Review by C.J. Bunce
The thing about being a kid in the 1970s and 1980s was that your view of television history is skewed by the advent of reruns. Ron Howard and Clint Howard are much older than me, and yet because of reruns of The Andy Griffith Show and Gentle Ben, and the original Star Trek, I feel like I grew up along with, or maybe only a little bit behind the characters these actors played at a young age. So for anyone who grew up with the Howards on television or those that only think they did by way of reruns, you’re in for a fun insight into the life of these brothers behind the scenes in their new book The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family, available now here at Amazon. Long before Ron would direct Solo: A Star Wars Story and Apollo 13 and Clint would populate all of Ron’s movies and act in most of the Star Trek series as characters from Balok to Muk, a young couple in New York tried to make it in the movie biz.
That couple was Ron and Clint’s parents, Rance and Jean Howard–Rance, who would appear in character roles throughout the decades, and Jean, most famous for playing Jim Lovell’s mom in Apollo 13, but would have other roles later in her life–who the brothers Howard credit for most of their success. The autobiography is as much an accounting of the early years of Ron and Clint as a story of parents taking the backseat in their career paths to those of their sons. Ron’s major acting roles were as Opie Taylor in The Andy Griffith Show, as Marion’s son in The Music Man, as Steve in American Graffiti, and Richie Cunningham in Happy Days. Clint’s roles were as Leon in Andy Griffith, then the iconic Balok in Star Trek, and Mark Wedloe, son of Dennis Weaver’s character in Gentle Ben with his large furry bear friend, Bruno, followed by a guest star role in every other major television show and 1980s Ron Howard movie thereafter.
The boys, and their lives on television, are a trip through a major piece of classic television. Note that the book is titled The Boys for a reason–the family history ends with Ron’s first directing role, in Roger Corman’s movie romp Grand Theft Auto, and Clint doesn’t provide details for all those guest-starring roles that have defined his career as an adult actor. So don’t expect anything but a few references to Ron’s movies Night Shift, Splash, Cocoon, Willow, Parenthood, Backdraft, Far and Away, Apollo 13, Cinderella Man, Frost/Nixon, Rush, or Solo–or his two Oscars for A Beautiful Mind.
No, this is an account of child actors who had parents that guided their careers and showed that kids can survive that life and move on to have successful adulthoods, without parents or guardians taking their money, without the kids becoming arrogant and pompous. It is, of course, an autobiography, which means you don’t really know how much of the bad was cut from the story, but Ron’s inclusion of his sex life (yikes) and Clint’s decades-long battle with addiction tend to indicate most of what readers are getting is the straight dope.
The Howards hailed from Oklahoma, and the lives recounted in The Boys reflect a Midwestern upbringing complete with Midwestern values and work ethic–readers will see how this was carried forward in each step of Ron and Clint’s lives as they grew up quicker than their peers, making the money for their family, learning the ways of Hollywood–which really means New York and LA and Miami and more–splitting the family apart to take on new roles, and learning the tricks of the trade.
Those tricks of the trade come from the top, and golden nuggets of film production advice and experiences can be found recounted here firsthand from Ron via the likes of Henry Fonda, John Wayne, Andy Griffith, Bert Lahr, Mel Blanc, Sheldon Leonard, Danny Kaye, Robert Totten, Vincente and Liza Minelli, Garry Marshall, George Lucas, Richard Dreyfuss, and Cloris Leachman. The Clint who is so well-known today didn’t really kick into gear until after the years discussed in the book. Both Ron and Clint recount life from a kid’s vantage: Ron’s memory of actors who smelled like sweat (and the different kinds of sweat) when under the lights, and Clint in how Hollywood handled animal roles before the advent of animal protection laws.
Ron explains that strange circumstance I felt at the time but didn’t quite understand, living through the 1970s and 1980s while being guided by the actions of teenagers on television living in the 1950s because of the then trend toward 1950s nostalgia, relived in Happy Days and Grease and even the Depression, the true spark behind Andy Griffith and The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie. Sure–I remember living in these times because I grew up with these shows, as an earlier generation had felt with Leave it to Beaver, My Three Sons, and Father Knows Best (which I later also watched in reruns). Beyond parental guidance, for me it was Prime Time–Ron’s Richie Cunningham and Richard Thomas’s John-Boy Walton–who helped me chisel out what kind of person I wanted to be. So it came as great surprise to learn Ron made a play to be cast for the role of John-Boy Walton. It was also a surprise to hear Clint discuss auditioning for Star Wars–an event Clint doesn’t look back on fondly because he believed George Lucas saw him as Balok from Star Trek (and shouted as much in recognition upon meeting him). Ron doesn’t have the best memories of Paul Le Mat or Harrison Ford outside the studio back then.
Another great nugget: Ron voiced the little elephant’s lines in The Jungle Book, in “Colonel Haithi’s March.” And Ron recounts a kid’s analysis learning he made more money than major league baseball players Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. Fans of Happy Days will not be surprised the role baseball played in the lives of the Howards, as well as Ron’s relationship with Henry Winkler.
Any fan of classic television will absorb this book in one or two sittings. The Boys is your typical memoir without all the tell-all trappings and ugliness that plagues most celebrity lives as recounted in the press. Providing fun nostalgia and a good look into the history of television studios and Hollywood cinema, Ron Howard and Clint Howard’s The Boys , with a foreword by Ron’s daughter, director-actor Bryce Dallas Howard, and photo insert pages, is now available in hardcover from William Morrow in bookstores and here at Amazon.