
The initial B-movie in the series was titled A Family Affair. Released in 1937, it was based on a play by a writer named Aurania Rouverol. Lionel Barrymore was Judge Hardy; Spring Byington played Andy's mother. The film was profitable enough to prompt MGM to produce a sequel. For You're Only Young Once, which came out early in 1938, Lewis Stone permanently took over as the judge and Fay Holden assumed the role of Andy's mom. Ann Rutherford joined the company as Andy's girlfriend Polly, a part she'd play in a full dozen of the Hardy films. Three more movies followed in 1938 and in the fourth in the series, Love Finds Andy Hardy, Andy's name appeared in a title for the first time. Extremely popular, the Hardy Family pictures were now reportedly grossing three to four times what they'd cost to make. The public liked the Hardys and they especially liked Mickey Rooney. By 1939 he was the number one box office star in the country. In addition to the Hardy films, he'd been appearing in such hits as Captains Courageous, Boys' Town, and Babes In Arms. In the years just before American entry into World War II, the brash, exuberant yet basically decent young man he played on the screen had enormous appeal to audiences.
The movies increasingly concentrated on the problems and perplexities that Andy faced in growing up. Schoolwork, crushes, financing such things as a car of one's own. While Polly remained Andy's one true love, MGM showcased quite a few of its young actresses in the series by having Andy develop a temporary crush. Among those so featured were Judy Garland, Lana Turner, Esther Williams, Kathryn Grayson, and Donna Reed. Early on Andy began having heart-to-heart talks with his father about whatever happened to be bothering him. These father-and-son chats became an essential set piece in the series and no film was without one. Part judge, part therapist, the senior Hardy was also a good listener and his advice to his son, if sometimes a bit stiff and starchy, was always sound. For all his bounce, impatience, and aggressiveness, Andy was pretty much a traditional, middle-of-the-road kid at heart. He usually followed Judge Hardy's suggestions and, by the end of the movie if not before, came to see the wisdom of them. The whole family was a warm, loving one and the Hardy comedies became a template for many a family sitcom to come.
The fifteenth film in the series, Love Laughs at Andy Hardy, came out in 1946. Rooney, then in his middle twenties and just out of the service, was unable to recapture the audience he'd had earlier. The final, and unsuccessful, film was Andy Hardy Comes Home in 1958.
Balio, Tino. Grand Design: Hollywood as a Modern Business Enterprise, 1930-1939. Berkeley, University of California Press, 1993.
Parrish, James Robert and Ronald L. Bowers. The MGM Stock Company. New Rochelle, Arlington House, 1973.