ew people get a chance to launch a career as
a child, much less to sustain that career for
more than 50 years. Child-actor-turned-fea-ture-film-director Ron Howard has accomplished just that in an industry that seldom
sees such longevity and range.
The prolific and diverse acting résumé that constitutes the first half of Howard’s career has as a nucleus
two long-term TV roles, both of which attained pop-cul-ture-icon status (Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show,
Richie Cunningham on Happy Days). Part two of his
career shifted to directing, first TV movies but quickly
graduating to an array of multi-genre feature films
notable for strong casting, high production standards
and solid storytelling.
Howard was born into a family of actors on March
1, 1954. His parents literally adopted the “living out of a
trunk” lifestyle after leaving the University of Oklahoma
in the early ’50s for acting opportunities in the hub of
show business, New York.
Constant exposure to acting, including an uncredited appearance as a crying infant in the low-budget
movie Frontier Woman (1956), soon led Howard into
developing routines with his actor/director dad, Rance,
that they used to entertain family and friends. When his
father stumbled upon a film role for a child actor,
Howard auditioned and won his first credited movie part
(The Journey, 1959). Returning from that production in
Europe, the family relocated to Los Angeles in pursuit of
television work, which had jumped coasts in the late ’50s.
In L.A., Howard found himself represented by his
father’s agent. He learned to apply himself to the craft
with effective coaching from his father, and started landing gigs on live television shows, leading to parts in
episodes of Dennis the Menace and The Twilight Zone.
Ron Howard behind his desk (left) and on location in
Europe (below) filming The Da Vinci Code with
crew and producer Brian Grazer (second from right).
Then came a big break with The Andy Griffith Show,
which ran from 1960 to 1968. The show, set in the fictional town of Mayberry, North Carolina, was one of the
most popular comedies of that decade, and Howard
found his Opie Taylor character surrounded by the brilliant acting of Griffith as Sheriff Andy Taylor and five-time Emmy winner Don Knotts as bumbling Deputy
Barney Fife. The show was produced at a studio buzzing
with creativity, and the young actor inadvertently networked with several mighty show-business figures,
including Bill Cosby.
A few major film roles came along during the
Griffith years, including The Music Man (1962) and The
Courtship of Eddie’s Father (1963). An abundance of TV
roles also presented themselves during and after Mayberry,
and Howard made appearances on such classic TV series
as I Spy, Dr. Kildare, Route 66, The Fugitive, The Big Valley,
Gunsmoke, The F.B.I., Daniel Boone, Bonanza, M*A*S*H
and The Waltons.
The desire to work behind the camera eventually led
Howard to film school at the University of Southern
California (USC) in the ’70s. Although interrupted by acting gigs, including a long run as Richie Cunningham on
another hit TV series, Happy Days (1973 to 1980), he persisted with his studies and ultimately directed his first
feature at the age of 23 (Grand Theft Auto, 1977).
A symbiotic pairing with producer Brian Grazer,
starting with the production of Night Shift (1982) and
followed by Splash (1984), yielded a long-term partnership. Since 1985, their Imagine Entertainment has given
Howard the platform for directing a series of notable
features, including A Beautiful Mind, winner of 2001
Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Film.
Howard, 52, spoke with The Connection from his East
Coast home office as his most recent film, The Da Vinci
Code, was nearing release on DVD.
Costco Connection: You had firmly made up your mind
to be a director when you were 15 years old. What prompted
Ron Howard: I always thought about it and talked
about it. I’d watched my dad direct plays, and many of
the directors on The Andy Griffith Show had been actors
who had turned to directing careers.
In 1969 I did a Disney Western called The Wild
Country. The director, Robert Totten, cast my brother
Ron Howard has
seen success on both
sides of the camera