Why Ron Howard Felt He Was ‘Screwed’ When He 1st Met John Wayne

Although Ron Howard and John Wayne had very different careers, they worked together on one of Wayne’s classic movies. After an unusual initial interaction, Howard was sure he and The Duke got off on the wrong foot. Here’s what it was like when the two icons worked together.

Ron Howard and John Wayne near a tree
Ron Howard and John Wayne | Bettmann / Contributor

Why Ron Howard thought John Wayne would be difficult to work with

Firstly, a little background. Howard and Wayne appeared together in a Western called The Shootist. The Shootist came at very different points in their respective careers.

While the film was a swan song for Wayne, as he never made another Western, Howard was in the middle of a career highpoint. The film was released in 1976, two years into the run of Happy Days. According to The Oklahoman, Howard was on the cover of TV Guide around that time, typifying how popular he was. The Andy Griffith Show made Howard a celebrity but Happy Days made him an icon.

Howard recalled why he had reservations about working with Wayne. “That was kind of strange,” Howard recalled. “I went into The Shootist expecting not to have a great time. Wayne was notorious for not getting along with young actors.”

John Wayne near a fence
John Wayne | Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

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What happened when Ron Howard first met John Wayne

Howard discussed meeting The Duke for the first time. “I went to meet him with (director) Don Siegal. Somebody had given Wayne that week’s copy of TV Guide. My picture was on the cover. He looked at it, looked at me, and said, ‘Ah, here’s the big shot.”’

Now, Howard was nervous. “I thought: ‘Oh man. I’m screwed here on day one,’” he told UPI. “But it turned out my television background was something he really related to because those Westerns were sort of his version of being a television actor. He felt like with that kind of background, a person would know how to get it done.”

John Wayne with a rifle
John Wayne as and Vera Ralston | Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

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How Ron Howard got in The Duke’s good graces

So did Howard have a difficult time working with The Duke? According to HuffPost, Howard asked Wayne if they could run lines for one of their scenes together. Running lines is when actors rehearse their lines for a film or play without any concern for props, costumes, etc. because they just want to focus on perfecting their performances of the dialogue. Wayne was impressed because other actors didn’t ask to run lines with him and Howard’s request endeared him to The Duke.

So what did Howard think about Wayne? “[H]e couldn’t have been nicer,” Howard told The Oklahoman. “He talked a lot about television, about how it’s such a good training ground sort of like the one- and two-reelers Wayne made when he was young.” Howard and Wayne came from different eras of showbusiness, however, they were able to get along and make a classic Western together.