Ron and Clint Howard reveal how they escaped the dark side of child stardom in new memoir
Hollywood dynamic duo Ron and Clint Howard are sharing their emotional journey of a good life in show business.
Filmmaker-actor Ron and actor Clint, who were raised by actors as well, experienced the glitz and glamor of early stardom while escaping the downward spiral experienced by many former child stars. But how did the two manage to survive and thrive in Hollywood?
Their coming-of-age memoir, “The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family” (William Morrow, 416 pp., out now), answers this question as the two examine their childhoods in detail for the first time. From Ron’s experience of playing Opie on “The Andy Griffith Show” to Clint’s stints on “Gentle Ben” and “Star Trek,” the brothers offer a look into the fame, joy and peculiarities of their lives while also addressing the ways they coped with stress, pressures and bullying.
“What spared Ron and me from becoming Hollywood casualties are the values Mom and Dad instilled in us,” Clint says in the introduction. “We were grinders and scrappers. Showbiz may seem glamorous, but each battle is won in the trenches with heavy doses of perspiration and preparation.”
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The blessing of supportive and protective parents
Growing up around lights, cameras and boom microphones, many child stars crumble under the control of pushy parents or other greedy adults in the entertainment business. But this wasn’t the case for the Howards.
Despite their early fame with shows like “Happy Days,” Ron and Clint lived a relatively normal childhood, in part, due to their protective Oklahoman parents, actors Rance Howard and Jean Speegle Howard. In fact, Ron even admits he felt “humiliated” by the “socially tight grip” they held on him as a child (which was “rooted in love and fear”).
The Howards never lived in flashy houses, nor did they go on extravagant family vacations. Their idea of fun was simple: playing baseball and ping pong, and watching professional wrestling.
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“Mom and Dad never lived outside of their means,” Clint writes. “(Dad) said that if we kids had ever gotten the idea that we were the household’s breadwinners, it would have messed up the family dynamic… Preserving a sense of normalcy was a top priority for Dad.”
Ron, who was earning six figures at age 12, acknowledges he could have “undergone a personality transformation and started strutting around school like a James Spader villain in a 1980s teen movie.” But he didn’t, thanks to his parents.
“I looked to my parents. I saw how they chose to live and how happy they were. And I redoubled my efforts to keep on working, to stay in show business beyond my boyhood. Not just because the money was good, but because I recognized how much I truly loving acting and learning about directing.”
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Ron and Clint’s tight bond as brothers
The brothers are close in age and pursued similar career paths as kids, but they say their relationship was nothing but supportive.
Readers catch a glimpse of their feel-good sibling bond: from hilarious early memories of baby Clint peeing on his big brother (and earning the nickname Hee-Hee Man) to collaborating in Ron’s little movie projects.
“Ron and I were never in competition, as siblings so often are,” Clint clarifies. “I looked up to him. Coming along second gave me a greater vantage point from which to watch and learn.”
Despite their busy schedules, the two always stuck close and learned from each other. Clint was one of the first to observe his brother’s talent for directing, while Ron, who went on to direct such acclaimed films as “Apollo 13” and “A Beautiful Mind,” says he learned from Clint’s effortless confidence as an actor.
“I loved watching Clint act,” Ron says. “I was always conscious of hitting my mark, not making mistakes, pleasing the director. Clint didn’t give a damn! He had a go-for-broke quality that worked because he was so well-prepared and naturally talented.”
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Navigating bullying, drug addiction
This isn’t to say they experienced no hardships.
The role that catapulted Ron into fame ultimately subjected him to bullying in school, where he experienced constant “Opie-shaming.” He says he eventually came to accept that many people would recognize him and call him Opie (“and that’s fine – I’m happy to be remembered in that way”). “But as a schoolboy, there was a malevolence to the way I was singled out.”
He continues, “I found it demeaning and insulting when I got, ‘Hey Opie’d, because there was an assumption that went with that. That I was wimpy and cosseted. Or that I was a braggart and a showoff.”
Clint escaped such teasing. However, he found himself battling a drug and alcohol addiction, which started as a “merry, consequence habit” during his teen years and spiraled into a more serious concern.
“There was a period when I didn’t even have keys to mom and dad’s house in Toluca Lake, my childhood home, because they couldn’t trust me in my behaviorally compromised state. I can’t blame them,” Clint reveals.
Though he didn’t think it was serious at times, he admits it caused temporary tension with his parents, who eventually, with the help of Ron, convinced him to seek professional help.
“Mom and Dad did their best to help me. Throughout my dark decade, they were the one consistent positive in my life. They went to meetings of Al-Anon and Nar-Anon, fellowship programs for the loved ones of people experiencing addiction.”