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Ron Howard Biography


Home > Actors > H > Howard, Ron > Biography


Birth Name: Ron Howard
Born: 03/01/1954
Birth Place: Duncan, Oklahoma, USA


Born on March 1, 1954 in Duncan, OK, Howard was raised in a show biz household by his father, Rance, and his mother, Jean, both of whom were actors. Howard's career started early in life with his first professional appearance alongside his parents when he was just 18 months old. When he was six, Howard was cast as Opie, the personable son of widowed Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffith), on "The Andy Griffith Show." For eight seasons, America watched Howard grow up as Opie, who learned a series of typical life lessons that were taught to him by his caring, but sometimes exacerbated father. Though occasionally getting himself into mild trouble, Opie always managed to emerge unscathed and sometimes with a new outlook on life, thanks to "his paw." Prior to his Mayberry run, Howard made his feature debut in "The Journey" (1959), starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr. He continued working in features during breaks in television production, singing "Gary, Indiana" in "The Music Man" (1962), playing the son of another widowed father (Glenn Ford) in "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" (1963), and playing a child genius who develops a potion that turns a group of teenagers into giants in "Village of the Giants" (1965).

After departing his charmingly rustic fictional hometown of Mayberry, NC in 1968, Howard embarked on a minor feature career that contained a few bright spots; most notably as Steve Bolander, a college-bound teenager desperate to leave his hometown, in "American Graffiti" (1973), George Lucas' landmark slice of early-1960s Americana about a group of high school graduates dealing with life decisions on their last night of summer. Playing Steve Bolander led to another iconic television gig as Richie Cunningham, the all-American boy-next-door of the popular faux-1950s sitcom "Happy Days." During his six season run on the show, Howard reached the height of his visibility, thanks to the popularity of both "Happy Days" and "American Graffiti," as well as "The Andy Griffith Show" going into syndication. In fact, so famous were Richie Cunningham and The Fonz (Henry Winkler), that appearances at malls could attract upwards of 20,000 screaming fans. But when it became apparent that audiences were more crazed about The Fonz, Howard - who was and remained close friends with Winkler - realized his time on the show was limited. So when, in 1980, his contract ended, he left the show to chart a different course.

Howard continued to thrive on the big screen during "Happy Days," making his mark in a memorable supporting role as the son of a widowed Lauren Bacall who falls under the influence of a dying gunfighter (John Wayne) in "The Shootist" (1976). Howard was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes, then one statue at the same awards two years later for playing Richie Cunningham. But by this time, he had his sights on becoming a director, finally making his debut at the age of 23, after convincing schlock indie producer Roger Corman to give him a shot. Corman agreed, but only if Howard starred in the film. The result was "Grand Theft Auto" (1977), an action comedy that featured tons of car chases and explosions, but not much else. Howard did, however, manage to turn a profit, allowing him to continue directing, which he did with "Cotton Candy" (NBC, 1978), a movie-of-the-week about a group of high school misfits who form a rock band, filmed from a script he co-wrote with brother and character actor, Clint Howard. He then directed "Skyward" (NBC, 1980), an ode to the golden age of television about an aging barnstormer (Bette Davis) helping a paraplegic girl (Suzy Gilstrap) realize her dream of flying.

After reviving Steve Bolander for "More American Graffiti" (1979), and starring in a few made-for-television movies like "Fire on the Mountain" (NBC, 1981) and "Bitter Harvest" (NBC, 1981), Howard was more or less done with acting. He then made an indelible mark with his second feature, "Night Shift" (1982), a wacky comedy about two morgue attendants (Henry Winkler and Michael Keaton) who run a prostitution racket with the help of a freewheeling hooker (Shelley Long). Aside from marking Howard's first successful studio gig, "Night Shift" featured the first collaboration between the director and ambitious producer Brian Glazer, as well as with "Happy Days" writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. With another success under his belt, Howard helped launch the career of another star, Tom Hanks, with "Splash" (1984), a romantic fantasy about a man (Hanks) who falls in love with a mermaid (Daryl Hannah). A huge success for Disney's new Touchstone division, "Splash" cemented Howard's dream of becoming a full-fledged director, though his other dream of erasing the public memories of Opie Taylor and Richie Cunningham seemed next to impossible.

Howard enjoyed another big box office success, directing veteran actor Don Ameche to a Best Supporting Actor Oscar with "Cocoon" (1985), a Spielbergian sci-fi fantasy about three elderly Florida retirees (Ameche, Wilford Brimley and Hume Cronyn) who discover the fountain of youth in the form of alien pods at the bottom of their retirement home's swimming pool. He then reunited with newly minted star Michael Keaton for "Gung Ho" (1986), an above-average comedy about an energetic mover-and-shaker (Keaton) who tries to save an automobile assembly factory from closing its doors by allowing the more stringent Japanese to take over. Meanwhile, during the previous year, Howard and Grazer formed Imagine Films Entertainment, which went public the same year "Gung Ho" was released. After making a brief return to acting by reprising Opie Taylor in the made-for-television special, "Return to Mayberry" (NBC, 1986), Howard tried his hand at an overblown fantasy with "Willow" (1988), a lavish George Lucas-produced fairy tale populated with elves, trolls and a gallant hero (Val Kilmer), which suffered from high expectations, low box office returns and a widespread critical drubbing.

Despite the failure of "Willow," the tone and style of a Howard-directed film was firmly in place. Much as his success as a child actor helped extend the cozy, sweet aura of mainstream film and television; his features relied on old genre formulas with strong, clear-cut stories, feel-good optimism and a playful whimsy that contrasted with the grimmer, more violent edge of contemporary mainstream cinema. This paradigm was on full display with his next feature, "Parenthood" (1989), a smart, funny and well-received comedy about the unending joys and frustrations of raising children, as seen through four siblings (including Steve Martin and Dianne Wiest) with their own semi-dysfunctional families. A big success with both critics and audiences, "Parenthood" deftly combined heartwarming sentimentality with salacious humor. Howard next directed perhaps one of the best films about firefighters of all time, "Backdraft" (1991), a visually stunning, but somewhat overly-sentimental look at a group of Chicago fireman, including two rival brothers (Kurt Russell and William Baldwin), battling a series of arsons investigated by a dogged expert (Robert De Niro). Another moderate financial success for the director, "Backdraft" also proved its cultural significance by spawning a ride at the Universal Studios Hollywood theme park.

After a number of very successful features, Howard and Grazer felt that Imagine was not paying them their street value. So in 1992, they announced plans to leave Imagine for a joint venture at Universal. Their action horrified stockholders, who consequently allowed Howard and Grazer to renegotiate their deal so that Imagine could lend them the money to buy out the company. By 1993, Imagine was a privately-owned entity with Howard and Grazer serving as co-CEOs. Meanwhile, Howard directed his first historical romance, "Far and Away" (1992), a would-be epic starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman as two turn-of-the-century Irish immigrants who flee their homeland to settle in the American West, where they face all manner of hardships while trying to claim their part of the Oklahoma land rush of 1893. Though immensely proud of this film, "Far and Away" proved to be Howard's first true critical and box office failure. He received more positive notices, however, for "The Paper" (1994), a somewhat sentimentalized comedy-drama about tabloid journalism, as seen through the eyes of a workaholic metro editor (Michael Keaton) at a daily New York City tabloid struggling to balance work and his family.

Howard reached new heights with his next film, "Apollo 13" (1995), the true-to-life drama about the doomed 1970 NASA lunar mission that suffered a potentially fatal loss of oxygen, and the efforts of the crew and ground support to avert potential tragedy. Eschewing archival footage, Howard and his team recreated the time and place in perfect detail, from the interior of the capsule to the command center in Houston to the 1970s decor of the astronaut's homes. With a strong cast that included Tom Hanks, Gary Sinise, Kevin Bacon, Ed Harris and Kathleen Quinlan, "Apollo 13" earned critical kudos and a healthy take at the box office. Indeed, Academy members were suitably impressed and rewarded the film with nine Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Surprisingly, Howard was omitted from the Best Director category; an oversight that the Directors Guild of America rectified in part by granting him its Director of the Year award. Meanwhile, Howard continued the space theme, collaborating with Hanks as a producer on the Emmy-winning miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon" (HBO, 1998), which traced the history of the Apollo missions from their inception in 1961 through the triumphant 1969 moon landing to the end of the project in the early 1970s. The project was hailed by critics and earned an Emmy Award and Golden Globe for best miniseries.

For his next three big screen projects, Howard adapted previously produced material, adding his own spin to the films. "Ransom" (1996) was a remake of a 1956 thriller featuring Mel Gibson and Rene Russo as a wealthy married couple whose son (Brawley Nolte) is kidnapped. Somewhat of a departure for Howard, "Ransom" was his first stab at darker material, and though the results were a mixed bag, the film signaled a desire to stretch his wings. Next was "EDtv" (1999), based on the French-Canadian movie "Louis XIX: Roi des Ondes" (1993), which had the interesting premise of a man being followed by television cameras seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Unfortunately, "The Truman Show" (1998) had already covered the same ground more compellingly. In comparison, "EDtv" was less adventurous. The third film, "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (2000), earned Howard some of the worst notices of his career, even though it proved to be his biggest hit then to date. Competing with the classic television cartoon that was also based on the children's book, the film was a grandly produced affair, with spectacular sets, eye-popping costumes and quirky makeup. Howard's film was also graced with the manic energy of Jim Carrey as the green-furred anti-hero. While critics found the effort ponderous, viewers flocked to screenings, pushing its cumulative box office gross to over $260 million.

Looking to re-establish his bona fides, Howard turned his attention to "A Beautiful Mind" (2001), the story of mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr. (Russell Crowe), who struggled to overcome schizophrenia with the help of his devoted wife (Jennifer Connelly), only to win a Nobel Prize. Garnering as much controversy as acclaim, however, the film earned loud objections for taking liberties with the facts, leading Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman to concede that they made a fictionalized account of Nash's life. Having received eight Oscar nods, the film ultimately took home four awards, including Howard's first for Best Director. The director's next outing, "The Missing" (2003), starred Cate Blanchett as a frontier woman who must team with her estranged father (Tommy Lee Jones) to rescue her abducted daughter. Though it had its strengths, "The Missing" received mixed critical reviews and middling box office. As himself, he rejoined former cast mates for the well-rated reunion specials "The Andy Griffith Show Reunion: Back to Mayberry" (2003) and "Happy Days: 30th Anniversary Reunion" (2005). He then took on the role of the narrator for the critically acclaimed Fox sitcom "Arrested Development" (2003-06), which he and Grazer executive produced through Imagine, whose slate also included the mega-hit "24" (Fox, 2001-2010).

In 2005, Howard reunited with Russell Crowe for the largely well-received "Cinderella Man" (2005), the warm-hearted story of Depression-era fighter and folk hero Jim Braddock (Crowe), who defeated heavyweight champ Max Baer (Craig Bierko) in a 15-round slugfest in 1935. Although Howard took some criticism for telling the tale with a degree of ham-handedness, the film was generally praised for its uplifting spirit and generated an Oscar nod for co-star Paul Giamatti. His next project, "The Da Vinci Code" (2006), adapted from Dan Brown's blockbuster book, was one of the most controversial and anticipated movies released in decades. Famed symbologist Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is called to the Louvre where the murder of a curator has left behind a trail of mysterious symbols and clues leading to a secret society that has spent the past 2,000 years guarding a secret that could bring Christianity to its knees. Even before its release, the Catholic Church urged the faithful to boycott the film because of its depiction of members of Opus Dei. In fact, the church wanted filmmakers to put a disclaimer before the movie stating that it was fiction, not fact - a demand Howard publicly refused.

Meanwhile, Howard served as producer on several projects, including "Curious George" (2006), an animated family comedy about the mischievous curiosity of a wide-eyed chimp, "How to Eat Fried Worms" (2006), a coming-of-age tale about an 11-year-old boy's first day at school, adapted from Thomas Rockwell's classic children's novel, and "American Gangster" (2006), a real-life telling of drug kingpin-turned-informant Frank Lucas and his efforts to aide lawman Richie Roberts in bringing down the crooked cops and foreign nationals running the heroin trade. On the small screen, Howard produced "Friday Night Lights" a one-hour television version of Peter Berg's well-received feature about the lives of high school football players in a rural Texas town. Despite low ratings, the show managed to survive several close calls with cancellation, thanks to dedicated fans. Howard returned to directing features with "Frost/Nixon" (2008), his well-received and compelling adaptation of Peter Morgan's hit play about the famed lead up and eventual interview between disgraced former president Richard Nixon (Frank Langella) and ill-liked British television journalist, David Frost (Michael Sheen) in 1977. For his work on the fascinating real-life drama, he was nominated for a Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Director.

For his next stint in the director's chair, Howard returned to best-selling author Dan Brown for the "Di Vinci Code" sequel "Angels & Demons" (2009), this time pitting Hanks against the mysterious group known as the Illuminati, who threaten to destroy the Vatican during its selection of a new Pope. Similar to his duties on "Friday Night Lights," he later executive produced "Parenthood" (NBC, 2010- ), a dramedy series loosely based on his earlier film of the same name. In addition to co-producing the big-budget sci-fi Western "Cowboys & Aliens" (2011), Howard directed the buddy comedy "The Dilemma" (2011), in which Vince Vaughn experiences a crisis of conscience after he discovers that the wife of his best friend (Kevin James) is having an affair. Reality tempered the joys of filmmaking, however, when Howard's friend and father-figure, Andy Griffith, died in July 2012. Recalling the lessons he learned from the elder actor and reflecting on Griffith's legacy, Howard stated, "His passing is sad. But he lived such a great rich life." On a happier note, fans were overjoyed by the resurrection of Howard and Grazer's "Arrested Development" (Netflix, 2013- ) for a fourth season to be aired on the media company's live-streaming application. Returning cast members included Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Jessica Walter and Jeffrey Tambor, prompting devotees of the dysfunctional Bluth dynasty to once again hold out hope for a feature film adaptation.