‘The Andy Griffith Show’: This Former President Played a Crucial Role in Spotting Ron Howard’s Talent

Known for his exceptional directorial work on films such as Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, and Splash, to name just a few, Ron Howard can count on always being known as well as Opie Taylor, the sheriff’s son from The Andy Griffith Show.

To be sure, Howard’s work on the classic sitcom set the stage for his future television and film successes. In a revealing interview, the Cinderella Man director explained that it was a surprising shout-out from a US president-to-be that gave his young career the jumpstart it needed.

Ron Howard, center, with Andy Griffith and Frances Bavier
Ron Howard, center, with Andy Griffith and Frances Bavier | CBS via Getty Images

‘The Andy Griffith Show’s legacy

'The Andy Griffith Show' cast
‘The Andy Griffith Show’ cast | CBS via Getty Images

From its start in 1960, The Andy Griffith Show brought Mayberry to life and viewers fell in love with the fictional town. Starring Andy Griffith as the town’s capable Sheriff Andy Taylor, and Ron Howard as his sweet young son Opie, the show featured a cast of characters as wholesome as the town.

As author Richard Kelly expressed it in his 1981 book, The Andy Griffith Show, “The town [of Mayberry] had a distinctive character. Central to this character was the pace of the town – and of the show. The small talk between Andy and Barney sitting on the front porch conveyed an authentic atmosphere of village life.”

The president-to-be who was impressed with little Ronny Howard

In his conversation with the Archive of American Television, Ron Howard talked about his appearance on a television show that got him noticed by a prominent individual. It was on a program called General Electric Theater that Howard recalled he enjoyed having been a part of.

“Most fun of all was this part I got to do on an episode of General Electric Theater. It was a pilot for a TV series. And Ronald Reagan was then hosting that show.”

Actor Ronald Reagan who became 40th US President in 1981
Actor Ronald Reagan who became 40th US President in 1981 |
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

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Unknown to Ron Howard, his small, uncredited role on the episode did not escape the attention of the future US president.

“I guess I didn’t have much of a credit, but Ronald Reagan had seen the episode and at the end, he just ad-libbed this thing and said, ‘Special thanks to little Ronnie Howard who did a wonderful job as Barnaby’ or something like that,” he recalled.

Ronald Reagan’s shout-out led to ‘The Andy Griffith Show’

Howard pointed out that, thanks to Reagan’s thoughtful attention to the child actor’s work on the episode, it opened a door for him to work on the Andy Griffith program.

“And that led [The Andy Griffith Show producer] Sheldon Leonard to call my agent and say, ‘I’m doing a series with Andy Griffith and we need a son,” he said.

Ron Howard’s first appearance on the classic show was on its pilot, which appeared on The Danny Thomas Show.

“I don’t remember anything like an audition for The Andy Griffith Show. I just remember doing the first pilot episode.That was done in front of an audience and that was the first time that I ever remember being in front of an audience.”

And it was most certainly not Ron Howard’s last time.