By Bill Dudley

His career started when he was 18 months old. His dad Rance Howard, was (and still is) a working actor at age 85. Ron was featured in two of televisions biggest hit shows of all time, that have never been off the air. He joined the cast of ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ at the age of 5. Bucking the odds, his acting career continued as a teenager on ‘appy Days, and the pop culture iconic film American Graffiti. As an adult he has directed some of the most memorable films of the past 3 decades including Apollo 13, Cocoon, Parenthood, and A Beautiful Mind. His name is Ron Howard, and he has had a very long, successful, and diverse career.

I met Ron last night, when he was featured at the ‘Distinguished Speaker Series’ in Manhattan Beach. Covering his long career is not easy to do in 90 minutes, as you could spend that much time just discussing Happy Days and The Andy Griffith Show. Ron’s close relationship with Andy lasted right up until Andy’s final days. His last phone call from Andy was a very memorable one, as Andy had just visited Mt Airey North Carolina to see the statue of Andy and Opie (Ron). The Andy Griffith Show is timeless, as it was basically reflecting Andy’s childhood in North Carolina, some 30 years before the show ever hit the air. The characters were honest, relatable, and played by tremendously talented and zany unforgettable actors like Don Knotts, as Detective Barney Fife, Frances Bavier as ‘Aunt Bee,’ Howard McNear as ‘Floyd the Barber,’ Jim Nabors as ‘Gomer Pyle,’ and George Lindsey as ‘Goober Pyle’. Here’s an interesting bit of trivia you may not know. The classic opening shot of a young Ronny Howard (Opie), throwing a rock into the lake while “goin’ fishing’ with his dad Andy,on The Andy Griffith Show, was NOT filmed in North Carolina, but at Franklin Reservoir in Coldwater Canyon.

Opie was not the typical smart-aleck kid from many previous situation comedies. He very refreshingly respected his TV dad, and vice-versa. It was Andy who gave a young Ron his first Super 8 camera, encouraging him to follow his dream to be a director. Other strong influences in his life were his mother Jean and father Rance. His younger brother Clint,(who once starred in TV’s Gentle Ben),is also featured in many of Ron’s films. Ron is one of a very few child stars to grow up successfully, and free of scandals. Other mentors included Henry Fonda who Ron worked with for one season on The Smith Family, and Director Roger Corman. Ron was also featured in John Wayne’s last film The Shootist.

Ron’s first success as a director came when he was only 28 with the quirky 1982 film Night Shift starring Michael Keaton who was running a prostitution ring, from the city morgue. Ron next gave Tom Hanks  his first big screen appearance in 1984’s’Splash’, about a sexy mermaid (Daryl Hannah). My favorite Ron Howard film was Cocoon in 1985. It featured a strange mix of senior citizens, and aliens. Veteran actor Don Ameche won an Oscar for his role, but Wilfred Brimley stole the show, even tho (as Ron says), he didn’t like the plot.

Ron later directed the big hits Backdraft, Apollo 13, Parenthood, Ransom,The DaVinci Code, and A Beautiful Mind for which he won Best Director in 2002, while the picture collected four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Apollo 13 was so appreciated by NASA, that they named as asteroid after him. Ron also hinted that there “may” be a big screen version of Arrested Development soon. Ron’s long and varied career has taken him from the days of old Hollywood, where he once directed the very talented and difficult Bette Davis in a 1980 TV movie, where she always referred to him as ‘Young Mr. Howard,” smacking him on his butt, to the present time when he co-heads  ‘Imagine Entertainment’ with Brian Granger.

Ron Howard will appear two more times in ‘The Distinguished Speaker’ series tonight in Thousand Oaks, and Wednesday in Pasadena. Hurry, if you want tickets, as these may be sold out. Hard to believe, but Ron just turned 60. Ron is truly one of the nicest, most interesting, and most humble artists of our generation.

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