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Ron Howard; a G-rated life style

By Randy ShippStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / January 3, 1980


Opie Taylor lives. Ron Howard knows. Twelve years after television's "Andy Griffith Show" ended, the actor who grew up on it in the role of Opie is still identified as Sheriff Taylor's son. In fact, in a recent celebrity softball game at Chicago's Wrigley Field, Ron Howard's appearance in left field was heralded with a big "Opie" banner, unfurled by some fans in the bleachers who chanted, "O-pie! O-pie! O-pie!"

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Today, two decades after getting his start in that show, Ron Howard still gets a bang out of the fans' devotion to the character. "I love the fact that after 20 years they still remember the show," he says. "When I ran out on the field at the softball game I felt like I was in the World Series. It was great!"

Since age 2, Ron Howard has had a busy acting career. The younger generation now knows him as the star of TV's "Happy Days," and of such films as "American Graffiti," "Grand Theft Auto," and "More American Graffiti."

"I didn't ever really think of it as work at all," he recalls of that first TV series. ". . . I think I enjoyed acting with the grownups because I could hold my own. My dad made sure I was well prepared, so I wasn't a bratty little kid blowing all the lines. And I got a lot of really great positive reinforcement from the adults. I've always been proud of that.

"I always understood responsibility and was willing to work on lines. The only thing I didn't like about acting was that there weren't a lot of kids around all the time. But on 'The Andy Griffith Show' . . . there were lots of weeks where I had a lot of time off. When an hiatus came I used to love going back to public school, and, once we moved to Burbank, there were lots of kids on my block.

"Really I was getting the best of both worlds. I was learning something and developing well, putting money away for college. . . . But i was still pretty unrestricted and could be a real kid stumbling around at the playground."

He says his family tried hard to keep him from being swept up in the star treatment.

"I remember one time . . . a manufacturer wanted to put out on 'Opie line' of children's clothing. It probably would have meant a lot of money, but my parents turned it down for me because they didn't think I should be going off to shopping centers, modeling clothes and signing autographs all weekend just to try to get people to come down and buy Opie clothes. They figured I worked five days a week and that on Saturday and Sunday I ought to be able to play ball. There was always a division between show business and real life. Show business was never really supposed to detract from real life -- it was never deemed to be the most important thing."

It still isn't, and Ron Howard's lack of pretention is still apparent. His office on the Paramount lot is comfortable but far from ostentatious, with its Leroy Neiman painting of a baseball player showing one of his real loves. As we talk during a mealtime break in his schedule, he pulls out his homepacked brown-bag lunch. After asking for my assurance that his eating won't be a distraction, he digs in to a sandwich, cookies, and fruit, ignoring the crumbs dropping in his lap.

Today the one-time star says he still enjoys acting but is happier directing. He has had the opportunity to do both; his directing credits include the movie "Grand Theft Auto" (in which he also co-starred), and several films for television. His most recent productions include "Tut and Tuttle" (about a young boy who finds himself transported back to the time of Egypt's Prince Tut), and "Leo and Laurie" (which stars Happy Days" co-star Donny Most).