Ron Howard’s Father Rance Was Rushed to Fill In on This ‘Andy Griffith Show’ Episode When a Guest Star ‘Collapsed’

One of The Andy Griffith Show‘s lesser-known cast actors from time to time was the father of Opie Taylor actor Ron Howard.

Rance Howard, who died in 2017 at age 89, appeared on a handful of episodes of the classic comedy in various roles. In an interview, he revealed that he was one day suddenly asked to fill in for a guest star. The actor in question had been overcome with “semi-hysteria” and eventually “collapsed.”

Actor Rance Howard, right, with his young sons (from left to right) Clint Howard and Ron Howard, on the set of 'The Andy Griffith Show' in 1963
Actor Rance Howard, right, with his young sons (from left to right) Clint Howard and Ron Howard, on the set of ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ in 1963 |
CBS via Getty Images

Rance Howard was principally on the ‘Griffith Show’ as a dialogue coach for his son Ron

The rural comedy premiered in 1960 and young Ron Howard, 6 years old at the time, wasn’t able to read, as he told the Television Academy Foundation. His father Rance filled in that gap, helping Ronny learn his lines and also, he said, form him as an actor.

“My dad would teach me the dialogue,” the Hillbilly Elegy director said. “The great thing that he did was, in retrospect, he was teaching me good solid fundamentals about acting.”

Howard touched on the mistake he sees being made, and that he admitted making himself, in working with child actors.

“There’s a real tendency, and as a director I’ve fallen into this trap a million times,” he said. “You get a well-cast child actor who’s got some natural qualities that you want, seems to be able to do the scene, but there’s a real tendency to start dealing with them almost like they’re a trained animal. Almost like it’s a trick they do. It’s not really acting, it’s kind of performing. There’s a big difference.

“My dad was teaching me to act, and I would certainly take direction from anybody. [The directors] worked through my dad a lot…he became a real part of things and they relied upon him.”

Rance didn’t expect to act in this episode of the ‘Griffith Show’

Actor Rance Howard and his son director Ron Howard embrace at the premiere of 'Cinderella Man' in California, 2005
Actor Rance Howard and his son director Ron Howard embrace at the premiere of ‘Cinderella Man’ in California, 2005 | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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Rance appeared from time to time on the Griffith Show, handling smaller roles such as the governor’s chauffeur in “Barney and the Governor,” and as a “G-man” in “A Black Day for Mayberry.”

In the latter episode, Rance explained to Andy Griffith Show fan podcast “Two Chairs No Waiting,” he was sitting on the set when the episode was being rehearsed and a guest actor had what seemed to have been a medical emergency.

“The story of that was, I forget the gentleman’s name, but he came to work and he seemed fine,” the elder Howard began. “He got made up and he got dressed. He did like one or two little scenes, kind of introducing he and the FBI to Mayberry.”

Rance Howard had to jump into the role

Rance explained that the actor in question had been perfectly fine one moment. In the next instance, however, he was suddenly very unwell.

“We were sort of sitting around kind of waiting for the next scene to be called, and this man stood up and he looked a little strange,” the Mister Roberts actor said. “But he said, ‘If I’ve ever done anything to offend anyone here, I’m deeply sorry.’ And then he just kind of broke down, he went into kind of semi-hysteria. He was sort of sobbing and became inarticulate and collapsed, right there on the soundstage floor. They called the medic and a doctor. He had just broken down. He had just apparently had some kind of nervous breakdown.”

The show crew thought fast in order to finish the episode. Once the actor had been taken for medical attention, their own attention turned to Rance.

“Everybody was, ‘My God, what are we gonna do?,’ Rance recalled. “Well, the director he said, ‘Well, hey, Rance can do that!’ So suddenly, the wardrobe guy says, ‘Well, Rance is about the same size as Andy; I think his suits will fit.’ So suddenly, I am putting on one of Andy Griffith’s suits and I’ve got a script here I’m trying to learn this FBI guy’s lines. So that’s how I fell into that.”