Today, we know Ron Howard as an actor and producer with more than 60 years of experience. Back in 1976, however, Ron Howard was a young actor of 22, just breaking out of his reputation as the child star who played Opie Taylor on The Andy Griffith Show and Richie Cunningham on Happy Days.
After landing a lead role in the coming-of-age film American Graffiti, Ron Howard moved on to The Shootist, the story of a gunfighter’s battle with cancer. Being cast in this film came with an exciting opportunity: to star alongside legendary western star John Wayne. Though thrilled by the chance to work with the icon, Ron Howard recalls feeling terrified ahead of meeting his co-star John Wayne.
In an interview with The Oklahoman, Ron Howard recounted the nerve-wracking experience. “That was kind of strange,” Howard says. “I went into The Shootist expecting not to have a great time. Wayne was notorious for not getting along with young actors.”
“I went to meet him with (director) Don Siegal,” Howard continued. “So mebody 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.’ I thought, ‘Uh-oh, I’m in trouble.’ But he couldn’t have been nicer. 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.”
“I’ll never forget the fact that he never, ever made me feel like a kid. He treated me like a pro…one pro working with another.”
Meeting John Wayne Taught Ron Howard the Value of Hard Work
An actor from the age of 5, Ron Howard is no stranger to hard work. That said, meeting and working with a nearly 70-year-old John Wayne was still an inspirational experience for Ron Howard. In an interview with Men’s Journal, Howard described what he learned about work and manhood.
“John Wayne used a phrase, which he later attributed to John Ford, for scenes that were going to be difficult,” Howard said. “‘This is a job of work,’ [John Wayne would] say. If there was a common thread with these folks – Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Glenn Ford – it was the work ethic. It was still driving them. To cheat the project was an insult. To cheat the audience was damnable.”
Ron Howard also credits Clint Eastwood with certain viewpoints he holds today. Specifically, having the confidence to avoid comparing himself to other people. “We’re all constantly keeping score. You can’t help it,” Howard said. “But trying to pit ourselves against other people in some measurable way is largely a waste of time.”
“Look at Clint Eastwood and Ridley Scott, two guys who, at least creatively, inhabit their space in a way that I admire. I don’t know them well, but I don’t think they are looking over their shoulders and wondering what people will think of them.”