People ask famous brothers Ron and Clint Howard all the time: “What’s it like to grow up on TV?”
But for Ron Howard, beneath that question lies another one — how he and his brother survived their childhoods in Hollywood.
The two acting legends have been in the business since they were in the single digits. Ron Howard got his big break as Opie Taylor on “The Andy Griffith Show” and Clint starred in iconic shows like “Star Trek” and “Gentle Ben.”
But the brothers say in order for people to understand the answer to that question, you first have to understand their father. When they would scuffle in the living room as kids, Ron Howard says their father would pull them apart and make it a teaching moment.
“Dad would grab us and he would say, ‘You guys have a chance to have something that's really valuable. You have a chance to be brothers and love each other and be best friends for the rest of your life,’ ” Ron Howard says. “ ‘Don't blow it now when you're kids.’ ”
Ron Howard says his dad was all about instilling the importance of family in order to survive growing up in Hollywood. The two brothers’ new memoir about that foundation is called "The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family.”
Ron Howard is best known for his extensive career as a child actor and an award-winning director. And Clint Howard has more than 200 acting credits. Their grounding came from their parent’s sensibility: Ron Howard says his mom would often call them "sophisticated hicks."
“They were comfortable in their own skin in a way that I don't fully understand,” Ron Howard says, “and it gave them a kind of confidence.”
Jean and Rance Howard left farm life in Oklahoma to pursue their own acting aspirations in the 1950s. After moving to Los Angeles, their dad immediately zeroed in on the need for child actors. And Ron Howard had an especially strong aptitude for taking acting directions from adults.
Rance Howard wanted to be a good father before anything else, Ron Howard says.
“His father was very negative, and I think that from the very beginning, dad saw all of this as a teaching opportunity,” Ron Howard says. “I think he saw it all as a chance to be a good father and give us something — not necessarily careers — but an experience where we could feel successful.”
On whether it bothered Rance Howard that his sons were more successful actors than he was
Clint Howard: “No, dad, never for a second. I didn't feel there was any competition or anything, and also I would take a little bit of exception to that. Dad worked a lot. Dad never achieved the sort of stardom that he probably dreamed of when he was a child. I know he dreamed of it. He wanted to be Roy Rogers. He wanted to be a singing cowboy, Gene Autry.”
Ron Howard: “Even though he couldn't carry a tune. Thank God nobody told him he couldn't sing. Go ahead, Clint.”
Clint Howard: “Listen, he was a great parent. Ron and I worked as children in show business, but mom probably saw 500 of my Little League games and high school baseball games. They were devoted parents.”
Ron Howard: “And by the way, speaking of mom, none of this happens without her. As I look back, her life, energy, her optimism and her intelligence and natural kind of leadership played such a role in any of this working out.”
Clint Howard: “Also to one thing about mom. She was extremely in her own gentle way. She was competitive when she got in front of a typewriter. She was typing and she wanted to be really good, and she'd get frustrated when she made a mistake.”
Ron Howard: “And when she wanted to put up Christmas decorations, then we would win the award on our block for the best-decorated home. But there was also this understanding of our business. And she loved that we had this great relationship with our father and that her husband was such a wonderful dad to her boys.”
On if the brothers ever considered giving up acting
Clint Howard: “Oh, certainly when I was 13 or 14 years old, I was developing an alternative, you know, an option for myself. I was going to be a journalist. [But] I enjoy my life as an actor and now I'm an author.”
Ron Howard: “It was definitely a survival story, you know? I mean, this is a business that sets young actors and performers up to fail. And it's just this undeniable reality that children are often winning and effective because they've kind of been taught to perform a bag of tricks. And it's the one thing that our father never did. His idea was to teach us from the beginning, assume that we had the emotional and intellectual capacity to understand what the scenes were about and connect with them with emotional honesty. Not here's how you fake cry. Not here's how you get a cute laugh and you pause and then do a double take. It wasn't mechanical. He was actually teaching us a craft. And it's why our childhood performances were different and winning. But it still didn't exclude us from that period of time when they can simply hire somebody who still looks your age. When you're 16, they can find an 18 year old who looks 16 and you don't have the limit of the work hours.”
On what revelations came from writing the book
Clint Howard: “I think it was interesting to look back and recognize how much the business as a kind of an industry and a culture has both changed and stayed the same. To sort of recognize the world we grew up in in the way it functioned, where it was much more of a World War II grizzled veterans, more like sailors and cowboys than the environment that we have now, which is, you know, even with crew members generally not only from all corners of the planet, but also college educated, aesthetically sensitive and interested. It's a very different world in that way. And yes, the job of telling the story that which entertains that which reaches an audience, those principles remain entirely unchanged.”
On Clint Howard’s struggles with alcohol and drug addiction
Clint Howard: “Listen, it was not the business. It wasn't disappointments in the business that made me want to anesthetize myself. I simply enjoyed it. It came back to bite me in the ass really hard. And in fact, I only had probably five or six years where I was successfully imbibing and anesthetizing myself. I'm so very grateful that I didn't die. And again, going back to what mom and dad did for me, I mean, there was a time in my life where I did not have the keys to their house. You know, that's very much Al-Anon, you know? Listen, I'd never stolen anything from them but that was one thing they did. And mom and dad had a wonderful, wonderful gift at helping their children. And I'm so grateful for that.”
On Ron Howard’s regret that he missed the signs of his brother’s addiction and whether he could have made a difference
Ron Howard: “Clint says there's no way I could have. I'll never believe that I couldn't. I not only missed it, but when I recognized it, I would even say to my parents, 'Hey, look, this is the reality of the moment. And he's got great friends. He's a high achiever. He's an athlete. Relax. Let him live his life.’ And I think I probably held my folks back from clamping down on him harder. And I can't help but believe that that might have spared Clint a lot of pain that came along later.”
On how Rance Howard wanted his sons to be there for each other
Ron Howard: “Yeah. we still have each other. it was great the way this book brought us together. It was interesting for me. I always kind of thought it was a fairly straight line, you know, I was very fortunate. I kind of, you know, I had good roles, good opportunities, I began to dream of directing. I worked my way into that situation, but as I looked back, I began to recognize that it was not a foregone conclusion that I was going to succeed in this business as an adult. No way, but my parents believed.”
On Ron Howard’s parenting style and daughter Bryce Dallas Howard
Ron Howard: "Bryce is also a director, and she did a fantastic documentary. It's called ‘Dads,’ and she coaxed out of me in an interview the admission that I was always trying to live up to my father as a parent. And I never felt I could ever get close. He was so remarkable and so is our mom, and we were blessed to have him.”
This segment aired on October 14, 2021.