Ron Howard Said After This ‘Andy Griffith Show’ Episode, ‘I Was No Longer a Child Actor’

As little Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show, actor Ron Howard stole quite a few scenes — and many viewers’ hearts.

He appeared in the classic comedy from the age of 6. The Oscar-winning director explained that he learned during the series what it would take to bring his emotions to the surface in one particularly unforgettable episode of the show that elevated his skill as an actor.

Andy Griffith and Ron Howard share an emotional scene from 'The Andy Griffith Show'
Andy Griffith, left, and Ron Howard in a scene from ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ | CBS via Getty Images

‘Opie the Birdman’ was Howard’s first emotional episode

The first episode of the fourth season, “Opie the Birdman” is easily one of the series’ best scripts. Ron Howard was about 10 years of age in the episode in which his character, Opie Taylor, shoots his slingshot outdoors, accidentally killing a mother bird. His father instructs him to care for her babies.

Howard writes in his memoir The Boys, jointly co-authored with his brother and fellow actor Clint Howard, that this episode had “two big emotional scenes for Opie.”

The first scene happens when Opie realizes what he’s done, that he’s killed a bird, a scenario his father had warned him against. It was this scene that would require emotional heft from the young actor, a moment that called for “something more.” (The other was later in the episode when he helps the young birds fly away.)

“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.”

Howard’s dad helped him nail the dramatic scene

The actor’s father, Rance, was an accomplished character actor and frequently stayed by his son’s side on the comedy’s set. It was Rance who gave his son the motivation to successfully feel the impact of what Opie had done. He was his acting coach, after all.

The Apollo 13 director revealed how his father helped him deliver the grief the moment called for.

“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 wasn’t faking stuff.”

Ron Howard said he became ‘an actor, period’ during the moving episode

The actor wrote of filming the momentous scene: “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.'”

And the rest of the cast noticed — and were in awe of — Howard’s performance.

“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.”

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