‘The Andy Griffith Show’: Ron Howard’s Dad Made Several Crucial Contributions to the Series On and Off-Screen

It has been more than half a century since The Andy Griffith Show made its 1960 debut on CBS. The series — which was technically a spin-off from a different and now lesser-known television show — introduced viewers to the idyllic setting of Mayberry and its colorful cast of characters.

The tale centered around Sheriff Andy Taylor, a widower and father who serves as a kind of patriarch for the town. He’s helped along in raising his young son by Aunt Bee. The laughs are primarily focused on Andy’s interactions with his bumbling deputy Barney Fife. 

Over the years, fans have found out a lot of tidbits about what went on behind the scenes and the complex relationships that were developing — or falling apart — backstage. Fans know Ron Howard was the child star of The Andy Griffith Show but lesser known is how his father, Rance Howard, contributed to the series both on-screen and behind the scenes.

Ron Howard played Opie Taylor

Ron Howard as Opie Taylor on 'The Andy Griffith Show.'
Ron Howard as Opie Taylor in episode “Manhunt” on The Andy Griffith Show. Image dated August 1, 1960. | CBS via Getty Images

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Ron Howard was a very young actor just getting his start when he appeared on The Danny Thomas Show  — the show that would eventually spin off into The Andy Griffith Show. Howard remembers how nervous he was about the appearance.

He recalled: “I remember a lot of that, too, because Danny Thomas made me very nervous. So when we started the show a lot of people were talking and wondering why they had me out here. Because I was wooden, very wooden. And as the show progressed I got looser and looser and when they brought the audience in, I was on top of it. And the show, in fact, did sell.” 

It’s a good thing that Ron Howard loosened up and found his acting groove because the dynamic between Andy and his son Opie would be a central draw to The Andy Griffith Show. Initially, Griffith (who was a jokester and loved a great prank) wrote Opie as a typical sitcom troublemaker.

Ron Howard’s father shaped how Opie was characterized

Ron Howard and Andy Griffith in 'The Andy Griffith Show'
Ron Howard and Andy Griffith in ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ | CBS via Getty Images

Ron Howard’s real-life father Rance Howard stepped in to see if the series would shift how they portrayed Opie. Howard told the Archive of American Television: “Early on, they wrote Opie a little differently. More like the typical sitcom kids who were always having the wise comebacks, jokes, punchlines. Later, I heard that my dad was talking to Andy about this, the Andy/Opie relationship, and Andy was talking to my dad about our relationship, because my dad and I were very close.” 

Howard recounts his dad having a conversation with Griffith that went something like this: “My dad was around the set quite a bit, and somehow my dad said, ‘What would happen if Opie knew that Andy was smarter than him? How about if Opie actually respected his dad? I just thought it might be different.'” 

Griffith took the conversation to heart and created a respectful, well-mannered character that helped add to the utopian ideal of Mayberry. And in the end, Rance Howard’s insightful feedback shaped the beloved father-son relationship Americans saw on The Andy Griffith Show.

Rance Howard helped Ron Howard prepare for his role

It turns out that Ron Howard’s father was very involved in his son’s budding acting career. A young Ron Howard couldn’t read the lines when he started playing Opie, so his dad would speak the lines to him so that he could memorize his part.

His father stepped in with other help as well. For one particular episode, the material took a much darker turn than usual. Little Opie shot a bird dead with his slingshot, leaving orphaned chicks peeping outside his window. He eventually cares for and releases them, and his own father helped him prepare for the emotional portrayal of remorse and grief. 

All of those acting tips really paid off as Howard has gone on to a long and successful career — unlike many child stars. Howard would go on to a starring role in Happy Days, but his real success has been as a celebrated director.

The Oscar-winning director has created such hits as Apollo 13A Beautiful Mind, and Hillbilly Elegy. The consistent success of these blockbuster hits has made Howard one of the richest directors in Hollywood.

Rance Howard made a few cameos on ‘The Andy Griffith Show’

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Obviously, Howard’s father was on set a lot since he was providing so much support to his young son. Much like Andy Griffith’s real-life wife, Rance Howard did get to make a few cameo appearances on the other side of the camera. 

As MeTV reports, Rance Howard appeared in a few different episodes and twice appeared as a driver on the series. In the episode titled “Cousin Virgil,” he appeared as a bus driver.

In “Barney and the Governor,” he appeared as a chauffeur for the governor. Ron Howard’s brother, Clint Howard, also made a few passing appearances, demonstrating family support that would make any Mayberry resident proud.