Ron Howard was only 6 years old when he starred as Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show. And, it wasn’t even his first role. Howard continued to act in his 20s on Happy Days, but he also began his directing career. Now Howard focuses on directing, but he recalls becoming a hands on collaborator back in Mayberry.
Howard was a guest on the Smartless podcast on Dec. 14. He told hosts Will Arnett, Jason Bateman and Sean Hayes a story about making behind-the-scenes contributions as a kid on The Andy Griffith Show.
‘The Andy Griffith Show’ frustrated Ron Howard
The Andy Griffith Show ran from 1960-1968. Griffith played Andy Taylor and Opie was his son. Even though he was only six, Howard was already curious about how they made television shows.
“At a certain point, I was so intrigued by everything that went on around the show,” Howard said. “The writers, I was allowed to be in those read throughs and those story discussions afterwards. In the beginning, the actors would be allowed to hang around for a half an hour after a read through and offer up notes. Then Andy and Don Knotts would stay around with the writers and deepen the discussion.”
Howard tried to influence the scripts from the beginning, but it took a while before The Andy Griffith Show recognized him as more than a child actor.
“Every once in a while in that first year when I was six, I actually did try to make a suggestion and they never took them,” Howard said. “I was a little irked by this, just a little peeved but I didn’t let on.”
The first time ‘The Andy Griffith Show’ listened to Ron Howard
It wasn’t long before Howard did influence The Andy Griffith Show. Age 7 appeared to be the charm.
“I remember in the second episode of the second season, I had just turned 7 and we were rehearsing,” Howard said. “My job is to kind of run into the courthouse, swing the door open, Otis the drunk was over there with Barney and Andy. Of course, everyone is in their regular clothes. We’re just rehearsing the script. My job is to come and say, ‘Hey pa, something.’ I don’t know what the something was but I was supposed to say something.’
Howard rewrote Opie’s line for the first time that day.
“Then I hesitated and the director who had been an actor, Bob Sweenew, said, ‘What is it?’” Howard continued. “I said, ‘Well, I don’t think a kid would say the line that way.’ And he said, ‘Well, how do you think a kid would say it?’ I pitched whatever my rewrite was and he said, ‘Great, say it that way. Let’s go.’”
Ron Howard got the stamp of approval from the man himself
Howard would learn to be humble later in his career. At age 7, who could blame him from reveling in it a little bit?
“I was just stunned I was a part of it,” Howard said. “From across the courthouse Any said, ‘What are you grinning at, yungun?’ He actually did talk that way. I said, ‘Well, that’s the first idea of mine you’ve taken.’ And he said, ‘Well, it was the first one that was any damn good. Now let’s run the scene.’”