Actor, producer, and director Ron Howard is a heavy hitter in Hollywood, making a success of every project he touches.
The Oklahoma-born star has spent 60 years in the business starting as a child actor and rising to one of the most successful directors in Hollywood.
From his days as wholesome Richie Cunningham in Happy Days to winning an Academy Award for best director for the movie A Beautiful Mind to being honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to TV and the big screen, Howard has continued to rise.
He got his first big break at 6 years old, playing Opie Taylor, the son of Sheriff Andy Taylor in The Andy Griffith Show.
Every week from 1960 through 1968, millions of viewers would tune in to watch the CBS comedy show, which started out in black and white.
In 2021, the award-winning actor has talked about one particular episode of the show, where he advanced his skills as an actor.
The episode, aired in 1963 as the first of the fourth season, is considered one of the best in the show’s history. It’s called “Opie the Birdman” and centers around Ron Howard’s character. Opie is outdoors shooting a slingshot, and suddenly, he happens to kill a mother bird.
“He picks the bird up and holds it in both hands, begging, ‘Fly away. Please! Fly away!’… The bird falls back to the ground like a lead weight,” Howard wrote. “In tears, Opie backs away in horror and then runs into the house, aghast at what he has done.”
Ron Howard, who was ten years old when shooting the episode, revealed that this particular scene was special to him. Andy Griffith personally claimed that it was his favorite episode during their eight seasons of acting together with Ron.
In his memoir “The Boys,” Howard reveals how the episode when he kills the bird demanded something extraordinary acting.
To cope with the scene, Ron took the help of his father, Randy. Randy also worked as an actor and appeared in several episodes of the show. He used to accompany Ron to the set of The Andy Griffith Show. According to Ron, Randy made him evoke the emotions needed for the episode.
“I have vivid memories of ‘Opie the Birdman’ because I’d had a dog named Gulliver who had been hit by a car and in sort of getting to the emotional place of doing those scenes, my dad reminded me of Gulliver,” Ron told the Television Academy Foundation. “And how I felt. He was giving me the method then. Those emotional scenes came from a personal, very real place for me. I was not faking stuff.”
“They rolled camera. And as I picked up that prop bird and implored it to live, I thought of Gulliver. For the first time as an actor, I cried real tears and trembled real trembles. I’d come a long way from my subpar display of emotion in [the show’s first episode] ‘The New Housekeeper.’”
In the episode, Ron takes on the job of raising her bird babies himself. He starts to like them – but has to set them free when they grow older.
Ron’s colleagues just stood and gaped when they saw what performance the young 10-year-old delivered.
And after” Opie the Birdman”, something happened to the young actor.
“When [the director] yelled ‘Cut !,’ I was still in my Method-y sad zone, but the mood around me was one of euphoria,” he recalled. “Everyone had just watched me ascend to a new level. From every angle, big adult hands extended toward me to shake mine, or tousle my hair, or pat me on the back in congratulation.
“In ‘Opie the Birdman,’ I had extended a part of myself into my performance. I had gone deep. I was no longer a child actor. I was an actor, period.”
The show launched Howard into the spotlight, but his success came at a price for the child actor. The family had already been living in California for two years when Howard got his big break but his prominence on the show meant he was bullied at school.
In the 2012 biography Ron Howard, author Hal Marcovitz quotes Howard revealing how despite being proud of his success he was embarrassed to talk about it.
”Among my peers, I was embarrassed to be an actor,” Howard said. ”It was not something to be talked about.”
”The Andy Griffith Show was the No. 1 show in the country, so I always knew there was something that I could do that was unusual and that I could function in an adult environment.”
”I was the butt of a lot of jokes,” Howard said. “My character’s name, Opie, rhymes with dopey… I’d have to get into fights with people.”
Thankfully, the young Howard was resilient. He was born into a showbiz family; his mom Jean Speegle Howard was an actress and his dad Rance Howard, was a director, writer, and actor so he had the proper support and understanding around him.
“Fortunately, I could sort of hang in,” Howard said in the book. “I used to really spend a lot of time hanging around with the crew. The crew would get a real kick showing me what they did.”
Having to be quiet around his peers and lay low for fear of retaliation was one of the reasons why he was attracted to directing, for the social aspect.
“It didn’t take me long to realize that the director was the person who got to sort of hang out and play with everybody,” Howard said.
It wasn’t long before the now 68-year-old father of four was directing his first movie at 15 years old: a 3-minute movie called Deed of Derring-Do, with Howard starring alongside his brother Clint as a gunfighter.
Howard went on to direct big-hitting movies such as Backdraft, Cocoon, Apollo 13, The Da Vinci Code, A Beautiful Mind, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, to name but a few.
Howard is not just responsible for getting his own work off the ground but as co-chairman of his own production company Imagine Entertainment, hit shows including 24, Felicity, and Arrested Development, which he narrated, have got off the ground to become huge hits.
So far, Howard has won two Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Picture for A Beautiful Mind, four Emmys, a Grammy and two Golden Globe awards from his over 100 nominations.
He has been married to his wife Cheryl Alley for over 45 years and in honor of his parents Howard recently launched a drama scholarship for rural students from all over the U.S. at the University of Oklahoma.
Thankfully the bullying that Howard faced as a youngster did not put him off continuing his onward and upward career to become one of the greatest directors of our time. He is a true inspiration.
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