The Boys by Ron Howard and Clint Howard

The Boys by Ron Howard and Clint Howard

Siblings Ron Howard and Clint Howard were indeed true children of Hollywood. They began their careers in the precarious field of child actors during the golden age of television in the 1960s.

Ron started out doing small parts on a number of popular series and anthology shows such as The Red Skelton Show, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, Playhouse 90 and The Twilight Zone until 1960, when he landed the role of Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show, and became the most famous only child on television until the series ended its run in 1968. Then after a six-year dry spell, Ron landed another major role that would make him famous again; this time as typical 50s American teenager Richie Cunningham on Happy Days, a role that he played until he left the series in 1980. The reason? He wanted to direct. 

He started his directorial career helming B-movies for Roger Corman (remember Grand Theft Auto?) and made-for-TV movies. But it wasn’t until 1984, when he directed the hit rom-com Splash with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah, that Ron’s star rose dramatically as a major film director. He followed Splash with a number of blockbuster hit movies like Parenthood, Backdraft, Apollo 13, Rush and A Beautiful Mind, which earned him Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture.

Clint’s career in television and movies started along the same path as Ron’s. Five years younger than Ron, Clint’s beginnings as an actor followed a rather unusual – and later cult-like – manner. It was on an early episode of season one of Star Trek in 1966. Called “The Corbomite Maneuver”, Clint portrayed an alien commander named Balok, who appears before Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock onscreen as a belligerent alien with a long, scary-looking humanoid face. But when Kirk and Spock meet Balok in person on his spaceship, it’s in the form of seven-year-old Clint in a pre-Yoda guise, and will later be immortalized by Trekkies for his character’s oft-said line “But first: the tranya!” Then there were appearances on series such as Bonanza and the short-lived sitcom The Baileys of Balboa, until he got the role that he will be best remembered for: as Mark Wedloe on the CBS series Gentle Ben during the late 60s.

But when his cuteness factor faded by the 70s, Clint continued his onscreen career with numerous roles in TV and movies that were usually that of oddballs, psychos and eccentric bit players. And don’t forget his appearances in many of Ron’s movies, especially as one of the NASA flight crew members in Apollo 13.

However, the common bond that defined the careers of both Ron and Clint Howard was their father Rance Howard. Born and raised in Oklahoma, Rance had dreams and ambitions of being a successful actor on Broadway and Hollywood. However, the unpredictable world of auditions, casting calls and rejections proved to be too much for Rance and his wife Jean. But when his sons broke into show business before they were even 10 years old, Rance became a guiding force during their early stages. Not as a bossy, overly-ambitious, living-your-life-through-your-children stage dad, but as someone who would coach them with their dialogue before a scene was shot, set the stage for a certain scene to get the right mood or emotion, and most important, to keep them grounded in reality so that they can be regular kids and not just big time child actors who crash and burn by the time they reach their teenage years. And because of his personable, easy-going nature, Rance established friendly relationships with many of the stars and production people on the sets where his sons were working, and ended up getting a constant stream of on camera roles and screenwriting gigs.

The story of the Howard family is a genuine story of a show business family who were not exploitative, were not seduced by fame, and did not take any ounce of success for granted. And what could have been an easy set up for a sibling rivalry scenario is more like sibling revelry, which is so well told in Ron and Clint’s dual autobiography The Boys.

Basically, this is a story of more than 60 years in show business, in which Ron and Clint tell their respective stories as if it was an onstage master class session, with both of them taking turns to give their perspective on certain situations and the progress of their respective careers.

And Ron and Clint have plenty to share in this book. There are plenty of interesting behind-the-scenes anecdotes they relate to the reader from the sets of The Andy Griffith Show, Gentle Ben and Happy Days, not to mention why Ron described his work on the 1962 film version of the hit Broadway musical The Music Man as the sweatiest film he ever worked on; the adventures of working on the only project they ever appeared together onscreen, which was the forgettable G-rated Disney live-action movie The Wild Country in 1970; how Clint nearly had a career in writing and journalism, and was curtailed through a gradual addiction to alcohol and drugs; and how Ron was reluctant to sign on for the Richie Cunningham role on Happy Days because at the same time, he was attending the prestigious USC film school to learn how to become a movie director (which came closer to reality by 1979, when he discovered that Henry Winkler’s Fonzie character was getting more lines than his Richie Cunningham character; ironically, that discovery came to light when he looked over the script for the episode where Fonzie literally jumped the shark).

The Boys is one of the most genuine, engaging show business memoirs I have read in a very long time. Ron and Clint Howard admit they were lucky and grateful to have the upbringing and careers that have shaped their character as well. If there is an unsung hero to this story, it’s their dad Rance, who did a remarkable job not only as a father, but as a major influence in their lives and as their conscience to do the right thing and take the right paths. And that spirit of genuine continues in the book when they relate to reader about the pitfalls of being child stars when the spotlight suddenly fades away, and it’s time to pursue another avenue.

So kudos to Opie Cunningham; and by the way, Clint …where’s your bear?

Stuart Nulman
By: Stuart Nulman – [email protected]

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