Reviewed by Gerard Healy
A very interesting look inside the world of 1960s and 70s TV shows and later Hollywood movies, by brothers Ron Howard and Clint Howard.
Ron is the better known of the two with his childhood appearances in The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days and his later successful directing career. He has directed a wide range of movies from Grand Theft Auto to Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind (which won the Oscar for Best Director and Best Movie of 2001).
Clint, the younger brother, was also a child actor starring alongside a bear in Gentle Ben. His later career featured him in a variety of roles as a character actor. Both boys had the talent, drive and ambition to succeed in life with one added extra.
The outstanding fact that struck me was that the boys seem to have had the great good fortune to have had sensible, caring parents. Rance and Jean Howard both came from a mid-western farming background and ran away to join the circus themselves as young adults in the late 1940s. They appear to have had plenty of common-sense as well as experience in the topsy-turvy world of entertainment. Thus they were able and willing to help their sons navigate the strange, unreal world of TV shows and later movies. It was also paramount that they could guide the boys in the difficult transition back and forth to the “normal” world of public schools, local sports teams and suburbia.
Their father Rance stands out in the boys’ memories as being an incredible talent fosterer, guide and rock around whom they grew to maturity. He was very keen on his own acting career but put it on hold to foster his sons’ development. He had the knack of being able to explain the emotions behind the words on the script such that his young sons could give credible performances on camera. He was also able to give straight-forward explanations of sensitive subjects. The cover photo of father and sons sums up this wonderful relationship.
The book follows the format of the brothers taking turns to tell their family story, roughly in chronological order and usually starting with Ron’s recall. Sometimes the same incident is seen from two different perspectives, which is not uncommon among family members. I thought this structure worked well with the brother’s similar but different interpretations of events. Ron’s style is usually measured, moderate in tone and calmly reflective, while Clint can have an earthy rawer edge with more passion on display. He says for example, that it’s well known that child actor equals “f++ked up adult”.
It was Clint who found fame and then the loss of fame hardest to cope with as an adult. Like many others, he turned to drugs and alcohol. After years of struggle he says he’s found sobriety. Another pitfall for child actors (including Ron and Clint) is the name-calling/ bullying that their higher profiles trigger among some peers. As we’ve learned recently, Hollywood is full of unsavoury types of all stripes and even children have to be looked after carefully.
Ron gives an interesting insight into the valuable skills he picked up as coach of his brother’s Under 8 basketball team. He was only 13 at the time but realised that he wanted to be a director and coaching would aid that development. He amusingly admits that coping with unruly 8 year-olds is not dissimilar to unruly actors (171). He also realised that teams are made up of people with varying skills, so rather than following a pre-set plan you’re better off allowing individual strengths dictate how to play. He learned patience as well; allowing time for people to develop and solutions to emerge. He’s put these lessons into his movie-making.
One unexpected outcome of Happy Days was the amazing rise to fame of The Fonz, a character played by Henry Winkler. Ron Howard was the nominal star of the show but he was easily outshone by his co-star (who has a Masters from Yale University). A store appearance by Winkler showed his wide appeal bordering on Beatlemania. Putting aside any jealousy, Ron and Henry have been friends for years.
A frequent comment by both brothers is the amount of hard work/grafting needed to keep a career going. Ron’s experience working with John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart brought home this truth (95). A valued mentor is also important and Ron found one in Andy Griffith, whose caring, professional approach to crafting a show laid down a template to follow.
While politics is hardly mentioned, Ron does relate his anxiety being in the Vietnam War draft in 1972 and his vote for Nixon. The topic of how women are treated in Hollywood also receives only a brief passage (202). Ron admits it took far too long for better standards to be set and appropriate sanctions put in place.
I would warmly recommend this book to everyone interesting in movies and in engaging family memoirs.
Ron Howard was born in 1954 and as a child actor appeared in The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days. He is a successful movie director and with his wife Cheryl has four children.
Clint Howard (born 1959) starred in Gentle Ben as a child actor. He has over 200 acting credits, has been married twice and makes custom snow globes.
by Ron Howard and Clint Howard
ISBN: 978 006322 361 5
411pp ; $34.99